If you told me three weeks ago that I would be writing this post I would say that either you were lying, or that I was being overly ambitious. You know, that I had grander ideas in my head than would work out in real life. I’m not the world’s greatest homemaker and I have struggled to keep my house clean (though I’m learning and improving) and this is a scenario that played out in my home too many times to count:
Ben and I spent all.day. cleaning the entire house — scrubbing and vacuuming and sweeping, until it was spotless. And I declared — “This time I will keep it clean. I will. I will not let that happen again.” Three or so days later, I stood in the middle of a disaster of a house. Again. And I moaned, “How did I let this happen?! Why does this keep happening?!”
Does that sound familiar?
I decided that I was tired of it. For real this time. And that I was going to step up and take responsibility and make sure that it did not happen again.
It’s been over two weeks, and you know what? It hasn’t. Even with my insane week of no heat, a broken stove, and tons of stress — I did not let my house fall into chaos. It is just as clean as it was when I started. Are you curious?
Changing My Mindset
The biggest change was simply my mindset. See, I have this problem. I like to leave things until “later.” I walk by and see a toy on the floor and I think “I should really pick that up…well, later.” Or I see some dishes on the counter that have some stuck-on food on them, something that will take more than two seconds to shove in the dishwasher. I leave it till “later.” I’d set my plate down after eating in a room other than the kitchen, figuring I’ll take it to the kitchen “later.” I’d drop my clothes on the bathroom floor, and tell myself I’d pick them up “later.”
Well, as I’m sure you know, by the time “later” came, stuff had really piled up and I was pretty disgusted with myself. What is wrong with me? It would have taken two seconds to do…and now look at this mess. Sometimes it was especially annoying if I had decided to leave something that had spilled until “later,” because instead of five seconds to wipe up the mess, I had to scrub it for a few minutes. This was really a waste of my time….
I decided that I was going to stop waiting until “later” to do things. I was going to do them immediately, and make cleaning up a priority. I was going to see the mess for what it was and just take care of it. When I encountered a task that I thought “I’ll do that later,” I would ask myself, “Is there a reason for waiting until later? Or would it be simpler to do now?” In rare cases ‘later’ might be better — for example, if I wanted a dirty pot to soak awhile so it would be easier to clean. For the most part, though, I was done with “later.”
The Practical Aspects
Right, well, we can be done with “later” all we want, but what does that actually look like? How do I really keep my house clean? I feel almost silly even saying some of these things, but since it took me, oh, 27 years to catch on, maybe others are still struggling too!
- If it takes less than two minutes, do it now: If you walk by a sock or a piece of paper on the floor, just pick it up. If something spills, wipe it up. If you notice a small random chore needs done, just do it. When I went to do the dishes the other morning, I opened up the dishwasher and realized the door was filthy. I took the two minutes to wipe it down right then. If a chore will honestly take more than two minutes, then you can put it off…but not for long.
- Finish up before a break: I don’t know about you, but once I’ve left a chore, I don’t really want to come back to it again for awhile. I don’t want to spend 10 minutes “blitz cleaning” and then take a break, done or not. I just want to finish up what I’m doing, and then take a break. So, if I’m starving and I really want to go eat my breakfast, I’ll push myself an extra five minutes to finish up morning chores first. If I’m tired and want to go to bed, I’ll make myself load the last few dishes into the dishwasher first. Then when I’m done, I’m done, and it’s not weighing on my mind that there are few little things left….
- Clean as you go: Everyone knows that, right? Well, really do it. Rinse a bowl and put it in the dishwasher as soon as you have the muffins in the oven. Once you’ve poured the milk into the glass, put it back in the fridge. Just do it immediately so the mess doesn’t pile up. The only exception to this rule is if you are going to use it again in two minutes. If I use milk for a batch of muffins and I’m going to pour myself a drink a few minutes later, the milk doesn’t go away until I’m done with it. But if, for example, I go out for awhile in the morning and I am planning to go out again several hours later, I still put my shoes and coat away when I come in the first time.
- Everything back it its place: If you use it, put it away. Maybe that’s back where you found it, or in the trash or the laundry pile. Regardless, when you are done with something, it must have a place to go and it must go there.
- See the details: I would leave a bottle or two on the counter because they were “out of the way” and figure it wasn’t that big a deal that they were there since everything else was done. …until that piled up. See the small details that are out of place and fix them. The mess is in the details.
- Have a “big” cleaning day; otherwise let it go: On Mondays, I have a “big” cleaning day. I don’t plan too many blogging tasks or any outings with the kids (those happen Wed/Fri). I tackle at least one main area on Mondays, plus doing deeper maintenance on the other rooms. For example, my first Monday I tackled the kitchen — scrubbing down counters, under appliances, wiping down cabinets, etc. My second Monday I tackled the playroom — removing “extra” toys that had made their way in and re-organizing the ones I wanted to keep. My third Monday I tackled the living room — cleaning up the extra “random laundry” that had been sitting around and vacuuming it (we don’t use that room much). I also vacuum the main rooms, sweep the kitchen floor, and just make sure that anything that has gotten out of place over the weekend is put back where it should be.
- Build cleaning into your day: I don’t like to sit down and eat with my kids. I feel like I spend more time reminding people about table manners, refilling cups and plates, fetching missing silverware, etc. than I do actually eating. I do like to be with them while they’re eating, though. I stay in the kitchen and talk to them while I do the dishes, refill the water filter, and so on as they eat. We also have the rule that the playroom must get picked up before lunch is served, and I enforce this everyday. (Since we usually are outside and then they are having Daddy time in another part of the house after nap, the playroom stays clean until the next day. You may choose a different time of day depending on your family’s schedule.) Take the 5 minutes after a meal to put the dishes in the dishwasher and either wash the pots and pans or put them to soak for a few hours (not days!). Challenge the kids to “race” to clean the playroom in 10 minutes. Do what it takes to build cleaning into your daily routine.
- Get it done early: I know that I have the most energy in the morning. I’m so-so in the afternoon, and by 8 PM, I’m over it. It works better for me to do the majority of my cleaning in the morning, so that I don’t end up sitting at 8 or 9 PM going “I really need to do…but I just don’t want to, I’m too tired.” Early is better. Or whenever you feel most motivated.
- Change the rules: I used to let the kids eat in the playroom, but I don’t anymore. The carpet got too dirty, too quickly. I also ask the kids to take their plates to the counter after meals and make sure their dirty clothes are in the laundry baskets and their coats and shoes are put away. Make the rules so that everyone has a “role” in your home towards keeping it neater, and enforce them.
- Be patient and proactive: The rest of the family will not get on board with this as quickly as you do, most likely. It can be frustrating to try so hard to keep your home clean, only to feel thwarted by family members who don’t do their share. I’ll admit I sigh when I pick up the same toy that’s made its way into my kitchen for the fifth time, or when my husband doesn’t remember to unpack his lunchbox upon arriving home. It will take people time to break old habits, though, so give them some grace. Issue gentle reminders (to the children) or just do it for them (your husband — although if something really bugs you, tell him). Your example will teach them to do better…in time. But not tomorrow or the next day.
- Decide it’s your job: Sometimes if you feel frustrated because the mess seems to keep happening, no matter how much you try to clean it, it can be easy to just give in. They want to live in filth…let them. See how they feel if I don’t clean up after them for awhile! But really, this isn’t about them. This is about YOU. How do you want to live? I’m a very impatient and angry mommy when my house is a mess, and that’s not good for anyone. It is not my children’s job to make my life easy. It is my job to lovingly train them and remind them what the rules of the house are and teach them to take care of their things. It is not my husband’s job to take care of the majority of the household chores when he is away from home 45 – 50 hours a week providing for our family. It is my job.
Some more clarifying on the “it’s your job” part, which I know some of you might not like: if you see it as your job, then you won’t feel so angry that others aren’t pitching in! You can’t control them, ultimately…you can only control you. (By the way, my husband *does* help quite a bit when he can. He often helps me catch up on laundry over the weekend, does the dishes on the weekend/if I’m busy, cleans our room, etc. Any time I am busier than he is, he picks up the slack. So don’t think I’m suggesting husbands should just sit around and do nothing. But if you’re home and he’s not, you get to do the majority.)
Those are my major points. And I know…the explanations are long! Sorry about that.
The biggest part of this is that you have to make yourself actually do it. Nothing works unless you do it. Sometimes I am tired and the kitchen is kind of messy and I think, I really don’t want to do this now. Instead I make myself spend 5 minutes to make it look better — just five minutes, if I’m really tired — and then I get to the rest after I eat or sleep or whatever. But I don’t let it go long. Never more than overnight.
Make It Work for You
Everyone’s home and routines are going to be different. I have certain chores I do at certain times of the day. I wrote about our general schedule a couple weeks ago. That’s still true — except I pay a little more attention to the details now.
The biggest thing is to decide you are going to keep your home clean, and start tackling one area at a time. Once it’s done, make yourself keep up with the maintenance. It will ultimately save you time, I promise. It’ll take five seconds instead of two minutes to wipe a spill that’s fresh. It takes a few seconds to rinse a newly-used plate and stick it in the dishwasher, vs. scrubbing dried-on junk for several minutes. Many dishes that I wash immediately, I don’t even bother to wash, just rinse. (Measuring cups used for dry things, knives used for fruits or vegetables, cutting boards used for fruits and vegetables or bread dough — really anything that isn’t meat.) It’s so much easier when I just do it immediately.
I suggest starting with the kitchen, because you’ll be in there all the time and you want to make sure that you’re not looking at a mess. Plus you can’t cook in a messy kitchen! Scrub it down then make a point to keep it clean — dishes done after every meal, everything put away, counters wiped down. Sweep the floor every couple of days or as needed.
Find a schedule that works for you then stick to it. Self-discipline is really the biggest key. Not especially fun, I suppose, but it really does save you time and it makes me feel much calmer and more patient to walk through a mostly-clean home. I feel angry and anxious when I walk through a messy home and I’m way more likely to yell at people. Isn’t it worth it just for the peace?
So that’s my big “secret” system. No secret really besides self-discipline and (not-too) hard work. 🙂
How do you keep your home clean?
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