Cleanliness is next to … impossible

Okay, I want to pick your brains.  I want to pick your brains about housecleaning.

See, my normal system just isn’t working for me anymore. It’s actually no system at all, truth be told; it’s totally random, haphazard, and infrequent.  Basically, I avoid serious housecleaning until either 1) we have company coming or 2) I get so utterly fed up with the dust buffalos that I am ready to explode, whereupon I haul out the cleaning supplies in a huff of frustration at the squalor in which I live, laced with heavy feelings of martyrdom and self-pity.

This is not exactly conducive to a healthy spiritual life.

Nor is clutter, really.  For a long time, I felt that I could more or less let the housecleaning slide; after all, I’d rather read or write or play with the boys than Swiffer the floor.  But lately, I’ve been starting to realize that — for me, at least — a messy home sort of equals a messy mind.  It’s hard for me to find inner peace when the living room is chaos.  I can’t help but feel that if my immediate surroundings were a little more ordered, there would be a little more harmony in my soul.  Or something.

Part of the problem is that, between my husband and me, I have the lower tolerance for mess (I’m not saying it’s low, mind you; just lower).   This is good in the sense that he is not an obsessive neat-freak, which would be hard to live with.  On the other hand, this means that he never spontaneously decides to do anything to clean up the mess (save vaccuuming, which he seems to enjoy, perhaps because it involves cool gadgetry).   I cave first.

I don’t mean to diss my wonderful hubby.  Lord knows I wouldn’t want to do the tasks that habitually fall to him, such as preparing income taxes and disposing of anything that turns up dead in the backyard.  But I wouldn’t mind a little bit of company in my sporadic efforts to keep the house in order.

Scott has offered, at times over the years, to look into hiring a cleaning service.  I always balk at the idea, though, because of the money, and the logistics of scheduling.  And it’s not like I live in a mansion; we’re talking eleven hundred square feet, with one bathroom.  I should be able to do this myself …right?  But then, I know friends who have hired help, and they’ve been thrilled to outsource their cleaning tasks.  One friend jokes that it has saved her marriage by removing a constant source of stress and argument.  And Scott is fond of saying that sometimes, you need to buy sanity.  So maybe I should seriously consider this as an option.

Or we could try what he and I brainstormed last weekend: taking an hour, every Saturday morning, to get the whole family (even the kids) involved in house tasks.  If it’s a regular thing, and if we’re all pitching in, maybe I’ll start to feel that I’m mastering the housecleaning, not that it is mastering me.   I’m certainly willing to try.  Maybe I can even convince the boys, in the manner of Tom Sawyer and the fence, that it is really super-fun to dust the baseboards!

But here’s where I want to get your take on this messy subject.  What’s your housecleaning routine?  Is it regular, or random?  Do you outsource?  If so, how has that worked for you?  Share away!  I’m all ears.

11 responses to “Cleanliness is next to … impossible

  1. Ginny, when you get your replies, I will take the advice – as I am in no position to offer it!

    I wish that I had something of value to add here, but I do not. Housekeeping is my worst skill. It is a combination of time management, avoidance, and perfectionism gone wrong. Basically – if I can’t do it perfectly, why do it at all?

    Lest anyone send in the health department, it is not that bad here, but it is not great. Mark is tidy and loves to organize, clear clutter. His standards of cleanliness are low however. I am the clutter queen but I am often found cleaning some little bit or another. Basically the bathrooms get cleaned very regularly and the kitchen as well. Vacuum (a dog and a cat) gets a workout at least once a week, often more, but not whole house style!

    We are always trying to work this out.

    For what it is worth, when I was single – SINGLE – and lived in 1200 sq feet of townhouse in LA, I hired a housekeeper. This was an amazing thing for me to do. I could afford it at the time and it was great to have a clean house. It was less cluttered too, maybe because it was clean?

    When I moved back to the NYC area, I hired one too. She was not as good, but so kind and whatever she did was better than what I did!! My neighbor hired her too and she still works for her.

    We have no such budget for this now, but if you can swing it, you might want to give it a try.

    That’s a lot of words for someone with nothing to contribute, isn’t it??? What will others say? I envy the organized, the clean, the uncluttered!

  2. Ginny,

    Like you, I avoid lots of housecleaning until company is coming over or until I just can’t take it anymore. And I am very familiar with the martyrdom and self-pity route, as I’ve been there many times over the years. As you said — not conducive to a healthy spiritual life (or family life either).

    Currently, I enlist my sons, who are now not only old enough (11 and 13) to help but are old enough to do a thorough job. They don’t like to help, but I make them. (You will probably never get kids to be excited about cleaning baseboards, but, hey, it has to be done once in a great while.) I do have a cleaning person come in twice a month to do a thorough once over, too. It helps so much and twice a month is enough to keep the expense down but also to keep the house looking tidy if we do some small cleaning jobs in between. On the weeks in between her visits, all of us pitch in and tidy up. It’s usually not on the weekends, because of sports, but one evening a week for a short while — say whatever can be done in 20-30 minutes. In a small house (mine is about the same as yours), each person can clean one area in this amount of time. After that, whatever doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done.

    Once my kids were about 8 and 10, I was able to motivate my sons to help around the house more by using a chore chart where they had some mandatory chores and could pick and choose some other chores. They had reached an age where they were interested in earning money — I make them pay for some of their own toys, etc. so they had an interest in being able to do so. I also wanted to teach them about the value of money and the correlation of work to money.

    I created a chore chart that allowed them to choose how much work they do, and by extension how much money they earn, by choosing their chores. (N.B. This only works when you have kids old enough to be interested in earning money or who have a financial goal of saving for something — a toy, game, clothing, music, etc.)

    Each child has some mandatory chores — make bed, put away pajamas and folded laundry. Feed dog. Do a five minute “pick-up” of toys at the end of each day. Set or clear the table for dinner, wash dishes, etc. Each child earns a base rate of allowance for those mandatory chores. If he wishes to earn more, he can choose from other chores — vacuum, fold laundry, help mom or dad plan and cook dinner, fold all the laundry, clean out all of your toys, wash the car, give the dog a bath, pull weeds in the garden, etc. Depending on the time and effort required to do these “extra” chores, some are worth more than others. I note the monetary value of each chore on the chart (they’re all worth different amounts) so the boys can see what they can potentially earn. On any given day, a child can choose how hard he wants to work in order to earn what he wants. One son will do most any chore on the list because he wants to have money to spend on a regular basis. The other son will do the bare minimum and not earn much and then be annoyed when his brother buys something really cool. Some kids have to learn the hard way that money is earned and that earning money takes work. This system isn’t perfect, but I have found this to be a good real life lesson for the kids that helps me get my house cleaner than if I were doing it all myself. I realize this sounds like a complex system, and I’m not sure I’ve explained it very well, but it’s really not difficult once you get it up and running. Happy to email a PDF of the chart I created with the list of chores and tracking system to you or anyone else reading this.

    When I paid the kids, usually at the end of each week, I broke down the money they earned into three envelopes — GIVE — 10% SAVE — 20%, SPEND — 70% so I could also teach them a bit about managing money. I got this idea from a book called America’s Cheapest Family by Steve and Annette Economides.

    As I mentioned earlier, this system only worked when my children became old enough to be interested in earning money. When they were younger, all I really had them do was this: At the end of each day, set a timer for 10 minutes. Each person in the family cleans whatever they can in that time period — even young children can pick up and put toys in a container or straighten a pile of newspapers while mom and dad may do the more difficult chores. Not everything gets perfectly clean, but it’s better than doing nothing and the house is tidier and the little ones get some experience in understanding that everyone in the family, not just Mom, contributes to making a nice home.

    My two cents: your kids are still pretty young so the chore chart/choose what you earn system probably isn’t the best system for your family at this time. I wrote about it to give you ideas for the future. But perhaps the 10 minute “tidy up” will help right now. Also, give yourself some credit — you are working outside of the home and raising a family. There is nothing wrong with hiring help if it’s in the budget to do so. When my kids were very young and I was still teaching school, one of the best pieces of advice I received is that I can do it all, but I can’t do it all at once.

    Hope this helps. Hang in there! I think the housecleaning struggle is one to which we can all relate.

  3. Ginny,

    You comments in the first paragraph “I avoid serious housecleaning until either 1) we have company coming or 2) I get so utterly fed up with the dust buffalos that I am ready to explode, whereupon I haul out the cleaning supplies in a huff of frustration at the squalor in which I live, laced with heavy feelings of martyrdom and self-pity.” describe my method completely. I clean the bathroom once a week and then the rest depends on mood, amount of messiness, and whether someone is coming over.

    I would definitely give “family cleaning time” for 3 to 6 mths. Even the youngest of children can be given simple tasks. Assess what you feel they can handle and try to get them involved. When Ethan was 4 I had him to dust the coffee/side tables, take items to their respective rooms, and help folding laundry. He loves to use spray bottles so I also let him help clean the bathroom (non toxic chemicals though). Hope this helps!

    Good luck on your cleaning adventures!

  4. Ginny,

    I still don’t have a working system, but one thing that has helped me is to break “housecleaning” into very small pieces to make it more manageable. For example, after using the bathroom, I might give myself an extra few minutes before opening the door and dealing with whatever awaits on the other side. In about 4 minutes I can wipe down the counter and mirror, and maybe even a bit of the floor. The place looks fresher already, and no one missed me because they just assumed I was unavailable anyway.

    I look forward to reading some helpful hints myself!

    Good luck,

  5. Ginny,

    This is a constant issue in our house too. I love things to be clean but I have a natural disposition towards clutter (“a cluttered desk is a sign of genius”, as I often like to remind my husband). My husband is great about cleaning up the clutter but does not really care too much about dust levels, etc.
    For a while I was only working part time and had Fridays off, which meant Friday was my day to clean. However, once I started working full time we realized that our only time to clean, run errands, spend time together, etc, was on the weekends (and even then sometimes we have to work)…needless to say we went the housekeeper route, which gives us more time to spend with each other and one less thing to worry about on the weekends. She comes twice a month and, in the meantime, I work on my clutter issues (although I do have free reign over my desk to be as cluttered and genius-ey as I like) and Carlos, who works from home a lot these days, does his best to keep up the maintenance in between housekeeper cleanings.
    I like the chore chart idea I read about above for when the boys are older. I, avid fan of Full House that I was, always tried to implement the same in my family growing up…it never really worked out, but I am sure I’ll try it again some day when I have little ones.
    Keep us Posted!

  6. My housecleaner is an investment, Ginny. She comes every other week to change the sheets on 3 beds, clean 2 bathrooms and the kitchen, vacuum, and whatever else she gets to is gravy. She also turned into our babysitter–a huge bonus and the kids love her! I agree, a dirty, cluttered house can seep into the mind.

  7. -check it out!

  8. Love your honesty – I’m right there with you! And I love hearing other people’s tips for how they make this work.
    Here’s how I stay sane:

    1) I try to do one thing a day. It’s not the same every week, but I may vacuum on Mon, do laundry on Tues, take out trash on Wed, laundry on Thurs, mop on Friday, etc. This much I seem to be able to accomplish after/in-between/with work and kids. I meal-plan and we grocery shop on the weekends. We also spend maybe an hour on Sat. morning or Sun. night doing a “divide-and-conquer” – you vacuum, I’ll entertain the kids; you fold laundry with the little “helper”, I’ll clean the kitchen. Seems to work decently.

    2) Like you, I need a minimum of order to keep my mind settled. So I make sure we “put the house to bed” by picking up toys (anything out in the living rooms goes in bins under our coffee tables; I straighten up their rooms while my husband does bathtime with them) and cleaning up after dinner. Usually whoever didn’t make dinner does the dishes. I sweep and wipe down the counters since my husband is apparently blind to this dirt and it bugs me. 😉 But I don’t like greeting a dirty kitchen in the bleary morning, so I make this a priority.

    3) What I don’t make a priority is the stuff I truly hate, unless I absolutely have to. Meaning: I do not iron. EVER. And I do not dust. EVER. (Unless company is coming and new life forms are emerging from the dust.) I just figure life is too short. Not that I love cleaning the bathroom or washing diapers, but I can deal with these – I just have a few chores I truly hate. Life goes on. 😉

    4) I try to keep a few wise words in mind about the constant state of clutter. I once read somewhere that “I would rather have a home where children can play than a museum to make other women jealous.” Love that mantra.

  9. Wow — ask and you shall receive! You all ROCK.

    *Chore chart idea: love it.
    *”Stealth” cleaning before leaving the bathroom: love it.
    *Getting everyone involved for a few minutes a night: love that, too.
    *Hiring someone to do the “heavy lifting”: now seriously considering it.
    *Ignoring the ironing without feeling guilty: Mothering Spirit, you are a woman after my own heart.

    I will take all this to heart and come up with a plan. I will of course give you status reports from the trenches.

    Happy cleaning to all! (I’m off to check out …)

  10. Ginny,
    I love you for many reasons but this is one of them. I too never iron unless necessary but I hang close right out of the dryer. Like mothering spirit I too do certain things on certain days. This helps alot. I leared lots from the fly lady website. I have to do this for peace of mind–my house is never perfect but everyday is a new day. Love everyones tips. Happy Epiphany!

  11. I don’t know how to be a mom and a teacher (two full-time jobs) – and – keep the house clean. Something’s gotta give. It totally stresses out my husband and I when our space gets dirty and/or cluttered. I know we should be strong enough not to let a mess affect our relationships with one another but the reality is that it does. We have a cleaning lady and I think it actually makes my husband more happy than me. I’m all about buying services at this point in my life. I don’t want or need any more “stuff,” I’d much rather spend my money on something that simplifies my life, gives me more time with family and friends or an experience — like traveling. I’m very grateful to be able to afford such things and maybe I’m just rationalizing, but it makes me feel good to support services (usually local people.) My boys (15 and 12) take turns doing laundry and dishes for a month at a time and it is beautiful. If you can make cleaning fun family time — go for it, otherwise I’d encourage you to soak up every moment of time with those boys. It goes way. too. fast!