By Contributor Pamela Chan.
If you’ve ever heard friends or colleagues discuss what [self described] clean freaks they are – how they wipe down their kitchen cupboard knobs every night – I have two words of advice for you. Tune out! These types of stories will only cause you undue stress. It’s much better for you to tune into the conversations that run something like this:
“My home hasn’t been truly tidy since before my children were born.”
“I’m with you on that one. I’ve stopped doing housework.”
Most people don’t stop doing housework. There’s probably a touch of exaggeration going on in these exchanges; however, most of us do struggle to tame the chaos in our homes. How often do the people you know talk about house keeping? What we do share in person isn’t focussed on such a mundane topic. Online we’re more apt to share our holiday photos, or a viral post about Miley Cyrus bending over, than honest tidbits about cleaning fatigue.
In practice there are three stages of tidiness in homes:
- the everyday reality;
- the partially tidy version for when guests visit; and,
- the full-on overhaul when realtors, prospective buyers and inquiring family members drop by.
If we want to be really honest, even stage three can involve some tricks to feign cleaning perfection.
Here are a few strategies that my husband and I use at our house to keep one of those reality TV “let’s clean up your home” crews from showing up at our door.
1. Divide and Conquer
It’s important to do the tasks each of us doesn’t mind doing repeatedly. If you don’t mind dealing with recycling, cleaning garbage cans, ripping out weeds, doing laundry every day and cooking, for example, you can leave your partner to steam clean, vacuum, wash the car and clean up after dinner. (I’m grouping together activities that my husband and I tend to pick up.) This is an important strategy to work out as there are many arguments taking place in households over cleaning job allocations. In many families, wives are still picking up the majority of the household tasks, whether or not they work outside of the home.
If your partner isn’t keen on cleaning, encourage tasks that he/she likes and talk about how frequently they should be done. If the tasks your partner chooses are ones you don’t like, all the better. Claim the jobs you like for yourself. Also claim the ones your partner dislikes but you can endure. If there aren’t enough willing people around, or if your energy is flagging regularly due to all of your other obligations, consider hiring a housekeeper to help with the heavy duty cleaning.
My husband pitched in on cooking meals when I was on four month bed rest. I like to joke that it’s a traumatic event that he has somehow blocked out. He can’t remember anything about it. (This was only four years ago.) I don’t expect him to cook our meals, although he does make simple breakfasts and the odd sandwich when the rest of us aren’t around.
2. Find a Home for Everything
“You know how everything in your home has a place?”, a relative said to me recently, as she continued to discuss another topic. “Woa, I thought. This is good because I do aspire to have everything back in its place. (Just like my mum does.) But most of the time I feel like we’re just not there.” Of course we’re not doing too bad in that respect.
For everything to have its place, you have to establish a set place for each object in your home. Everyone needs to understand where that object lives. Sometimes I will find my husband standing in the family room trying to figure out where the blue bunny goes or the little game piece he just found. Our family room is anything but minimalistic. There are shelves and baskets everywhere – and everything has a specific home.
3. Get Everything Back in Its Place
If objects don’t end up in their home after a day or so, they start to pile up in other places. Before you know it you have a bit of “not so organized” confusion. My mother does a complete sweep of the main floor before going to bed. If you are a guest (like my family members are), she will pick up anything you’ve left lying about and deposit it discreetly on the floor near your door. We find the objects and put them back into their temporary homes.
We have gathering stations where we collect objects that are on their way back to their resting place. When we come into the house after being away, with our hands full of bags, backpacks and personal bags go into a space in the foyer and items for the kitchen go directly to the kitchen island. Rather than running around the house with smaller collections of goods, we grab large groups of items and take them to another floor where we walk around putting them all away. If an item stays in a holding area for too long, chances are it doesn’t have an established home yet and my brain is resisting this fact. Or I’m just being lazy!
Whenever you are moving in your space – even if it’s just from the living room to the end of your condo – make sure that you are using your hands to bring things back to their home. Take advantage of each trip around your house. These actions become second nature and you don’t feel like you’re cleaning up.
4. Cut Yourself Some Slack
If you’re looking at your laundry and thinking “yikes, I just don’t have the motivation to fold this and put it away”, stack it all like Mt. K2 in the corner of your bedroom on a chair and close your bedroom door. If possible, try to set some time before going bed to fold it up and put it away. At our home the children’s clothes are often folded at night and stacked just outside their doors. The next day I might put the clothes away in the morning. Or it might not be until they are lying in bed and I’m slotting items away. My four year olds help with stuffing the washing machine and pulling clothes out of the dryer but I’m the official clothes put-er away-er. (I have their items groups by colour, style, function and type of fabric.) I talk a lot about what I’m doing and why it’s important while I’m doing it. I’m trying to lay a groundwork in their mind that keeping a tidy home matters. They might go through a messy phase in their teens and early 20s, but I have observed that when people start their own families they tend to resort to standards that they knew growing up.
5. Build in Infrastructure
The more free standing shelving, built-in shelving, baskets and re-purposed containers you have in your home, the easier your life will be. We have found that using a closet designer has been a critical decision – both in a condo and in a home. We have also been fortunate to pick up cheaper pieces of furniture and organizing units on sale new and second hand. On the main floor the most critical area to have built in shelving is the pantry or food storage area. If your budget doesn’t permit buying anything right now, do whatever you need to do to have infrastructure ready to accept your household goods. One PhD student I know built shelving from wooden planks and concrete blocks. Don’t forget that you can shop your home to find items that you can sell on second hand goods sites. You can then invest the money into new purchases.
6. Have the Toys and Tools
We use a steam cleaner on our floor, a European broom and vacuum cleaner and have
been experimenting with environmental cleaners. Recently I have started to rethink how I tackle bathrooms as this is not a task that I enjoy. Cleaning with toxic smelling items is not only a turn-off but is clearly polluting the ground water around our homes. If your tools are harsh, deficient, scanky and unsatisfying to use, you will avoid cleaning.
7. Make your Tools and Toys Accessible
One of the most important closets to organize is the one that holds all your cleaning supplies. One option is to keep larger items like the vacuum cleaner tucked away in a well design cupboard. At our home we leave our compact sized vacuum cleaner out 24/7 near our less used front door. It may seem odd to have this “decorative piece” on the floor but having it easily accessible means that we will use it more often. You know the old adage about sight, the mind and the related call to action.
8. Clear Out a Calm Zone
Some days it feels like I’m re-cleaning the kitchen multiple times a day. My husband says that he is doing this also. Imagine what the kitchen would look like if one or both of us stopped cleaning it! Other days I’m running out the door and don’t have time to empty the dishwasher.
Sometimes just grouping all the dishes to be washed in one corner and sink, while clearing off and wiping down the island and other counters makes me feel that the kitchen is almost done. The eating table is kept clear and ready for other uses such as arts and crafts.
A critical part of keeping a calm feeling in the kitchen is to have a clean and organized fridge and countertops that are clear of clutter. This is where built in shelving and only keeping out well used appliances helps.
9. Keep High Traffic Surfaces Clean
- kitchen and bathroom sinks
- fridge and appliance doors
- kitchen garbage can
- stove tops
- crumb-free floors
- dust free surfaces
Tackling these surfaces regularly – and in some cases daily – will help to tame the chaos. If you can’t get to all of these tasks, choose tasks that you are willing to let slide. At our home dusting is a last priority. It won’t build up to a scary degree but sometimes it is overdue by the time I get to it.
10. Focus Your Tasks
When I do get to dusting, I dust the whole house all at once – even the baseboards and tops of hanging pictures. Do one task across your whole house instead of burning yourself out trying to clean your home in a blitz. Put your cleaning cloths and glass cleaning liquid bottle in a basket, walk around the house and tackle as many windows as you can. If you’re in a bathroom cleaning mode, keep going for as long as you can. You have to grab that momentum when it hits you.
11. Do a Nightly Reset
Try to reset your high traffic areas before you sit down in the evening for a touch of TV or other past times. As much as possible, reset these spaces to a high standard so that you don’t wake up the next day facing a mess. At our home the important reset space is the kitchen. My mother used to entertain a lot when she worked for the Foreign Service and maintained that the kitchen should be finished before bedtime. This led to many late nights with all four of my family members working hard to reset the house after one of our many weekly large dinner and cocktail parties.
12. Go Albertan
It’s not just people from Asian countries who remove their shoes at the door. If you have spent time in rural Alberta you’ll know that homes there include a mud room where all footwear comes off before you enter. One recent finding puts 65% of pathogens in your home originating from your outdoor shoes coming into the house. Don’t forget the impact of dirt, grass and bits of mud that can come into your ground floor and carpets. Make life easy and keep that footwear at your home’s threshold. We take off muddy boots before climbing into the car and put them in a box in the trunk. A clean (ish) car is an extension of a clean home.
13. Befriend Your Dryer
If you do have unexpected guests, shove everything that’s making your main area look messy into the dryer. When we showed our condo for the better part of a year while our twins were babies and toddlers, this is what we did.
14. Organize Your Storage Room
The more organized your storage room is – with shelving and neatly stacked boxes- the less likely you are to stuff it full of junk. In order to keep your home tidy, your storage area needs to be ready to receive items that you don’t need year round and 24/7. Some examples include Christmas wrap and decorations, items you need to resell, seasonal items such as picnic baskets and hand-me-down clothing that you are waiting to give to your children.
15. Follow the Experts
The experts of all experts, when it comes to cleaning, organizing and embracing the art of living, are Martha Stewart and her colleagues. Her website and Martha Stewart Living magazine are a treasure trove of great organizational and cleaning ideas. Other interior design magazines offer similar advice. Don’t be intimidated by Pinterest where many people are pinning organizational and cleaning tips. It doesn’t mean that they are doing all or even most of them. Their efforts will lead you to some nifty ideas on personal weblogs via pins. If you know a particularly fastidious house cleaner who is using Pinterest, follow his or her Pinterest account! While you are looking for inspiration, seek out online publishers who are sharing information about eco-friendly cleaning alternatives. If cleaning a home coincides with ethical and sustainable choices, you will feel more inspired.
If the thought of attacking cleaning tasks puts you in a bad mood, dwell on the topic even more. Get yourself into a really bad state and then take action. This is when you will do your best cleaning and organizing. Grab garbage bags and boxes to collect items to store, put away, give away and sell. If you’re having one of those days when you feel like you’re not getting things done, or you’re being hard on yourself about how you’re faring in one of your life roles, a round of cleaning in a high traffic room will bear results that will leave you feeling satisfied. If you really want to feel like you’re getting down to it, reorganize your bureau in your bedroom or your kitchen pantry or food shelving.
There are many more general cleaning tips out there that can help tame the chaos. What strategies do you use in your home? Do you tackle the chaos on your own, with the help of someone else or do you hire a housekeeper?
User generated quotes about cleaning on Somee. Enjoy!
Pamela Chan lives in the Tri Cities area near Vancouver with her husband and four year old twins. They enjoy exploring cultural events and scenic local parks. On BCfamily.ca she writes about ideas that strengthen our communities and celebrate multiculturalism in British Columbia.