So, our house has been reasonably clean for… three weeks now, I think? It’s a little surreal, frankly; it’s almost like something finally went “click” in my head and housework started to make more sense. At any rate, there are some major things that have become very clear to me–at least in our house, with our tiny kids, and our relative amount of space.
Don’t HAVE clutter.
This has been a growing conviction over the past two years or so: I can’t tell you how much stuff I throw away simply because it isn’t worth the effort to find a place for it. The only way to keep everything straight is for everything to have a good, convenient, permanent home, and unless one’s house is infinitely full of perfectly-sized cubbies and closets, that really limits the amount of stuff you can have. So I’ve learned to throw it away. If it’s something I never use and would be easy/cheap to replace if I ever did need it, it’s an easy toss. If it’s something I rarely use and can use something else instead (small appliances often fall in this category), it’s a pretty easy toss, too. If it’s something unusable, it usually gets tossed too. In short, I’m learning to only accumulate things that fit ALL these criteria: it’s something 1) we need; 2) as close to an ideal solution for that need as possible; 3) I have a plan for where to put it in our house. Also: before finding a place for something / organizing a group of somethings, I ask myself if it would really go better in the trash can.
The clutter we do keep needs a perfect home.
Lots of people say “everything needs a home,” and that’s very true. But what’s been harder for me to learn is that everything needs a perfect home. If something is too hard to get to–too far away from where it’s used, behind too many other things, under other things–then it won’t stay where it belongs. I can make my purse’s “home” the coat closet until the cows come home, and it’s still going to end up in a pile in our living room. (One “hack” for this is to make the item’s home fun and gimmicky… when I switched my purse for a tiny keychain wallet and got a pretty little set of hooks to install in our basement stairwell, suddenly my purse leapt from the living room and now stays cozied in the basement stairwell, even though that’s further away than the coat closet was. There’s just something vaguely satisfying about hanging keychains on little hooks, and so I do it, even though it’s more work.) But generally: it’s well worth the trouble to find everything a home that is convenient, accessible, and otherwise… perfect.
Organization takes money. Or lots of space.
For ages, we’d go for different organization schemes based on what we found at a local store and a strong look at the price tag. In the past few months, I’ve started buying organizational things (containers, etc.) that are exactly what we need, or as close to it as I can find. I discovered the Container Store, and went there armed with measurements. I expect to do something like that (or order online) in the future, too. It’s better to have a box / divider / folder that does exactly what I need it to do and takes up exactly the amount of space I actually have, even if I end up paying four times what I’d pay for the cheapest little cheap container at Walmart. This is a little bit counter-intuitive, but it really has helped create order out of chaos better than mismatched piles of plastic boxes with lots of empty space in between. Also: if containers are too small, then they’ll either stay empty or take too much time filing items away in a microscopic fashion; if containers are too big, then they become miniature organizational disasters all by themselves.
Clutter is magnetic.
This one’s simple: if there’s a pile of stuff on the dining room table, it’s no big to add another little thing on rather than traipse it up the stairs. If the table’s clear, I’ll make the extra effort to keep it that way. Moral of the story: to keep a clean house, create lots of completely clean/clear spaces, and defend them vigilantly. Don’t tarry, or it will stack up and beat you!
Know which areas of the house turn into cleaning monsters, and which ones simply stagnate.
This is essential for sanity. In our house, the kitchen is the worst cleaning monster–if I leave it alone too long, it can be a gigantic, time-consuming pile of work to get back in order. Conversely, I could “sic” the kids on the nursery for hours and still clean everything back up in ten minutes. Two implications: 1) if I only have time/energy to clean one room, it had better be the kitchen; 2) if I have a choice about which room gets messy, it’s going to be the nursery. Also, there are some “small” chores that are easy to just plain ignore–dusting baseboards, cleaning shower door tracks, scrubbing down cabinet faces–but if they don’t ever get done, they’re very complicated or even outright impossible to restore to their prior glory. Another lesson learned the hard way!
The whole “keep your sink shiny” thing is true.
This is a trick from FlyLady: if your sink is shiny and empty (a relatively easy task), the rest of the kitchen will follow. It’s totally psychological: there’s such a feeling of accomplishment that comes from looking at the dish-free, shiny, pretty sink, it makes you want to go out and make other things clutterless, shiny, and pretty. So I’ve been working hard to keep our sink shiny and clean pretty much all day long, and I try to identify other “sinks” in the house that are similarly motivating. Another important sidenote of this is the “pretty” aspect… I’ve found that if I put some effort into making the things in our house a little bit pretty, and not just functional and neat, it really inspires me to keep them clean as well. So far, this is just the bathrooms and a vague attempt to make the soap dispensers, toothbrush holders, and towels all match the paint/walls in the bathroom.
It’s an unending battle.
And here we come to the point I haven’t really learned how to deal with yet: if you’re going to keep your house super-clean, then pretty much every hour of the day is going to find you picking up something. Whether it’s going through the new stack of mail, washing up the dinner dishes, or vacuuming for the tenth time that day, it keeps you on your toes. Even though I know I don’t spend as much time cleaning now that it’s mostly maintenance, and even though it’s much less stressful than trying to attack a really messy house, this whole never-a-moment-to-rest thing is definitely an adjustment. Sometimes I feel like cleaning is all I do! It’s much better all-around, and I do feel better about it all, but every once in a while I find myself wishing that there was no one in the house making messes, so that I could just STOP with the maintenance for an hour or two! Again, though, I know there’s no competition between the before and after versions of housekeeping for which one actually takes more cumulative time… I have a lot more time now to devote to other things. I just sometimes miss the feeling of letting things go and not doing housework outside of my temporal housework zones.