Homemaking, Wifehood

This is my job. And it’s a job.

Julie / September 24, 2010

Seth is a little quicker than I am to jump in and proclaim that I do work a “full-time job,” which I appreciate, even as I feel a little sheepish about it myself.  Although if I was doing all the cleaning and housework and 24-hour-a-day nannying for any other family but my own, I’d definitely think it was a job!

Part of my problem is that I feel like home-work is a calling and duty in itself.  Outside jobs may be the way husbands fulfill their own duties to provide for their families, but the actual job itself isn’t the duty–it’s the means to the end.  My “job,” on the other hand, is the end.  (Not the ultimate end; home-work is just my first line in the grand scheme of serving God, but it’s still a specific and direct calling.)

Anyway, all of this has hindered me a bit from realizing one important truth until it completely hit me upside of the head last week: this is a job.

I mean that in a “negative” sense.  This is a job, in the sense that it’s a lot of work.  It’s hours and hours of work, every day.  It’s just like life at the office: some days you watch the clock and die for a break.  Some days you’re exhausted or sick and all you want to do is go back to bed.

Maybe because I used to work outside the home, or maybe because even my inside-the-home work used to be so much simpler, I’ve really struggled with the occasional monotony and unavoidableness of this job of mine.  This is motherhood, after all; noble and divine calling and all that.  This is supposed to be fun!  I’m supposed to be enjoying every second, right?  If it’s not all joy all the time, then either I’m doing something wrong, or somebody’s asking too much of me!

And no.  In all seriousness, I can’t compare working at home-work to the office work I used to do–home-work is much much much much more demanding, but it also has a lot of joys and giggles and very deep rewards that the best office job in the world could never offer.  But sometimes, however rarely or commonly, sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes I just gotta suck it up and get it done because it is my job.  Just because the delirious joy of changing poopy diapers isn’t happening doesn’t mean I get to stop working.

Home-work is a discipline, just like so many other aspects of serving God.  Sometimes we pray because we’re just outflowing with delight to talk to our Creator but sometimes we pray because we’re told to.  Sometimes we open our Bibles with glee and sometimes we open them and read with frustration at our total lack of connection to the text.  I’ve always struggled with doing any of these things that are “supposed” to be a joy at times that the joy just isn’t coming, and home-work is another one I’m adding to that list.  Put another way, I’m learning that sometimes, home-work is something I do because I have to, because it glorifies God and serves my family, even when I’d rather be tucked under the covers snoozing away. 

It’s better to enjoy the work, but it’s necessary to do it whether I enjoy it or not.  It is a job, and sometimes you have to go to work and do your best even when you’d much rather be on vacation.  And in that sense, I desperately need to see it as a job, and not just a very busy activity of leisure!

Home-Centered

Weighing outside activities.

Julie / September 17, 2010

I really like this blog post: When It’s Time to Just Say No

I recently joined a morning Bible study–biweekly–and it was a really big decision for me, one I’d never had to make before because we didn’t have a car and so I was “stuck” at home.  And I struggled pretty deeply over what this two-hours-every-other-week would mean for my kids.  I don’t like putting them in nursery; I’d be much happier if everyone met in a giant room and the kids could play in the background while the moms fellowshipped and studied.  Since that isn’t the format, though, I had to think though the implications of putting them in the nursery, away from Mommy (and Mommy away from her first job as homemaker).

After talking to Seth, I decided to give it a shot.  I hope it will be good for the girls to have some exposure to kids near their age, and two hours every other week doesn’t sound like an unreasonable amount of time.  Maybe they’ll start learning about social expectations and obeying adults other than us!  At any rate, E seemed to enjoy it, and R clearly wasn’t traumatized–although when I came back after the study, the girls were standing (just standing), right next to each other, doing absolutely nothing besides silently watching the other kids!

And for me, it’s mainly about trying to be involved with church.  I feel like there are a lot of activities that I can’t be a part of, because of our home responsibilities, and so I’m sure it seems to many people that we’re “fringe” people.  But our biggest problem is that our kids go to bed waaaay early and everything goes haywire if they can’t.  So when the study came up, and it’s during the day and minimally disruptive to our home, it seemed good to participate.

But my point here is that it wasn’t a decision I made lightly.  I was really concerned about the impact it would have on my first responsibility as a homemaker and mother, which is the whole point of the post I linked above, although for her family and home, she decided it wasn’t good to do a very similar outside activity.  I think our morning starts very early, comparatively, and so it is neither hard to get out the door on time, nor does it blow our whole day–we have a nice long morning far before 9:30 ever rolls around!

I couldn’t agree more with the author, though, that it all boils down to making intentional choices about the ways we spend our time, especially our time outside the home.  I’m learning that a lot of life in general, actually, boils down to being intentional and purposeful–this is just one more little area.

Homemaking

Works for Me Wednesday: Microfiber Cloths!

Julie / September 8, 2010

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I know I’m way late to the gate on this one, but I’d never really tried microfiber cloths before.  I was very confused about the whole safe-to-use-with-cleaning-fluids issue, and I don’t like the feel of them on my hand–they’re just so sticky and they get caught and pulled in microscopic fingernail tears I didn’t even know I had–and they remind me of nothing so much as pantyhose.  Just, ewwwww.

But I kept reading about how they were literally the best thing to happen to 41y83ukPHXL._SL160_a housekeeping since sliced bread, and with the whole cloth diaper thing, it just seemed to make a whole lot of sense to try to reduce our astounding trash pile of paper towels.  So I ordered a great big pile of microfiber cloths and chomped at the bit until they finally came in and I could see for myself if all the hype was true.

It is.  The most amazing thing about microfiber cloths is to clean off semi-solid messes, like tomato sauce or peanut butter from R’s highchair; there is no comparison between these cloths and anything else I’ve ever tried.  They’re really good about not just pushing messes around, but actually picking them up.  They’re also more than competent at cleaning up liquid spills: one cloth, wrung out once, cleaned up about 10oz of spilt milk, which means they’re as efficient as most sponges and less work–and less leave-behind smearing.  They’re obviously good at dusting and picking up very small particles (like crumbs), but they’ve surprised me with their grippiness and ability to de-stickyfy surfaces as well.  Honey, for instance, is no match for the microfiber.

I’ve also been surprised by how often it’s efficient for me to simply rinse them, wring them, and keep using them.  I bought 36, and expected to have to buy more (or do laundry all the time) because we easily were going through that many paper towels in a day just cleaning the counters, the floors, and various other kid-dirtied surfaces.  And it is nice to have enough of them so that if one gets too grody, I can toss it in the laundry without worrying about whether or not it’ll make me run out too soon, but I definitely don’t anticipate buying any more.  I keep one on our paper towel rack for drying hands, one on the counter for cleaning counters, and one on another towel rack in the kitchen for getting little drips off the floor as they happen.  The floor and counter ones end up getting replaced at least a couple of times each day, but they still last a lot longer than paper towels did.

The only thing I really regret is that I didn’t know about microfiber cloths sooner!

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Marriage

preparing our children for marriage

Julie / September 3, 2010

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It occurred to me that since my last entry was more or less from the perspective of “my” generation, that it might come across as critical of my parents‘ generation, which wasn’t what I meant at all.  This cultural shift away from “responsible twentysomethings” and early marriage doesn’t seem to me like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s been in the works since the 1970s or so, based on what I’ve read.  I’ve actually been thinking about it as a parent more than I have as a participant, and it might be more balanced if I talked about it from that direction, huh?

In short, as it’s becoming ever more clear that society is arrayed against young marriage, what can we do as parents to help our kids bridge the gap?

The biggest thing, I think, is to raise them to be married.  Not, in other words, to raise our daughters to be career people, or to raise our sons to be single wandering types who can barely provide for themselves, much less a family.

The American “track” for kids and teenagers goes something like this: do well in high school, participate in sports and extracurriculars; get scholarships to college, do the whole college scene with at least a year on-campus to get the “experience”; graduate after four or five or six years (or maybe go to graduate school); get a job, settle down, maybe marry that boyfriend you’ve been toting around since senior year; after five years of marriage (and entering one’s thirties), have kids.  And woe to those who get off the track–how many high school drop-outs end up at law firms?

But we want our kids to glorify God.  Full stop.  That’s what we want, and all we want, right?  How much of this American “ideal” do we really need?

Not excepting the possibility that a child may be called to celibacy–and not underemphasizing that parents need to be aware and discerning of that possibility–the general expectation is that our girls will want to get married and be moms some day.  So what is the very best preparation and support that we can give them to serve and glorify God in that role?

I find myself planning their academics and asking myself what will be most useful to them as a wife and mother rather than what will help them succeed in a career–or even in college, although I definitely think that a good homeschool education should be more than sufficient to prepare them for college in a coincidental sense.  It is more important that they be able to run households well more than that they can discuss the leaders of the French Revolution.  This is one type of preparation: basic life skills to live without Mommy and Daddy.

There’s also emotional preparation: to be the type of mature twenty-year-olds who have the discernment and knowledge to choose good mates, and be able to take the challenges and blessings of marriage in stride.  A wedding changes your life, no mistake about it, and teenagers aren’t quite “done baking” yet on the maturity front–but when society expected them to get married and stay married, they managed–with minuscule divorce rates.  I want our kids to have that kind of maturity and understanding of things larger than themselves (i.e. the sanctity of marriage!) so that they don’t want to “sow wild oats” before they feel ready for marriage.  Somehow we’ve got to help kids have some confidence in their ability (by God’s grace) to make marriage work, even when the world is telling them they’re way too young to pull it off.  We can help them have reasonable expectations (and aspirations) and to build relationship skills to help it all come together.

And then there’s financial.  I don’t see a practical way, honestly, to have a large number of children and still support them with great scads of literal money after they’re grown up… but there are many young people whose parents are giving them the advice and friendly urging that they need in order to find a little business niche of their own, even in young teenagerdom, in the grand tradition of the Proverbs 31 woman.  Parents can help their kids discover their marketable talents and give them the sound business advice to actually get a small work-at-home operation off the ground and running with some degree of reliability before the child ever marries and leaves for their own house.  It’s also gigantic if parents can help their kids stay debt-free before marriage–I haven’t seen diligent, frugal couples very often who can’t make it work financially… unless they’re struggling under a mountain of debt, which sometimes is their fault through poor judgment and sometimes isn’t their fault at all.  But I don’t think anything keeps you debt-free as much as good advice.  Lastly, parents should teach and model frugality.  It really is an acquired skill!  Not only because we grow accustomed to certain spending habits and then have massive culture shock when we have those habits without our parents’ pocketbooks attached–but because living frugally is largely a matter of simply knowing how to do it!  Knowing which corners to cut, how to stay entertained and have fun without expending large amounts of money in the process, which items to invest in and which not to buy at all, knowing how to cook on a budget without resorting to pre-processed foods (which are sadly cheaper than fresh ones) or an unbalanced diet: these are all valuable pieces of knowledge, skills, and discernment that we can teach our children!  We can also teach them as many money-saving talents as we can, and encourage them to pursue them on their own–things like knowing how to fix things around the house yourself, or your car; how to sew, and so on.

This is by no means exhaustive.  We’ve only had girls so far, and so I’ve thought about it almost entirely in the context of daughters.  I’m only now really beginning to wonder how to help our soon-to-arrive (Lord willing) son learn to provide for his family, and I imagine that is going to look very different in significant ways from teaching daughters how to care for their families.  And I’m still learning so much of this myself.  I am sure, though, that I want our kids to achieve success in God’s eyes–and I’m unconcerned about how that looks compared to success in the world’s eyes.

Marriage

Money for (Young) Marriage

Julie / August 30, 2010

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The New York Times Magazine article “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” has been popping up all over the place since it was published, and I’ve been thinking very deeply about the points it makes in reference to another widely-quoted article that was published in Christianity Today a full year prior–“The Case for Early Marriage.”  Both are very important articles about a single particular cultural shift, and despite their length, both are worth the time to read and ponder.

There are many, many good points in the CT article, but there was one that is particularly justified in light of this recent research.  Author Mark Regnerus writes:

[T]he economic domain remains an area in which many parents are often able, but frequently unwilling, to assist their children. Many well-meaning parents use their resources as a threat, implying that if their children marry before the age at which their parents socially approve, they are on their own. No more car insurance. No help with tuition. No more rent.

This doesn’t sound very compassionate toward marriage–or toward family members. This is, however, a two-way street: many young adults consider it immature or humiliating to rely on others for financial or even social support. They would rather deal with sexual guilt–if they sense any at all–than consider marrying before they think they are ready. This cultural predilection toward punishing rather than blessing marriage must go, and congregations and churchgoers can help by dropping their own punitive positions toward family members, as well as by identifying deserving young couples who could use a little extra help once in a while. Christians are great about supporting their missionaries, but in this matter, we can be missionaries to the marriages in our midst.

In the newer, secular NYT article, the stark financial reality of my generation is more detailed: twice as many of all twenty-somethings (totaling two-thirds) have received financial aid or literal task assistance from their parents in a given month. Richer parents give their children more money, but poor parents give their kids money too; whether rich or poor, the total is equivalent to roughly 10% of the parents’ income during the beginning of twenty-somethings.  Countless news articles attest to the astounding unemployment/underemployment rate of this age segment, and it seems to be a growing certainty that, for whatever reason, the average twenty-something can’t quite manage to support themselves financially.

Enter the question of marriage into this scenario.  Your peers are busy doing internships, “finding” themselves, or trying and failing to find a bread-winning job in a struggling economy.  Two-thirds of them cohabit but don’t actually marry; very, very few have children.  (And if we exclude the lowest social classes, the number of us with children will drop even more.)  Yet we read articles and books that sound like they’re based on very biblical teachings, telling us that with marriage should come children, that women are to be keepers at home–and even in more secular churches, there is still often the idea that we should keep our children away from the (free) public schools, or that daycare is evil… in other words, the Christian idea of marriage is even more expensive than the secular idea of marriage, so should it really be a surprise that Christian young people are joining the world in delaying marriage?  Marriage is expensive.  And we live in a very non-community-centered culture where young people usually are financially expected to be very much on their own–if they’re married.

I understand where the idea comes from; it’s the whole “leave father and mother and cleave to spouse” thing; married people are supposed to be a good deal independent of their parents.

At the same time, though, I’ve seen so many young couples genuinely struggle to make ends meet (if they even get married in the first place), and so often their biggest problems are ones that would be reasonably trivial to fix.  It’s a gap between the maturity, resources, and wisdom that they possess, and the maturity, resources, and wisdom that they need to make their home look like the ones we read about in Christian marriage/family how-to books.  How many couples could figure out how to let the wife stay at home with their children if they only had someone giving them accurate piercing financial advice, or even a garage or basement or guest room to stay in for a few months so they can pay down their school debt and start putting what income they do have towards actual maintenance of their family?  How many young couples without any credit on the books could buy a house if another family (their parents, mayhaps) who knew them to be responsible, genuine, hardworking people would give them a loan towards a down payment, or a second mortgage so they wouldn’t have to throw away money on PMI every month?  How many hard-working husbands could learn and do excellent work in a new field–if a Christian small bushiness owner would trouble to give them the job in the first place, or if their parents’ network of friends could find a job within their ranks and connections?

It all sounds very obvious.  This is a tremendous and important ministry opportunity.  In all seriousness, however, I don’t see it happening very much.  I see a lot of young couples who just struggle.  Too many send their children to daycare because the paltry couple hundred dollars that’s left over from her income after paying for the daycare is still a couple hundred dollars that they can’t make up any other way.  And I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me they “can’t afford” to have children, even though they’re working their tails off.  School debt is a real killer, but there’s also plenty of instances where the couple just needs some really sound (and occasionally brutal) advice.  But it doesn’t seem like anybody’s handing advice out to young couples these days.

I’m very passionate about people getting married.  I think it’s silly and perverse that churches promote “purity pledges” and “True Love Waits” faux-wedding rings instead of urging marriage.  At the same time, though, I understand why so many of my generation are holding off: society as a whole seems dead set against  helping us figure out how to make marriage financially feasible–especially if we care to follow the biblical command to have children along with that marriage–and too many other Christians, even parents, don’t seem to regard it as a very high priority, either.

Homemaking

Things I’ve learned about housework.

Julie / August 27, 2010

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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.

Homemaking

Things I’ve learned about housework.

Julie / August 27, 2010

1114379_36388957

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.