August 20, 2009

Housework Mullings

Perhaps you are starting to wonder why there has been no continuation of the Let's! all! clean! house!! enthusiasm. It is because...well, it is because I have so far made no photographable progress. Like, I have not actually put anything away, thrown anything out, or cleaned anything.

But! I am gearing up, and in many ways that IS progress, much as it is progress to go from thinking of a diet as an optional activity to thinking of it as inevitable and imminent.

I have been looking around my house with a New Eye. I have been thinking to myself, "When I get started, THAT will go." I've been mulling often on the theme of housework. Here are the themes I most often mull on:

Something is better than nothing. I can get in a mode where I feel like since it is impossible to make and maintain a perfect household, I might as well not do anything at all; because I will not be able to clean and organize the whole thing before company comes, I might as well not even start. I read an article once that referred to this as "frustrated perfectionism."

An all-or-nothing approach doesn't work for me anywhere in life (I drink diet Coke and I eat hot fudge sundaes with nuts; I use handkerchiefs and I use bleach; I breastfeed and I have scheduled c-sections), so it's silly of me to try to be all-or-nothing about housekeeping. It really is better to do a LITTLE than to do NOTHING, and I remind myself of this again and again.


Start with what appeals. It's pretty silly to be pairing up mittens in the coat closet when there's a puddle of orange juice on the kitchen floor, but that's what I did the last time my mother-in-law was coming for a visit. I did super-thorough cleanings/organizations of the coat closet (how did I not take any photos?) and the bathroom closet. Not only was it motivating, those areas stayed tidy a LOT longer than the kitchen floor did. AND I felt as if anyone looking in those areas would figure I was actually a neat and tidy person who just happened to have orange juice on the floor---as opposed to what they'd assume if the house looked nice until they opened a closet and the house's contents fell out of it.


Prioritize. This is the opposite of the previous one. I use them both, because different moods benefit from different techniques. I use "prioritize" when I'm getting spinny and frantic over not being able to pair up all the mittens. I shift gears then, and try to do the quick things that make big splashy differences instead of the complicated things that make subtle long-term differences.

One of my professors used to start the semester by saying that students could accomplish an 80% effect (i.e., a B) for a 20% effort---but that if they wanted that extra 20% effect (i.e., an A) they would need to put in the other 80% effort. He seemed to mean that they should do that other 80% (though perhaps what he actually meant was "Don't think you're hot stuff if you get a B in this class"), but what I took away was that it was smarter to stop at 20%. My house can be cleaned to a B level, or I can work 5 times as long and get it to A? Not worth it to me. (Same in the areas of fitness, fashion, parenting, and, yes, schoolwork.)


Keep going. Tackling housework makes me see what an insurmountable mountain it really is. It can be hard to continue chipping away at it when it doesn't seem to be getting much better, or when it's getting worse at about the same rate it's getting better. But it IS getting better. See also: something is better than nothing.


C.A.Y.G. What, you didn't read housekeeping magazines for the comics? This was in one of my grandmother's magazines, and it was one of the few articles I read. C.A.Y.G. stands for Clean As You Go, and it's the idea that ACCUMULATION is what drowns/saves us. Refill the sugar bowl when you have the sugar out already to make muffins. Put away the glue right after you're done using it. Put the batteries away as soon as you bring them home from the store. Rinse the measuring cup after you use it.


Does it bless or does it oppress? This is one of those nauseating sayings my mom and I can't help using because it works so well. We have to put the word "bless" in verbal airquotes every time we use it. It is well worth it, because this is how I got rid of TWO sets of silverplate flatware, one from each set of grandparents. It OPPRESSED me. It's how I get rid of things that I feel I SHOULD keep or SHOULD want but I DON'T: my great-grandmother's china; a pair of sneakers autographed by Rosie O'Donnell; things I was sooooo happy to find on really! good! deals! but don't really want anymore; stuffed animals from my childhood I don't love anymore but feel guilty discarding as if they never meant anything. And it's how I know I want to KEEP something that feels as if it should be in the same category as the things I'm pitching.

36 comments:

Sixminutes said...

Your house may be a mess but your mind sparkles. I'm impressed you wrote so much about housework, that it was interesting, and that I actually learned a few things. (Bless or oppress, though barfy, is actually a really good rule.)

I am also laughing that you had a pair of shoes autographed by Rosie O'Donnell. That's a strange thing to own. Here is what's oppressing me: carved wooden figurines from Poland (a gift), a two-foot high container of holiday-themed cookie cutters I bought as an enthusiastic new parent, an actual human skull in a box (my dad was a doctor, he died in 2002, it's educational and sentimental).

tracynicole22 said...

Swistle, you are the best! I am much better at the "thinking" and the "planning" than the actual "doing." It's much more fun to talk about the work than to actually do the work. There is a part of me that wants to be more organized and have a cleaner house, but eh, maybe in another life. Btw, autographed Rosie O'Donnell sneakers? Huh? I'd love to hear the story behind that one!

Katie said...

Ahhh yes. Here I am....not five minutes after saying "I'm going to tackle the mess in the guest room! But first I'll just go check the internet and have a snack." 20 minutes and one leftover chicken breast later, I'm still here. And baby's nap is over. DANGIT! Internet: 1. Housekeeping: 0.

Shelly Overlook said...

I love what Sixminutes said - "Your house may be a mess but your mind sparkles." How perfect! Your new tag line perhaps?

Lawyerish said...

Sneakers autographed by Rosie O'Donnell? V. curious about those!

My grandmother also espoused the Clean As You Go strategy. I find it to be especially valuable when I'm cooking and most especially when I'm cooking a giant meal, like Thanksgiving or similar, because as the mess increases I tend to get overwhelmed and want to bag it all and go take a nap. Our grandmothers knew what was up.

Nowheymama said...

Yes--I attach sentimental value to way to many things and can't let them go. I am really trying to work on this.

Swati said...

I know that girding up feeling - I keep putting things off till the last possible moment, and all this time I am moving on from 'can I' to 'I have to'. But you put it so well, and oh, the other points too!

Sarah said...

After your last post on organizing, I went upstairs and cleaned within an inch of my life. After this one, I would do the same, but I killed my legs yesterday with all the tomato canning.

If it helps, sometimes taking a picture of an item helps to let it go. I took pictures of tshirts and stuffed animals that I had sentimental attachments to so I felt I could throw them away. I'll tell you, a picture of a stuffed bunny takes up a lot less room than an actual one!

d e v a n said...

Great tips!! I find that if I just declutter occasionally, I find myself a lot happier.
Counters clean? Happy.
Floors clean? Happy for 5 minutes till one child or another throws/spills or crushes something on them.
So, I spend more time on the counters.

Heather said...

The other day I read a good tip in a magazine. It suggested you turn all the coathangers in your wardrobe backwards. At the end of six months, anything you hadnt worn (just trying it on didnt count) and that was hanging backwards still, you should throw out. It's a good idea really, if you are using it a lot you'd want the coat hanger around the right way! As soon as I read it I thought I'd mention it here but it wasnt until you brought up cleaning and sorting again that I remembered to tell you!

Becky said...

I am very much the same. My house is perpetually cluttered. The one thing that makes it not feel so bad is that my husband & I have learned that no matter how bad it seems, when we set our minds to it (like when someone is coming over), we can get things looking quite presentable in a very short amount of time. Unfortunately, that really just encourages us to put things off until someone is coming over.

Recently, though, my neighbor who cleans houses for a living has been popping over unannounced, so I've been really thinking a lot about how things look from the front door. So far, that's all. Just thinking. One day I might do something about it, and there will eventually be a "clutter line" that divides my dining room diagonally: on one side, the viewable-from-the door area, which will be spotless; on the other, total chaos.

Hillary said...

I'm a big believer in the bless vs. oppress theory, though I've never called it that. Getting rid of stuff can be so cathartic.

Celeste said...

Clean as you go...I am mostly for it, but it can be sort of a trap if you get obsessive about it. I am big on CAYG when cooking, so I don't have monster mess to clean once the thing's on the stove or in the oven.

It would never occur to me to check the sugar bowl if I had the sugar canister open; we just don't use sugar on a regular basis.

I *AM* for picking things up as you go even if you just put them elsewhere until you can deal with them.

My vote for your MIL's impending visit is that you schedule childcare for a day, buy supplies ahead of time, and just take a day to work at home and get it under control. If that means childcare in the home, so be it. It might help the shopping if you decide wht the focus via tasks or areas. Decide what doesn't count (my suggestions: basement, garage, refrigerator interior and laundry).

Auntie G said...

I haven't heard CAYG called that before, but may I chime in with a HELL, YES? This is THE point of contention in my house between the person who does 95% of the cleaning (ME) and the person who creates 95% of the mess (shall remain nameless, but rhymes with SHMUSBAND). Put things away when you are done with them, SHMOBERT, and the house will stay relatively clean and you will be able to find them again when you need them! Don't make piles of things -- put things in their place right then. The things that get "lost" because they are just put down somewhere, or stacked and moved, etc. would make your head spin. Takes the same amount of energy to throw clothes on the floor as it does to put them in the hamper. ET FRAKKIN' CETERA.

Barely suppressed rage for the exasperating nameless family member, not for you, Swistle. :)

Also, I think that you could easily embrace and excel at CAYG, based on your "Here's the Hell How" post -- a lot of the thinking is the same: use your time well, start things like laundry and dishes first so you can do something else while they're churning, etc. Good luck! :)

Jess said...

That CAYG thing is CRUCIAL. I am still working on learning that one.

marybt said...

One woman's autographed sneakers is another woman's crystal clock.

We got a crystal clock for our wedding 7 years ago. It's pretty, but totally not my style. And I didn't even know the person who gave it to us. She was a friend of my mother's. It was such a lovely gesture and such a pretty clock that it is still sitting in the box in my basement. Every time I think I'm ready to give it away, I go downstairs, get it in my hands, and am immediately consumed with guilt. So there it stays. Year after year after year.

Maybe if I gave it to someone who would like a crystal clock, it would be easier. But no one I know wants it and I feel soooo bad for donating it. Sigh. What's a girl to do?

cat said...

I used to get in so much trouble when I was younger because my mom would tell me to clean my room and I would ALWAYS start with the closets. She would come in hours later and of course the room would look worse because I had emptied everything out of the closets to do a thorough cleaning. My room was usually a mess but my closets were always spectacular. Still are.

I try to keep only what I love and what I find useful and not what I think I should keep (which is sometimes very difficult when you live close to family and they are so fond of giving you little trinkets that they love and want you to love to and when they decidedly don't subscribe to the same theory). I also am a big fan of cleaning as you go which I find is made easier by making sure that everything has a place. If everything has a home, it is no big deal to pick it up and put it back in it's home.

Living with my sister who subscribes to NONE of these theories is my biggest challenge to ever having a clean house.

Marie Green said...

I think I've shared our "techniques" (not to sound like we "have it down" over here, but I *do* need some level of tidiness to be ok mentally).

1) Dishes are done and kitchen counters and table(s) are clean before bed EVERY night.

2) All toys are picked up before bed. Sometimes the kids do this, other times it's easier to put them to bed and do it ourselves.

3) We set aside a block of time weekly (usually Fri evening or Sat morning) for "family cleaning time"- where vacuuming, bathrooms, mopping, and dusting get done in the whole house.

4) I do small amounts of spot cleaning during the week- sweep up a little mess here or there, but save the rest for the Family Clean.

5) There are areas that I'm ok with messes: the toy shelves do not need to be tidy, just as long as the toys are on the shelves; our "office" is ALWAYS a mess; the shelves under our coffee table are a catch-all for randoms; the kids dressers are usually a bit crammed with clothes.

Our house is overall tidy and visually appealing (for me), but with a fair amount of clutter and stuff that is the product of our daily lives.

Also, knowing that a "cleaning day" is approaching helps me from freaking out over the mess. If the floor needs sweeping on a Monday or Tuesday, I'm more likely to sweep it. If it needs it on a Thursday (near the Cleaning Day), I'm more likely to leave it.

I actually think I'd love a job of helping people clean and organize their homes.

DCMomma said...

Thank you for this...I like clean as you go!
This has me motivated.
Not everyone can be Martha all the time! Baby steps!

Miss Grace said...

THat 20%/80% business? Oh man that's EXACTLY MY PHILOSOPHY OF SCHOOL. B's are so very easy. It' impossible not to get a B. So why bother torturing yourself for an A?

Kathy said...

I am a firm believer in and a huge fan of C.A.Y.G. Now to get the rest of my family on board...

Erin said...

From recent experience, I would add as a motivator: Arrange for another family to stay at your house WHILE YOU ARE AWAY.

We are leaving town this weekend, and have friends who are coming from 6 hours away to attend a wedding. Since our schedules didn't match up, they were going to just stay at our house (e.g., sleep in our beds, eat from our table, etc.). OMG! I cleaned like my LIFE depended on it this week.

Then this morning, they had to cancel their trip because 3 of them are running fevers.

I was a little disappointed about how much energy I expended this week, but also RELIEVED. And now our house is (temporarily) clean and we get to reap the benefits when we return home.

LoriD said...

That CAYG method is money! My husband always complained that I was a messy baker, and I was.

This is how I bake now:
1. Fill sink with soapy water
2. Take all required ingredients out and put them on the counter
3. As soon as an ingredient is used, put it away
4. When done with mixing bowls, measuring devices, put them in the sink
5. Clean the counters and dry off the dishes from the sink while the baking is in the oven
6. Voila - fresh baked goods in a clean kitchen!

Pickles and Dimes said...

CAYG is how we operate and it is fabulous. Of course, we don't have children, so we have the opportunity to do this, otherwise we'd be buried in pet hair.

Amanda of Shamelessly Sassy said...

I have 5 laundry baskets full of folded clothes I need to put away in folded drawers. If someone could see the state of the dresser drawers in my house, they would likely stroke out. I'm dread it. I'm not sure why I hate laundry so, but I do.

mrspooley said...

I love the 'bless or oppress' question! My family is genetically inclined to packrat-ism so I've been making myself at least ask if I really want something. Esp is it's just taking up storage space. Thanks for a new cleaning hint. :)

Carolyn said...

LOL, "photographable progress?" Never thought about taking photos of my cleaning efforts, but when I think about it, I always clean house and office before photographs are going to be taken so I guess it's the same thing. But I also like to think that as long as you feel BETTER about the cleaning you did, and more at-ease in that space, you are making progress!

Will definitely remember "Bless or Oppress"--thanks for sharing!

Becky said...

I pink puffy heart LOVE "bless or oppress" and try to use it often. I've gotten really good at chucking my own personal artifacts (old cards, clothes that don't fit or are out of style, books that go out of style, etc.)

I have a much more difficult time with artifacts that have been left in my care. Let's say (HYPOTHETICALLY) that I recently had a baby shower, and my mother-in-law bequeathed me with a sack full of "family heirlooms." I mean, maybe other people have a practical use for multicolored crocheted baby buntings, now-transparent sleepers, and 30-year-old fitted crib sheets, but to me it's just a bunch of nappy old baby things. When we got in the car after the shower, my husband shook his head and said, "My mom really blew her crochet-wad on you." Erhm. HYPOTHETICALLY.

Can you bring yourself get rid of items that you've been have been left the caretaker of while that person was still living? How did you do it without that person finding out?

Christy said...

Oooh, I love the bless/oppress way of thinking. I've started a "do you love it" method of getting rid of things and organizing. And, I'm working really hard on something is better than nothing, but I'm truly the definition of frustrated perfectionism.

Omaha Mama said...

My house is oh-so-messy right now, which is how it gets every year around labor day (and Memorial Day) because of the school timing and me being a teacher and the stress oozing out my ears and all. So right now I'm going to get a garbage bag and just starting going around the house. The Sunday newspaper (yes, I realize it's Thurs), the bathroom trashes, the misc. popsicle sticks/wrappers/food that the children leave all over the place. Any small junk the children won't notice is gone. ETC. That's what I'm doing tonight. And then MAYBE the dishes, so as not to attract vermon. And that's it.

Good luck!

Oh - and I also find list making highly therapeutic when about to embark on a Big Cleaning Project.

Omaha Mama said...

Vermin. You know what I mean. :0)

Katy said...

Frustrated perfectionist? I think that may describe every aspect of my life. I WANT it to be perfect, but since it can't be, I just sigh and give up before I start. I was trying to explain this to my husband with regards to house cleaning and I'm pretty sure he was just saying "uh-huh" whiles secretly thinking that I'm totally perfect at being a big slob.

brightfeather said...

I just finished cleaning my room last night. And it was because I knew that I would end up with somebody in there today. See, my room is where all the fabric and craft supplies live. It's also where all the extra toys and presents that the baby isn't allowed to have yet reside. All the other bedroom detritus lives there, too--clothes, collections...

Anyway, it hadn't been cleaned in a while. I tend to start with the bed. Stripped it, washed all the bedding (though that gets done more often than the room is cleaned) and and it back up. After that, all the fabric that was floating around went back in the fabric closet, the toys and presents placed in various corners, and the room vacuumed.

It's still not completely clean, but the floor is clear. The laundry always manages to get folded, but it rarely actually makes it into the drawers... It's usually stacked on top of the dresser. And the sewing machine cabinets are a disaster, but hey! The stuff isn't on the floor!

Stacia said...

I love the "bless or oppress" rule. Seriously, that may just save my life. You' certainly inspired me to start cleaning for the upcoming house-showing-and-moving bit, and I'm just about to tackle the really stressful boxes of stuff that I don't know if I'll keep or not.

Missives From Suburbia said...

I'm a little behind, so I'm just catching up on these (as you can tell by my comments), and I couldn't have chosen a better day. I promised myself I would have an internet-free week next week just so I could have time to tackle all of my unwanted house chores like cleaning the radiators that are covered in dust. You are giving me extra motivation.

I love blessed or oppressed! I have mastered CAYG, so I think I need to add BoC to my repertoire!

Soo... uhh... yeah... I won't be around next week.

Amanda said...

Hey, I just dscovered your blog and love it! I soooo get this post. It's all of my problems I have with cleaning and decluttering my life, which I want to do so badly but just never fully CAN!