by Annette T. Durfee, Momivate's Cultivate Leader
When I was first married, I told myself that although I might not be rich, I could still be clean. In my exuberance as a new bride, I felt like that was something I had control over. Later, as children multiplied and the demands on this mother’s time began to pile up, I changed my tune a little to this familiar adage:
Cleaning and scrubbing can wait for tomorrow
While this poem has some truth to it, and we should definitely treasure the time we have with our children, I do not think it means we need to neglect our homes. And I have found that I am not truly happy in a dirty, cluttered home. In fact, I believe that if we do it right, our homes can be a refuge from the world – a happy oasis so to speak. And so, while it may be virtually impossible to keep an absolutely immaculate home, I do my best to help it be clean, orderly, and beautiful. Here are a few tips I have found to help our home be both clean and happy.
1. Everything is not always clean at the same time. What kind of promising list is it that must begin with a disclaimer? Yet, remember that the goal is not only to be clean, but happy – and that means the mother too. This means that I must be realistic. After all, even Betty Crocker has her limits. I have found that if the dishes are done and the downstairs is clean, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the laundry is folded or that the toilets are scrubbed. Time is always a tradeoff. If you see “clean” in one room, you must know that other things are not done. Likewise, if my day has been full of errand running, grocery shopping, or volunteering at the school you can be guaranteed that the house is not entirely tidy.
2. 10 Minute Tasks. My friend Caren taught me to do those unavoidable, yet necessary jobs as quickly as possible. She offered to do my dishes once. I felt it would be okay to procrastinate, but she insisted that it would only take 10 minutes. Soon, I began to follow this line of thinking and I have found great success with it. Seldom do I have big blocks of time. And other times, I feel too tired or overwhelmed with big jobs. So, I try to think small and simple. By setting the timer for 10 minutes, I allow myself success by working furiously to get as much as possible completed. Yes, racing the clock is a mind game for adults as well as children. And the snowball effect it has on me works wonders. And do you know what? The very process of just beginning gives me energy for more!
3. Put your “helpers” to work! Let’s call it teamwork, folks! I figure, if they can help make the mess, they are old enough to help clean it up. Giving them jobs not only prevents more mess in the meantime, but helps their self - esteem and sense of contribution and personal responsibility. What a great gift! True, this may take more time initially, but eventually, as children are trained, this tip actually becomes a time saver. A word of caution: A clean house does not equal happiness if it takes a fight to get it that way, so practice patience and use your creativity to make it fun and rewarding for them.
4. Get out one project at a time. There is definitely wisdom in not running faster than we have strength. We would not think of making our baby run a marathon before they learn to crawl nor would we hand our toddler juggle 50 pound weights, so why would we do it to ourselves? All right, I will admit that I am not always good at this, in fact, it seems that there are often many balls in the air all at the same time. Yes - never a dull moment! But I know that at those times when I have put away the first project before I proceed with the next, things are definitely less chaotic. For example, a few moments in the kitchen after each meal saves a lot of time later.
5. Have a cleaning schedule. Having a certain time of the day or week to do things helps me relax and not feel guilty about undone work. I know when and whose turn it is to help with this or that. Everyone is on the daily schedule to clean their rooms and do a dish job. With a schedule, I know which day I will do the laundry and I never have to scramble to take out the garbage. Chores that only come once a week are scheduled as well. I can calmly go about the tasks at hand and realize that even though there is always something waiting to be done, I can take it easy and tackle today’s load because the rest will be done on the proper day.
6. Be flexible: Now wait a minute. Didn’t I just say to have a schedule? And now I’m saying to be flexible... Well, yes. A schedule is great for some things, but if the baby is crying or your toddler needs a friend to play with for a while, a rigid schedule can become the family enemy. People are always more important than a task to be done. Sometimes other things call for our attention as well, don’t they? Sometimes we need a few moments to ourselves to rejuvenate. So, give yourself a little wiggle room. It’s okay when things don’t always run like clockwork.
7. Less is more. Years ago, I read a marvelous decluttering book by Don Aslett entitled, Clutter’s Last Stand. I fell in love with the ideas from it and would encourage anyone to read it who has a difficult time hanging onto EVERYTHING! The basic idea is that if you do not use it, like it, or need it, no matter who gave it to you, or how much it costs, or how long you’ve hung onto it, toss it or give it away! Just how many neckties, Legos, envelopes, and knick - knacks from Aunt Paddy Whack do you need anyway? While you’re at it, teach your children to go through their school papers and belongings as well. This is a life skill. And I find it incredibly freeing to realize that by simplifying, you have less to wash, polish, scrub, fold up, dust, or trip over and you have more space, money, and time to share with your family and others in meaningful ways.
8. Organize. There are a zillion and one ideas out there to organize every nook and cranny in your home. I had fun with an old book called Confessions of a Happily Organized Wife. (The title alone makes me smile). But to simplify, may I suggest some basic ideas.
9. Dovetail. It is really fun to do two things at once. For example, my mom taught me to put my “maids” to work in the morning (dishwasher, washer/dryer). I can also do this when I talk on the phone while sweeping, catch up on the child’s school day while folding socks together, or letting breakfast cook while I make lunch. Remember again, that relationships are always more important than “getting it all done.” If you neglect your children, for example by tapping away at the computer or scrolling endlessly on your phone while they are begging for attention, you have only fooled yourself.
10. Survival mode. Part of the inevitable with raising a family are those times when it is just less important to have a totally clean home – maybe someone is sick, you have a new baby or a time - consuming church assignment. Forget about cobwebs, dusting, cabinets, closets. At these times, I feel that it is better to settle for some clean for the sake of your sanity rather than to let the whole house fall to pieces. I have decided that the three main things of importance are dishes, laundry, and making my bed (which gives the general appearance that the room is mostly clean). My next favorite strategy is to whisk through the living area with a laundry basket for a little clutter pickup. I let everyone do their part to empty it. Aren’t I thoughtful?
At the end of the day, remember to smile. Don’t worry so much about perfection. A clean and happy home is within your reach, so be your own best friend. Put your feet up for a bit and give yourself a pat on the back for what you have done.
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