Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Mighty Change

Those who know me well know that good housekeeping is not one of my finer qualities. I suck at it. I'm the kind of person who cringes when someone stops by unannounced. My kitchen always has a pile of dishes, sometimes big, sometimes small, but always a pile. Clothes are always draped in various places around my bedroom. My kids' room usually looks like a bomb went off. And this is the typical state of my office:

Note especially the chaos that is my desk.

I have been like this almost my entire married life. Well, my entire life period, but at least before I could blame it on being a teenager. The older I've gotten, the more crap I have acquired and the more difficult it has become for me to stay on top of the clutter. And it's not like I have a good reason. Growing up, we had to do chores. Every Saturday morning we had to clean and then have "inspection" by our Army father. I'm pretty sure I can trace my loathing for cleaning showers to those inspections. But we also weren't the type of household where there was never a dirty dish in the sink. We always had a lot of "stuff" and there was always a little something lying around.

I've wondered how it is that I can be so anal when it comes to things like scrapbooking or photography. I can spend nearly an hour retouching a photo to make it perfect. And yet, my desk is in complete chaos most of the time. I guess our brains just compartmentalize things. My biggest problem is that there's just SO MUCH crap everywhere, I don't even know where to start. Everywhere I look there's a mess and I get overwhelmed. I have had spurts of the "cleaning bug" but after a few days, it's always back to the way it's always been. Another big obstacle for me is the guilt I feel when I have editing or orders that need to be done and I feel like I should be doing those instead of cleaning my house.

The clutter issue has really affected my work productivity and my temperament. It's hard to focus on a job when there's a big mess sitting in front of you. When there are really messy parts of the house, I find that I avoid those rooms. When a room is clean, I want to spend all my time in there. You'd think I would have caught on to the trend by now! I've also had this underlying feeling of guilt or "I'm so lame"ness because here we are living in my mom's house and we're not even keeping it clean. Not cool.

So about 2 weeks ago I talked to Dan about how we needed to do something different. He suggested that as a family we spend 15 minutes each evening picking up in our room of choice. It helps SO much to have Dan and Lily working on the cleaning at the same time as I am so I don't feel like I'm slaving away while they're relaxing. It helps motivate me and there is a spirit of cooperation in our work. Lily's not too excited about it, but she does earn a jewel for her reward jar. Little by little we have cleaned up the major "hot spots" around the house where we spend a lot of time.

I started listening to some podcasts to get some tips and motivation on housekeeping. I started with The Household Helper, but I mostly listen to FlyLady. They're both free. The biggest thing I've done in addition to the 15 minutes of cleaning is to get a morning and evening routine established and do a little bit everyday. When we get up in the morning, we eat breakfast first and then I start some morning chores. I used to just get their food and head straight for the computer to check email (and blogs, naughty me!) Now I unload the dishwasher if I did a load the night before, wash any pots that I let soak overnight (I used to leave pans and the crockpot sitting for days before I would wash them), and load up the breakfast dishes. I wipe the counters clean and that makes such a big difference, particularly with the main bar counter where everything happens. Now Lily can work on a project or do some reading or whatever without having to contend with a bunch of dirty dishes, old mail, and spilled milk or other crusties. I know this all seems very elementary to most of you and fits squarely in the "DUH" catergory, but it's a major accomplishment for me. (Lori, aren't you proud of me?!)

And the beautiful thing is that I've actually been keeping it up for 2 weeks now! Laundry used to be such a headache because I would let it pile up until no one had any clean underwear. Now I put a load or two in every couple of days and there's always something to wear! Lily is especially a big fan of this since she wants to wear a skirt (she has 2) and either sweatpants or leggings (she has 4) everyday. See exhibit A:

As you can see, Lily has a finely tuned sense of style. (I gave up trying to get her to dress coordinated a long time ago. I just consider it a victory that I don't have to dress her anymore.)

The bathrooms are another area that have greatly improved with a little TLC. The sinks are staying clean (Dan did one and Lily and I did one) and I've been wiping them down every few days. And here I'd been thinking you only needed to do that when guests were coming...

I really feel like I've had this great epiphany, a big "Ah-hah!" moment where it has finally sunk in. Just do a little bit everyday and eventually it will all come together. Then all you have to do is maintain.

My friend Samantha put a comment on my post about having a third child. I think it is very fitting in this situation: "After the uncomfortable adjustment period that comes with change, what we thought was unfamiliar (or hard) becomes our new normal and we do fine."


Anonymous said...

I am sooooo muy impressed!!!! =)


Spymommy said...

Hey Sue, thanks for the shout out . . . and that advice totally applies here! I am a bit OCD about being organized (my mom says I would purge and organize my closets when I was like 8) so I thought I'd give you a wee bit of advice on the office. (Because the kitchen and bathroom look great and keep it up!) Give yourself a block of time for about 3 or 4 days (a good 2-3 hours.) Get in there with 3 Xerox size boxes, label them "Keep" "Sort" and "Toss" and then drop all bias and tear through that place. You will find a majority of the stuff ends up in the "toss" box. Once you've done the first "go round" you can organize and sort the other two boxes with half as much stuff in the office.

Also, my biggest organizing tip to people is to open their mail over a trash can and immediately throw away the unnecessary. Paper is the Satan of organizing! I do the same thing with my kid's backpack paper. I find that paper makes up about 85% of office clutter. Let me know what you think!

The Queen Vee said...

My house is fairly clean but my office/craft room is chaos. I keep telling myself creative people need chaos to create but there can be toooo much chaos and then it stifles creativity. I think there is something to be said in keeping a balance in all things and that cleanliness is next to Godliness. You're on you way to something good Sue, keep it up.

Becky in Wyo said...

How did I miss this post? Must have been winter apathy...

I have the clutter bug, too. But I've found that having to keep my house clean as part of my job doing daycare has made me a more consistent cleaner, too. Whenever I stop doing daycare, my house will go all to heck, I just know it.