Friday, November 30, 2007

Thoughts on Housecleaning and Tidyness

I am a packrat trying to reform my ways. I have packrats in my family, on both sides, including my sibling and going up through extended relatives. I swear this is something that is inborn. I don’t feel that it is 100% a learned behavior. The old blaming on “having lived through the Depression” is no longer accurate as those born way after the Depression and who have never lived in times of lack can still be packrats.

Packrats often will say their homes are not dirty, they are just cluttered. I used to say this too.

Since I’ve been actively trying to reduce clutter, I can attest that clutter does hide dirt. You might think a tote bag on the floor (that sits there for days or a couple of weeks) is just a tote bag on the floor. But when you pick it up you will find dust balls and maybe even dirt behind it, hiding.

Cleaning the house is more difficult and time consuming if the house and surfaces have a lot of clutter in them. To make housecleaning faster and easier, I have found that reducing the clutter helps. I find the most annoying part of cleaning to be not the actual work of the cleaning but the moving of stuff to get to the surface to make it possible to clean it. So to work daily to not let clutter build up is a goal, then the cleaning part will go quickly when the time comes to do that.

I have met many people who say that a mother should put her priorities to her children and nurturing and spending time with her children rather than having the priority be on keeping the house clean or uncluttered. I do agree with that up to a certain point. It is most important, I feel, to be very attentive and available to newborns and toddlers and even preschool aged children. However once a child is school aged and you don't need to hover over them constantly, time does open up to allow for more decluttering, tidying up and house cleaning.

When I speak of letting things slide a bit in order to be nurturing and available to one's children, I don't mean to let things get so bad as to be living in squalor. There comes a time when living with too much clutter or if the house is not getting cleaned often, that it is not good or acceptable. I am sure you know what that fine line is.

Regarding what is an 'acceptable level of clutter', there came a point for me when I look around and feel a sense of dread and disgust at my surroundings which then gives me stress. I don't think that a person is supposed to feel dread or disgust when they look at their own home---we should look around and feel happy and relaxed and glad to be here. And then of course different people have different tolerance levels for clutter, even between spouses this can be hard to agree on.

I have found that as my children get older, three things have happened. One is that I am more sensitive to a lot of noise in the house (multiple voices, loud laughter, TV blaring, et cetera). I need some silence and I crave to reduce auditory clutter. Another thing is that I am more and more bothered by the sight of cluttered spaces, especially if I know that I am to fault for that clutter being there. Lastly, I am more annoyed at time wasted searching for lost things due to disorganization or the obstruction of clutter.

So for me right now, I want to know where to put something when I am not using it and when I need it I want to know where to quickly find it. I want to see some clean counters. I want to not trip as I walk through my house. I want the drawers filled with clean clothes rather than having the hampers overflowing with dirty clothes.

An article ran in Home Education Magazine in this last year which praised living in a messy house. The article annoyed me because it was portrayed that a homeschooling family either lives in joy in a mess or they live in misery in a clean house. Why is it that a ‘middle of the road’ viewpoint is not often heard? Well I am speaking up to try to be a ‘middle of the road’ voice. As a matter of fact a letter to the editor asking the same question ran in a subsequent issue.

About a year ago I had the realization that when I’m overly busy I can often juggle the activity itself but managing ‘the stuff’ is too hard. For example I may have fun at a party but the ‘stuff’ brought home from the party may sit in the car, unpacked because I don’t have time to address that. I have gone shopping for things we need and sometimes that stuff sits in the car for days or a bag sits on the counter unpacked for a day or more. I have borrowed books from the library and then the tote bag sat untouched for weeks, until the due date was looming.

Also, we may have time for the activity but we don’t then have time to make a good dinner at home that night. We may make it to a class on time, but we may be forced to eat fast food in the car on the way to the class. That is not good in my eyes.

We may have time to go to everything that is scheduled yet we get behind on doing our laundry and cleaning the house. While rushing to an appointment a son proclaims he has no clean socks. We have time to eat lunch before leaving the house but no time to wash the dishes first, so they sit beside the sink awaiting our return.

Making time to do things such as outside classes and sport activities and attending playdates and parties is not just about availability in the schedule to fit it in but it is also about leaving yourself time to feed your family (and yourself) and to clothe yourselves in clean clothes too. You need to have time to clean and to maintain the home as well as do those activities.

As I write this my husband has a six foot high pile of mulch waiting to be moved, in the driveway; it has been there for at least two months. I’d like this moved before winter hits and the thing freezes there! It really needs to be gone before the snow arrives as that is where the snow pile is plowed. Yet despite this he keeps trying to fill up every empty spot in our family schedule with non-urgent things.

As I write this I choose to blog while I’m alone in the house yet the plants in containers outside need to be cleaned up. We had a hard frost last week and everything is dead. I need to put the dead plants in the compost bin and to move the pots to the garage for the winter (lest they crack and get ruined when they freeze this winter).

There needs to be a balance between spending quality time with our children doing ‘fun things’ or ‘educational things’ and maintaining our homes. There needs to be a balance between doing activities outside the house and being able to maintain the house and its contents.

I had a thought recently, something I’ve never thought of before. I used to think of housecleaning as drudgery that is better off being done by someone other than me if possible. My new thought is that in order to show gratitude for my home I should treat it well. The home deserves to be clean. If I really care about this house I should not let it get messed up and cluttered up which looks terrible. If my husband loves the house he should do the little maintenance jobs that need doing, replace a rotting piece of trim here, touch up the paint over there. Doing this maintenance work and cleaning the house and keeping it more on the tidy side is just a normal part of home ownership. If we are happy with our home and love living here why would we not keep it clean and tidy?

While I spend many hours homeschooling my children it is true that the homeschooling battles for time to houseclean and to do everything else we need and want to do. I won't skip the homeschooling to clean the house. I just keep trying to find a way to fit everything in. Right now the way I'm addressing it is to keep cutting out more and more outside classes and events for my children which are non-essential. We need to take care of business at home, to keep a balance, I feel.

With these new thoughts of gratitude for this home in mind, I am happy to clean the house. I am working to get my children to help out more as is age-appropriate. I am not becoming obsessive about house cleaning. I am just trying to find a balance, a balance with maintaining our home as a comfortable and clean place and a balance with the schedule that allows us to live in a more relaxed and comfortable way when we are at home.

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Anna said...

Wonderful post. Cleaning has been a process for me. I started six years ago with little to no skills. My BEST was at my husband's panic level. :)

Just in the last six months, I've realized that my panic level has risen to pretty acceptable levels. Last night my husband and I stayed up way too late, but I had to do the dishes. I felt suffocated by the mess. Even now, I'm pleasantly surprised that it only took ten minutes, and it makes a WORLD of difference!

Shari said...

I went through this process and it took about 2 years to restyle my environment and my ife to keep things clear and uncluttered. It's really refreshing now to not be overloaded with junk my husband and I neither need nor want, but the road there wasn't easy.

One bit of advice I can give you (besides what I'm sure you've already read in numerous sites on simplifying your life) is to start to question the way things work in your home. If there is a task which is so annoying that you put it off, then the way that task is being dealt with may be too complex or poorly situated for completion. For example, if you hate to put certain dishes away then they are probably stored disadvantageously.

I found that I had to do a whole lot of major moving around to get things to a state where it's more likely that I'll put things away. I can't even say it's perfect now but it's as good as I can make it with my limits (storage space and whatnot).

My best advice is that, any time something doesn't get done, question why (like perhaps you don't need plants if you don't want to clear away the dead ones) and how you can make it much easier. Good luck!

Astreil said...

"I don't think that a person is supposed to feel dread or disgust when they look at their own home..."

This is so true for me, too. I need a clean space in order to relax and take care of the kids.

Wonderful post.