Sunday, August 18, 2013
Overwhelmed by Housework? Start Here..
If you wake up in the morning and are absolutely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the tasks of the day - cleaning, cooking, childcare, more cleaning - tasks which are never actually completed for more than ten minutes at a time, then you are in good company. Somewhere between our Grannies' generation and now, there was a break in the tradition of training up children to run a house. We have made great strides in equality in the workplace, but instead of training up young men to be equally good at housework as young women, we abandoned the idea of 'housekeeping' as a worthwhile endeavour at all. So today we are almost three generations away from an era when everyone 'instinctively' knew how to keep house, because it was modelled for them every day, and they were expected to do their part from early childhood.
So this week I would like to offer my version of a housekeeping routine that I came to rely on after many, many years of living in complete chaos. I wanted to create a kind of housekeeping blueprint, so that if you want to, you can set up your laptop on the kitchen bench and just follow instructions throughout the day. You will need to tweak it to fit your own schedule, but if you do everything on the list, I guarantee your house will be clean and daily life will be less overwhelming.
But first, I want to be very, very clear about something - the most important thing to remember about housekeeping is that cleanliness is not next to godliness.
If you are a person who is kind to animals and other people and yourself and the planet and sometimes have secret thoughts in meetings about how stupid meetings are, then you are a perfectly adequate human being.
If you are a human being who is a parent and your children are well nourished and you love them, and you are teaching them to be kind to animals, other people, themselves and the planet, and how incredibly interesting bugs are when you look at them very, very closely, then you are a perfectly splendid parent in every way.
And even if your house looks like an episode of Hoarders and your children's socks never match and you can't ever find the keys, it is not a reflection on your character. Just saying. However, housework is a huge and amorphous problem for so many of us, a task without beginning or end. So much of it is in your head. A constantly changing list of cleaning and cooking and shopping and organising priorities that never gets less in number, no matter how much of it you accomplish, because dirt and hungry tummies keep on coming back. And it can be depressing and miserable to live in mess and, and being disorganised can make you very, very anxious, with vague nagging worry as a constant companion.
I wrote the other day a bit about my very slow personal journey to a place where I am at last comfortable and confident as a housekeeper. I was born messy, with a large capacity to cope with chaos and dysfunction - right up until that very moment that I snap, and have a shouty breakdown. Even before I had children I was chronically disorganised, and I collect things, mostly precious pieces of paper that I NEED. I married a man who collected Useful Things that he could build with, and yards and yards of technical magazines. Neither of us had a real grasp of order, forward planning, or even Picking Things Up Off the Floor. Oh, and then we had four children. And we homeschooled them. And we renovated our house ourselves while we lived in it. The potential for mess, clutter and the most appalling perfect storm of shouty breakdowns was almost unlimited.
At quite a low point in my life I felt I had to change something. Well, everything actually, about the state of our house, its clutter, cleanliness (or lack thereof), and the dreaded moment at four o'clock when everyone starts asking what's for dinner.
Being me I approached the problem in a typically inefficient manner. I wrote down everything I could find in old novels about housekeeping. I read vintage housekeeping manuals. I interrogated my organised friends. I began to see a pattern emerging. There are jobs that need to be done every single day to keep the house running smoothly. There are a number of jobs that can be assigned one day a week to keep the house reasonably clean. There are other jobs that only need to be done periodically, but that would drive anyone insane to remember and list them, and get around to doing them, but not doing them means the house is never properly clean. It is important to look at the week and month ahead in order not to have scary surprises. It is important to know what you are eating a week ahead so you only have to shop once. Important pieces of paper have to be corralled somehow, and acted on so the machinery of modern life does not grind you into the ground.
I slowly came up with a plan that covered all of these contingencies, that I can do without thinking nowadays. I feel that this is a very important reason for having a housework routine. Because otherwise you get up each morning and have to decide what the priorities are, and every new day starts with depressing decisions, choosing between a plethora of tedious necessities. With a routine set in stone, that element of energy-sucking decision making is taken away. It might sound boring to go through the same round of chores every day and every week, but for me it has been liberating. Without that element of housework-dread taking up head space, there is so much more creative brain space available for things I really want to think about and accomplish. And now I almost never lose my keys, although my glasses still mysteriously disappear..
A word about menus. Monday mornings I write a menu and grocery list, and do the shopping for the week. Here is some news for those of us who might get sidetracked by food blogs, pinterest, TV celebrity chefs and other, sometimes unrealistic food role-models. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot cycle through the same dozen family meals forever. In our modern global, wealthy societies there is so much choice, and the expectation that we can and should have an endless variety of life experiences, including new and 'exciting' recipes night after night. We forget that two generations ago our grannies had a roast dinner every Sunday lunch, which was recycled throughout the week as cottage pie, hash, then soup. Vegies and fruit were whatever was in the garden, the local shop, or preserved from the summer harvest. There is nothing wrong with that pattern of eating. There is also nothing wrong, of course, with cooking exciting family meals every day, if you want to and have the mental energy to devote to it. If you want to spend your energy on something else, don't feel guilty about serving repeats of your family's favourite meals ad infinitum. They will probably be pleased; they may not even notice!
Here is a list of meals that is practically all my family ever eats, unless I suddenly have a brainstorm and try something new. Here is a possible fortnightly menu that you could circulate until someone complains:
Spaghetti Bolognaise with salad
Curry (meat or vegetarian), rice
Jacket potatoes with bolognaise sauce and salad
Chops/sausage/meat or veg burgers and vegies
Pumpkin soup, bread, apple crumble and custard or icecream
Burritos, chocolate cake
Stiry fry and rice or noodles
Quiche with vegies or salad
Roast and vegies
Chili con Carne and Rice, Corn, Salsa, Sour Cream, Guacamole, Salad, Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding
Meat and vegie stew with mash, Apple Pie
If you cook double dinners each time you make dinner during the first week, that will give you dinner in Week Three as well, and so on. To anyone who loves cooking this will be rank heresy, but that's OK, because we don't all have to be brilliant at everything.
Now the next thing I need to say is that I am a Stay at Home Mum with all my kids at school. My situation may be absolutely similar, or markedly different to yours. If you are at home with babies or small children, the reality is that your house will never be tidy for more than ten minutes at a time. But take heart from the fact that the jam smears on the wall will be this week's jam smears, not last month's! And staying home with tiny children is sometimes (let's face it, shall we?) mind-numbingly boring, but whizzing around the house with mop and broom while they trot around behind with the banister brush, and making folding the washing into a colour sorting game is much more fun than actually playing proper colour sorting games or watching children's television. It will take much longer to get things done this way, but at least some of it will get done rather than not, and every step forward is progress! And the next generation will be learning about housekeeping..
If you are home with a new baby for the first time, resist the urge to run around and do housework while the baby is sleeping. When the baby is sleeping, you need to nap too. When the baby is awake, it can do housework with you in the front pack, or sit in its little baby capsule and watch you with its beady baby eyes while you clean the bath. Babies like to watch something going on, and like to watch you more than anything.
If you are working full time, the weekly jobs may have to wait until the weekend, but if you can keep up with the daily jobs, weeknights will be so much more pleasant. And if you work full time, with or without a family and have a great routine that works, we would all love to hear how you do it (and how you divvy up the jobs)!
And if you are a working single parent, you are simply a superhero. If you find something to help you here, I will be humbly thankful that I could help, but really, you can only do what you can do, and if you can't do everything, something has to go, and it is much better to not clean the light fittings than not go to the soccer game.
Now the first two days of this routine will be hard work, but will break the back of the housework for the week, and then will be mainly maintenance until the kitchen cleaning on Friday. There is grocery shopping on Monday, errands on Thursday, and finding space to complete house projects on Wednesday (decluttering, anyone?). And your weekends will be free to do whatever you want to.
I have deliberately made a very detailed plan which may look a little obsessive-compulsive, but I wanted to make a kind of housework blueprint. The idea is to be able to sit the lap-top on the kitchen bench and read out the jobs, and just do them. No thinking, no decisions. At the end of the week, evaluate, and see if you want to make any changes, switch days to suit your own schedule and commitments.
Tomorrow morning will be especially busy for anyone new to a housework routine, so if you want a slightly easier morning, you can get a start on it this evening. Do the dinner dishes until there is nothing left on the sink. Wipe over the stove top and kitchen benches. A quick tidy around of the living area will make everything seem so much better in the morning.
Let no-one convince you that housekeeping is not hard work, or can be magically accomplished in fifteen minutes a day. However, it need not be overwhelming, and you can, really, create a calm and pleasant home environment that is welcoming to come home to, is uncluttered and filled with your favourite things. You can make your home be whatever you want it to be, a safe refuge, a creative space, somewhere that happy memories are made. Onwards and upwards!
Find my housekeeping routine here but before you start, have a look at The Real Reasons We Are Overwhelmed by Housework.