The Good Enough Housekeeper

God knows I've tried to be an excellent housekeeper over the years, but it just never sticks. I get distracted very, very easily because the world is full of such marvellous things. So I have decided to cease striving for excellence in housekeeping (actually, the people who live with me would deny that 'striving' is ever what I do in relation to housework) and accept that a C average is all I am ever going to achieve, and learn to happily live with that.

Practical Tips for the Average Housekeeper:

Simplify, simplify, simplify: Less stuff, less mess, less cleaning, more time to follow delightful distractions wherever they lead..

If it isn't broke, don't fix it: Some people adore interior decorating and faffing about with table decorations and moving furniture about. One of my friends rearranges her furniture and accessories every season. My grandmother, on the other hand, never moved anything in her house throughout my whole childhood. Even when she moved house she arranged everything in the new house exactly the same as the old. I am with her. (Almost) everything in my house has a place, and it can just stay there now for the next decade or two. It means I don't lose things (well, except my glasses and keys, and even they have a place now. If only I could put them there on a more regular basis) and can clean and tidy on autopilot.

Important note: buying useless decorative crap always creates more mess, clutter and cleaning. Just don't do it. It won't make your house look better unless you are an excellent housekeeper who likes to dust. Having less stuff and less mess will make your house look better.

If your living areas are tidy, your house will look clean: Five minutes tidying in every room after dinner. Kitchen, dining room, living room, hallway. Shoes, papers, toys, clothes, all go away. The jury is out on books. Are they mess or vital life support? I have a lamp table with a lamp and all our current reads. No knick-knacks, just pure, unadulterated books. This is useful as we can always find our current book there. I also have a shelf on the bookcase in my bedroom dedicated to library books, so I can always find them when it is library day.

If the kitchen is tidy you will feel calm and happy (well, maybe calmer and happier than if it isn't): Do the dishes after dinner every night. Straight after dinner. Every night. I manage this about six nights out of seven. It is not always me doing the dishes, but I have to be foreman. Doing the dishes also implicitly includes wiping down the benches and the stovetop and sweeping the floor. Cleaning the kitchen every night is boring and tedious, but joy comes in the morning..

Strategy: Clean and tidy smarter, not harder. What are your areas of greatest mess and annoyance? How can you make this area much easier to keep clean and tidy? For instance, my girls do endless craft. I used to have an art and craft room which was always a hideous eyesore. Now the craft 'room' is the dining room table and the craft drawers right next to it so that it all has to be tidied up by the next meal, back into the drawers right next to the table. It may as well be as easy as possible. Maybe if you sew you could have a sewing cupboard next to the dining room table to store your sewing things. Anyone who regularly does any kind of project could benefit from keeping an empty cupboard space right next to the dining table so that there is a quick tidying solution that doesn't involve traipsing all over the house to put things away.

Other strategic triumphs: My girls never used to put their shoes in their wardrobes, but kind of threw them near the wardrobe. Now they have big plastic shoe tubs, and can throw their shoes at them to their hearts' content. Rosy's dirty clothes basket was across the room, while all her dirty clothes piled up next to her bed. So I moved the clothes basket next to the bed.

I always pile up papers and mail on the bench right inside the kitchen door. Now I have a basket right there so at least it looks intentional, and when the basket overflows I know I have to sort out the paperwork.

It's all about zen. Don't fight the mess, understand the mess, and work with it..

Mess containers: There is always annoying detritus in a house, no matter how much you declutter. Give in, and just find something to put the mess in. I have a small basket in the kitchen for all the tiny things that don't have a home. It stops them cluttering up the windowsill. The mess in the bathroom is always bobby pins and hair bands belonging to the girls. I now have a tub in the vanity that I throw all stray pins and bands into.

Cleaning the bathroom: There is something about cleaning the bathroom that is more annoying than almost all other cleaning tasks. I haven't cleaned the bathroom for two weeks now, but I have cleaned the toilet and the basin, so it mostly looks and smells clean. In my new house I have discovered the great secret that is the shower curtain. If you pull it fully across you can't see that the tub hasn't been cleaned for two weeks..

Close the doors: No matter what I do, my children have appallingly untidy rooms. I expect yours do too. Just close the door.

Move to a smaller house: Best thing I ever did from a housekeeping point of view. At our old house we renovated to make our house almost twice as big. What were we thinking? Cleaning two bathrooms is definitely more than twice as awful as cleaning one. If you have a lot of children they can effortlessly mess up a large house in about the same amount of time as they can mess up a small one..

Are you also an average housekeeper? Are you resigned, or still fighting the good fight? Do you have strategies to stay sane and prevent chaos while pursuing other interests? Please share:)


simplelife said…
Do you really want me to share?? I used to be a clean everything every week, all organised and artfully(?) arranged kinda gal.....then a husband (no concept of putting stuff away or closing cupboard doors) then 4 children....I need therapy! My standards are lower than a snakes belly these days. I don't like it, I like things to be clean, neat and tidy but I've lived with 5 messys for 26 years now and I'm done. I'm burnt out, grumpy and resentful.
Now things have a location in the home and that is where I dump anything that isn't where it should be. I have 2 bathrooms, who thought an ensuite was a good idea??? Really who wants a toilet next to their bed? And 3 toilets with basins to be cleaned...honestly only a man or someone who has never been the cleaner could think that was a good idea!! I do a very simple weekly clean, I delegate bedrooms to the kids, if they like bedbugs who am I to argue. I clean up the kitchen every night after tea, and always get up to a sink full of dishes that somehow all seem to party in there after I have gone to bed. I feel guilty about my lack of show home, no longer invite people around because I'm ashamed of my house keeping, give thanks that my mum is no longer alive to be appalled by my slovenliness and push the guilt away while I have another coffee and read my favourite blogs. I know my standards are too high and unrealistic and definitely not conducive to a content life. I'm a work in progress and holding on the day the kids move out and we can downsize, I have started to say if you lot aren't gone in about 8 years then I'm going and you're not coming with me.

Thanks for the therapy session
cheers Kate
Jo said…
Kate, that is a truly excellent rant! You know, I believe that many women, myself included, have a kind of unconscious belief that we need to occupy the 'keep everyone happy' niche in the family. It's complete rubbish, and we need our children to grow up independent and resilient and respectful of the women in their lives, and we need our partners to know that we have needs and that we will be negotiating to get them met.

I have been working as a teacher assistant in primary school classrooms over the last couple of years, and in every classroom, even the four year olds are expected to clean up the classroom three times a day, right down to picking up tiny pieces of paper off the floor. The teacher needs this to happen to keep the classroom functioning. If you have a need for a tidy house to keep yourself functioning then it is really important for your expectation to be met. Your family needs a functioning, cheerful mother and wife. Four year olds can do this, so I am sure your family can do it too, although I am sure they would prefer not to.

I don't have a huge need for clean, but I do need tidy living areas, and over the last few years I have trained the children to respect that. I use my teacher voice and expect shoes, clothes etc to be put away in bedrooms, if not actually away, at least where I can't see them. I think that me and our communal life deserve that much respect. I also expect help with dishes and cleaning, because again, shared spaces, communal living, respect, life skills!

It is very easy to fall into a space where we think of ourselves as victims, that we can do nothing to change our situation. But we are not doormats, our children need to know how to live like responsible individuals, and we need to take responsibility to let our partners know how we feel, which is not an easy thing to do. Here is an excellent article on communicating needs, which frankly, I could have used for the 23 years I was married, but now practice on my children instead!

I feel like I am being kind of bossy here, but my intention is huge support and encouragement. It is awful to feel miserable and guilty all the time, and it should not be your job to clean up after everyone in your family. Not fair, koala bear! I truly hope that your and your tribe can come up with a plan that strikes a balance between your needs and theirs. Everyone needs to live in a space where they can be calm and happy! All the very best, my dear xx
Pam in Virginia said…
Hi, Jo!

Thanks! I needed this! You are such a tonic.

simplelife said…
Thank you for your response to my comment Jo. I didn't read it as bossy, but as a wise piece of advice from a sister. You are so right about the keep everyone happy school of thought. Interestingly I worked in childcare before having my own children and most of my time was with 2 yr olds, they were so competent and capable.
cheers Kate
Jo said…
Pam, thanks:) Although opinion is divided here between tonic.. and pill. Right now Posy is leaning towards pill..

Kate, it is extraordinary what even little children are capable of when not enabled to be dependent. You know when sometimes you give advice and then realise it is really yourself you are talking to? I realised this afternoon that my youngest daughter is ruling the roost in this house, so I braved up and told her it had to stop and that she needs to pull her weight like the rest of us. I am not a popular mummy this evening..
simplelife said…
Glad i could help you Jo. Unpopular mum is an uncomfy place to be, this too shall pass.
simplelife said…
Glad i could help you Jo. Unpopular mum is an uncomfy place to be, this too shall pass.
Anonymous said…
I'm a good enough housekeeper. My eldest was really not doing anything except add to the mess and dirt and eat my food. So even my laissez faire approach was sorely tested. After many lost tempers, ineffectual nagging and feeling unhappy in my own house, I told him to move out. He has. I was momentarily sad but am now loving it. He returns every week for a feed and a chat. Our relationship is back to enjoyable and he is, as I knew he would, loving living in his own place with other young 'uns.

Now I can revert to my clean it if I think it needs it rather than because it is a regular chore. And that works.

The other thing I had as a must do to make your place look clean is to sweep or vacuum the floor. Dirty floors make a place look really dirty. Clean floors and people tend not to notice the dust elsewhere.
Jo said…
Lucinda, I am impressed by your chutzpah! It is really hard to be tough and say, well, this is how it is, and this is how we are going to resolve the situation. Glad your relationship continues strong and that you can be calm and happy again.

As to floors, I cannot be more grateful for my wooden floors. They hide all the dirt and dog hair beautifully. Although now it is warmer I am walking around in bare feet, so I can feel it. Back to daily sweeping..
Anonymous said…
I am a very ordinary housekeeper. It's not something I can say I have every enjoyed. I get to a state of Critical Mess, tidy everything up and clean it to within an inch of itself and start again. Himself is also inherently untidy, however was brought up by one of those dreadfully organised people who likes nothing better than giving the house a good turning over, and who also thrived on the picking up after the people in her house. We did have several differences of opinion as to where the responsibility for housework fell. Several. Some were quite heated. Now we have a detente - one where I pick up after him and refuse to touch the lawn mower or the whipper snipper. And I have Staff and a tendency to nag children like Ming the Merciless. They will not expect someone else to pick up after them and they can ask their father why I put his washing away and they have to do theirs!

Alison Norman said…
That is a great list of cleaning tips. I know one of the things that has worked best for me was cleaning out the clutter. About five years ago, I got rid of everything I hadn't used in six months which was a surprising amount of items. You don't have to clean or tidy up what isn't there, after all.

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