The Kitchen Just Won't Clean Itself

Last night's dishes

"Mother, dearest, if the kitchen was tidier it would be so much more aesthetically pleasing." This was Posy's contribution to my morning today. And this from a child who literally has to wade through piles of clothing to get to her bed..
I am 47 years old and I still can't keep the kitchen tidy. I have, over the years, developed many elaborate and cunning plans and routines to keep my house tidy and clean. You can see the result up above on the Housekeeping page. These have been useful in that they are generally all that stand between me and the housekeeping apocalypse. I feel bad every time I look at that page, which is almost never, because I worry that it might look like I am an organised person who actually keeps the house clean. I am not. I sort of keep the house clean, mostly by remembering that it is Tuesday and I am supposed to be cleaning the bathroom, and I really ought to because I didn't do it last week. I haven't dusted for three weeks and I can't remember the last time I mopped the kitchen floor. I do like a sparkly clean and tidy house, but I don't really need it to be clean. I am pretty sure that germs are good for us in some way. You know, dirt and studies of microbiomes or something like that. I do keep our living areas tidy by sternly growling at the children periodically about removing their hockey socks from the lounge room floor, and by firmly removing everything from the dining room table nearly every single day..
..but the kitchen.. well, it works hard. There is very little bench space and what there is usually has Important Things on it, like whole cabbages for sauerkraut and bags of spring onions to plant and oranges that I can't think where to put, and all the mail from last month, and jars. So many jars. I have a problem with jars. I can't get rid of them because they May Come In Handy, so I hide them under my bed and Paul trips over them in the middle of the night when he comes to stay and scares the cat.
You may be wondering where I am going with all this, and is there a point? Well, there wasn't, but there might be. If I have tried hard all my adult life to be tidy and haven't managed it by now, then maybe it is time to stop fighting. I do have a tolerance for a certain level of mess - you know, somewhere slightly below lived-in but above actual squalor. It occurs to me that if everything I own is something I just love, then it won't bother me to see it lying about untidily. Posy kept bringing me autumn leaves a few weeks ago and I piled them onto the sideboard. They were still here until I added them to my autumn leaf mulch the other day, and it didn't bother me at all to have an untidy heap of autumn leaves in my house, because they were so pretty. Maybe if I throw away everything I don't like, then I will be left with a mess that is aesthetically pleasing.

The bench-bit-next-to-the-door-mess

First step would be throwing out every single thing in my plastics cupboard, then never letting anything with a plastic wrapper into my house ever again. That would be very satisfying. It would also require the superior organisational skills of someone who was capable, say, of cleaning the kitchen. And, you might ask, why not clean the kitchen instead of spending three quarters of an hour writing a blog post about it? Good question, I might reply. It is because thinking about cleaning the kitchen and coming up with a better way to achieve a clean kitchen are far more interesting than actually cleaning it.. because I am an Ideas Person. It would, of course, be more convenient to be an Ideas Person if I had Staff.

The floor-next-to-the-other-side-of-the-door mess.

Lacking staff, as the children are uncooperative and the cat just ignores me, I will have to resolve this issue myself. I think I will dispose of everything I don't like. This, combined with my resolve not to buy anything, will make my house very bare, which will make me even more happy. As I get older I get less and less attached to things, and more attached to space and light. What a joy it will be to have less extraneous objects hanging about, requiring me to look after them. Well, I will talk to you later then, after I have removed all the ugly and annoying things..


simplelife said…
oh golly, good luck with this challenge. I can't wait to see the progress and final result.

cheers Kate
Jo said…
Kate, he he, thank you :)
Hazel said…
I've been pottering in the garden this morning and came in for some breakfast which I thought I'd eat whilst checking if you'd put up another post.
Whilst waiting for the kettle to boil I looked at the unwashed dishes, the jars (empty and full), the rather manky fridge, the eggs, the jars, the blackberry whisky I hastily decanted into a jug yesterday because I needed the big jar for making rhubarb and ginger gin, the (unused!) dog poo bag of foraged ash keys waiting for me to finally get around to trying ash key pickle of years of thinking I will, more jars and the general detritus and thought I really should tidy up and clean now. But it's going to rain later and the vegetable plants need planting and seeds need sowing (and the garden also needs tidying!) I read your post and thought 'yes!'. You're right about getting rid of stuff. I really need to. William Morris is over quoted but he had a good point. In the meantime, the garden's won :-)
PS I would say you can never have too many jars but my husband would disagree. Until they're filled with jam...
Jo said…
Hazel, see, your kitchen is far more hard working than mine is. It is filled with the life-giving goodness of enthusiastic food experiments. Long live creative mess! But let's get rid of the stupid annoying things so there is more room for jars!!
Anonymous said…
Again: Go team go!!! I am slowly decluttering the house of things that no longer bring me JOY, and replacing them with plants. :) Like you, as I get older ( and value life more) I am less attached to things, so it is time to pass them along. Thank you for a wonderful blog. Enjoy your day, whatever you choose to do with it!!!
Pam in Virginia said…
Hi, Jo!

I am an Ideas Person, too, longing for staff, just one, just for a little while, just to get me on track.

It would never last, though. I would go back to my bad old ways.

Treaders said…
Uurrgh decluttering - tell me about it. I have a relatively large house with a HUGE basement. Of course when the kids moved out they left what they didn't need behind. After my ex left me and then 3 years later split up with the gf he rented a 3-bedroomed farmhouse. A couple of years later he picked up with an old school friend and moved back to the States with 5 days notice leaving the farm house lock, stock and barrel for me and my kids to empty!!!! Technically I didn't have to do it but I knew my kids would leave it until the last day of the lease to do something about it so I spent the next 8 weekends going up there and pitching what I could and bringing stuff back here. My youngest moved out and took some of the stuff but guess who got left with all my ex' crap? Yep me. So now I'm slowly trying to get rid of stuff bit by bit but jeez it's a long slog. The urgency of this, however, has really been shown to me this week. I found out on Tuesday that my best childhood friend had died suddenly a couple of weeks ago at the young age of 58 - he wasn't ill! The thought of my kids having to go through all this crap if I went just like Ian fills me with horror! Anna
Beznarf27 said…
I love the honesty that your posts bring to the blogosphere Jo. It's so refreshing to read about your normal life where social media would have us believe that EVERYONE else but "us" is perfect in every (Mary Poppins) way! I, too, hoard jars. Now that China isn't accepting glass any more there isn't really an alternative and I have taken to storing everything in my pantry in glass jars. The mice still haven't worked out a way to unscrew the lids so I think that I will stick with them for the forseeable future. I almost burst out laughing over the jars and the cat :) I have so far managed to contain my jars to my 3 pantry spaces but I am thinking that I might need another "pantry" just to house the jars now ;). Thank you for sharing your real world problems with us all and making us feel much more normal than society would have us believe that we are :)

Jo said…
Patricia, plants, yes, I love that plan! Throw out stuff, replace with plants and jars. Done.

Pam, yes, we need permanent staff:) Although managing staff is not my forte either, if the children are any yardstick to judge by..

Anna, nooooo, that is not fair, koala bear, as we used to say as children.. I am hearing you on the story of your friend. It is a terrible thought leaving that all that stuff for our kids. Swedish death cleaning - the gentle process of letting things go while we are still alive so that everyone we love won't have to do it when we are dead. Here is what I find horrifying. The world is full of so much crap that here in the developed world we are drowning in it while so many have absolutely nothing. What if we never bought another single thing and shared our incomes instead?

Fran, well, yes, this is my life. It was your comment about me being organised that prompted this. I was aghast that anyone would think that about me - I felt the need to clear that up! Because, where are we if we aren't honest? I've not historically been great at communicating honestly where I am at, but again, getting older, life's too short. Let's put it all out there..
Good to hear that the mice haven't managed to unscrew the jar lids yet. Jars are great! I remember reading an article once about how traditional societies would have revered glass jars because they would have been the most useful things in the village. Let's recognise them for the miracle that they are!
GretchenJoanna said…
What was William Morris's overquoted point?

I just wish I could stop the creative cluttermaking for say, a day, reverse the process long enough to clear a bit of mental and physical space for a guest...
simplelife said…
I read a similar thought recently about plastic being treated like a very precious resource and priced accordingly. How it is a useful product and does have many vital uses, but we treat it as a disposable cheap throw away, if we priced it like a valuable jewel or gold we would consume it such a different way and reduce it's impact on the earth.

I am loving your honesty too Jo, I will be 50 this year and my life is just full of changes, everyday, that are out of my control. I'm finding it all a bit of a struggle really, so doing the worst possible thing I could, I've turned to social media and blogs to try to find my way through this transition. That's not been all bad but it hasn't always helped either, it's so nice to find a place here that feels real. I'm enjoying your followers comments as much as your post too, so thanks for creating this space that feels so real.

cheers Kate
Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, William Morris - "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
Yes, creative clutter-making is a trial, but a good one, no? Because otherwise our houses would be sterile places where we did nothing but watch screens. As much as I admire a clear space, I also love productive spaces, and minimalism poses this problem for me - what do you people actually DO in your houses?

Kate, YES! Plastic is made out of a finite resource which is literally being burned up. And yet it is incredibly useful and vital for so many things. What will our descendants think of us? I'm sure they will not be able to imagine what we thought we were doing..
And thank you, I love to hear that this is a good and safe space for others. It certainly is for me, and I have found so much support and kindness and inspiration here over the years, and one of the best things is the frankness and honesty of the people who comment here, which only encourages me and others to be real as well. So really, thank you :) xx and thinking of you, dear Kate, in your struggles right now. It is not easy to feel that life is spiralling out of our control. The Stoics, who I am kind of fond of, would say that nothing is in our control, except our response to life's circumstances. I find your vulnerability, thoughtfulness and honesty very refreshing and I think those qualities will stand you in good stead as you tackle the difficulties in your life. Keep going, my dear xx
Anonymous said…
Hi Jo. I often wonder what the minimalists do in their homes, too. Perhaps the reality is that they spend very little time there, and are busy with their lives elsewhere?

I love this blog, your take on life, and the comments of your readers. It really does help to know that there are like-minded people somewhere out there, even if it seems that I rarely meet one in my everyday life. But perhaps that is because my everyday life is rather a small one, mostly spent at home, which is actually where I like to be.

Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Linda, I imagine minimalism is brilliant for the perpetual traveller, the person who loves their work and just needs a serene place to relax at the end of the day, or someone who runs their entire life from a laptop. Not so good for anyone who cooks, preserves, gardens, or produces any kind of craft or work at home. For that you need Stuff. But only useful and beautiful stuff, and only just the right amount so that you don't get overwhelmed. I mean, jars are obviously important..
I live a small and happy everyday life as well, although I have found some kindred spirits locally. But this blog is a wonderful way to connect with so many more good people, which is why I love it:) Well, and also I get to witter away at length, which also makes me happy:)
Hazel said…
Jo, Fran and Kate are absolutely spot on when they say how great it is that there's a place we can be honest. I've always been good at hiding my inner panic and people are under the misapprehension I'm totally organised and on it. Far from it :-( I think women generally are good at appearing to be coping and efficient and then you get stuck in a loop of projecting the image you think people expect. So thank you from me too :-)
And my circumstances have been decidedly iffy over the last couple of years and I am, I suppose, presently evaluating my response. Better read up on the stoics- I like the sound of them.
Jo said…
Hazel, that is such a perceptive comment: "I think women generally are good at appearing to be coping and efficient and then you get stuck in a loop of projecting the image you think people expect." Yes, having to frantically keep walking that treadmill where we are efficient and useful and we just have to keep going, because, by golly, people are depending on us!
And not only depending on us, but depending on us appearing to be fine.
What if, I ask, what if we just stop saying we are fine?
Because, my honeys, clearly we are not fine.
simplelife said…
Thanks for your kind words and support Jo. I've read a bit about the stoics I must revisit their philosophy.
It can be so very hard to speak the truth when we aren't fine, specially if those closest to us, don't support us in the way we expect, when we've made ourselves vulnerable and been honest. Kind of knocks the wind out of our sails, and sets us back many steps...or maybe that is just me.
cheers Kate
Jo said…
Kate, no, not just you. That hurts for everyone..
Meg said…
I am right now procrastinating (ahem ... ignoring) a very messy kitchen and not feeling guilty about it at all. Nope, the spaghetti splatter on the splashback can just wait until later. Meg;)
Miss Maudy said…
I got really Really Good at keeping the kitchen clean and by default, tidy a few years ago. We had a tag teaming infestation of bloody ants that a) wanted to live inside and b) refused to leave when I asked them to. In the process of eliminating the cause, every flat surface had to be immaculate, every skerrick of food in a container, the bin had to be emptied every single night before bed or every single surface would be heaving with ants by morning.

The ant situation turned out to be caused by a broken water pipe which we discovered when re-concreting. The habit has pretty much stuck though. The rest of the house though...
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Thanks for the laugh! And yes, before you ask, you would totally die here merely by being confronted by a total vortex of neatness! Hehe!

Funny stuff. Well you know, everyone is different and that is cool, because that is how it should be! So what about the mess, nobody wins points for having the neatest kitchen. And from what I understand the bugs are probably good for us - as food is less alive than it once was - and that doesn't look like it is working out so well.

Anonymous said…
It's saturday evening here in Florida, USA, and I am so very grateful for this blog, the kindred spirits, the messy kitchens, and the laughs. Life is a journey, sometimes in unexpected ways. This 57 year old widow is discovering wonderful blogs, that feed my spirit. Thank you, Jo, and the rest of this community!
GretchenJoanna said…
Removing the ugly and annoying things sounds like everyday housework - it's ongoing. If you constantly let yourself be annoyed by the little (ugly) messes and things it would be a sad life indeed, but at one moment you might be exulting in the aesthetic pleasingness of the garden while ugly things are going on in the kitchen.

In the big L-shaped room that is my kitchen and family/dining room, what am I doing? Besides cooking, I am sorting seeds, writing letters, addressing and applying stamps to the letters, researching in books, reading recipes in books, reading novels, sorting mail, writing on the computer, watching sweet pea petals fall from vases, collecting items to take to another room, and mending a shirt. I am cleaning out under the sink, which makes a big mess.

Lots of book clutter!!! I have a stack of books to read via FaceTime or Skype to the grandchildren far away, a stack of books to start studying Spanish with, a stack for identifying weeds or birds, and just now, ta da! a couple of books from which to get my sourdough starter recipes, so that added some more clutter of two jars on the counter.

I just realized that I already posted a comment. Your post leads to so many thoughts....

In the old days before I had a computer I used to sit at the kitchen table to write a letter, and use the clutter items all around me as paragraph topics :-) That's a technique for organizing your clutter without having to touch it! XO Love and joy to you, Jo.

Jo said…
Meg, marvellous!

Miss Maudy, so what you're saying is that I need to arrange a broken water pipe and an ant plague? Ok, on it.

Chris, yes, I can imagine the extreme neatness of your place. It even reveals itself in your fabulously neat farm! You hit the nail on the head. We are all different, and so often we try so hard to be the other thing, when all we are doing is fighting against nature. I have four such different children that I have tended to swing towards the nature side of the nature/nurture debate for the manifestations of personality..

Patricia, me too:) and so good to have you here xx

Gretchen Joanna, I love your hard-working kitchen. It sounds like a wonderful, welcoming place to sit down with a friend and a cuppa, and if you were close I would love to come and visit with you in it :)
A couple of years ago I embraced the concept of 'productive chaos'! My kitchen is generally tidy for all of a minute between when I finish the washing up and then restart all over again.
Currently the kitchen bench is housing harvested pumpkins, sweet potato and chard; a lot of crumbs from the two sourdough loaves that live on the breadboard on the bench and create regular crumb action; a bag full of olives eyeing me off to be preserved; compost buckets to be washed; eggplants that i scored to be pickled; my dehydrator that needs a good clean before going away for the season; the slow cooker that is too big to go in the cupboard; general kid related chaos and my laptop as I bang away a few comments around preparing afternoon tea. So - I feel you!
Interesting comment thread about how we feel the pressure to project a certain image or certain level of coping. It's interesting how we can be scared of admitting that things are perhaps less than ideal, scared to show our vulnerability - I love Brene Brown's books around this and how she challenges us to show our vulnerability and call out shame in order to live a wholehearted life.
Anyway, I suppose none of this will get the kitchen tidy hey! I best attempt some order before the other half arrives home - he is not so embracing of the productive chaos approach and it definitely stresses him out, so I try and be kind to his stress levels by appropriating some sort of order by the end of the day.
Jo said…
Laura, oh, yes, I would feel right at home in your kitchen! Isn't it interesting how we are much quicker to condemn ourselves than others? I love other people's productive kitchens, but in mine I just see mess. I did read one of Brene Brown's books, some years ago, and do remember feeling a real sense of 'Yes!' to her outlook on failure and naming up that sense of shame that failure brings, and just putting it out there. It's true, hiding failure makes it so much worse, and being vulnerable often brings its own reward - but even if it doesn't, it means, as you say, living a wholehearted life with nothing to hide. It just feels good! But it isn't culturally encouraged, not at all..

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