tips and tricks for a clean, organized, and happy home

I guess spring cleaning is on everyone’s mind. In the last week or so I’ve overheard and seen online several conversations about how to manage children and a home. From those conversations it’s pretty clear that many of us are very affected by the state of our homes. And it’s also clear that figuring out how to keep the house reasonably clean while also raising kids is a challenge for many (most?) moms.

I can relate. Keeping my house clean enough was extremely challenging during my first four or five years of parenting. It really wasn’t until I had the third child and admitted defeat that I was able to get it under control. I finally realized that keeping the house clean wasn’t something I could schedule into neat little blocks of time after dinner. It wasn’t something I could put off until the weekend. Keeping the house under control had to become a way of life, a different way of relating to items in my home and a different way of using my time. With a house full of kids, I couldn’t possibly accumulate “stuff” and clean in the haphazard, lazy way I had been and expect the house to ever be “clean enough”.

A note: to me, “clean enough” and “under control” means my home doesn’t look like anything recently exploded in it. I’m not a stickler about dust, I often have backpacks and toys and other detritus of family life making their presence very known  in my public living areas. My home looks very lived-in– to me, that’s preferable to a sterile ‘showplace’ home, not to mention a lot more attainable. On the other hand, while I want my house to look “lived-in”, I definitely don’t want it to cross over into “families of rodents could live in here and I’d never know.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being more or less mess-averse than I am–I believe that we all have different tolerance levels for dirt, mess, and clutter. On the other hand, I have occasionally been in homes bordering on elegibility for A&E’s Hoarders and thought, you can’t possibly be happy when you can’t freely move around your home or find an empty space to sit and read a book…can you? And what happens when you let everything pile up and it gets out of control? If I felt that the mess surrounding me was insurmountable, I’d be downright depressed. I know, because I’ve been there before.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of of my tips, tricks and tidbits that help me keep my house to my own personal “clean enough” standard:

  • I am pretty much constantly in motion. If I’m on my feet, I’m tidying. I never leave a room without making it better than I found it (that can be as simple as taking an item that doesn’t belong in that room out and moving it CLOSER to the room it belongs in, LOL) I am on the computer a lot because of my job, but I build lots of little cleaning breaks into my day–five minutes here and five minutes there adds up to a much cleaner house, plus it gives my eyes and body a break from the computer. Try taking on a much-avoided task while you make a phone call sometime. It’s amazing what I can get done without even realizing it because I’ve been cleaning while chatting.
  • I try not to let let dishes pile up in the sink. The higher the stack gets the less I want to tackle in. I rinse/scrape small loads throughout the day and get them in the dishwasher, and run it as soon as it’s full. Then I make the boys unload, because I hate that job 🙂
  • Likewise, I do laundry one load at a time, rather than letting it all pile up until “laundry day”. This is a challenge for me right now because we currently have a cruddy laundry set-up that means I either have to grapple with unsafe basement stairs or go to the laundromat. I’m remembering how much more work it is to do massive amounts of laundry at once. Laundry, in and of itself, is an easy job. It’s when we let it become a monster mountain of dirty clothes–and then clean clothes that need to be folded and put away–that it seems so overwhelming.
    If you’re afraid of laundry, try doing it as soon as you have a full load. Forget about anal-retentive load separation policies. Unless you’re dealing with items that truly need special care or have to be washed separately from everything else because they’ll run, the world will not end if you put socks and jeans in the same load. Who cares if your socks are perfectly white, anyway? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • I wipe the toilet/sink down at least once a day. Make this as easy on yourself as possible–if you have to go track down paper towels and special cleaner, you may get distracted or never make it back to the bathroom. I have a vinegar/water/lavender oil mix in a bottle in my bathroom, so when I’m in there already I just give it a quick spritz and wipe-down with a bit of toilet paper and then flush the paper. That way it never gets really nasty, even when I go weeks without doing a “big” clean.
  • I am really ruthless about getting rid of “stuff” or not allowing it in the house to begin with. We have a buffet table in our dining room which is where all the incoming papers and mail go. Once every other day or so I go through it and get rid of anything we don’t need. That is truly the only “stack of stuff” that’s visible anywhere in our house. Sure, there are still toys scattered about (and, my personal pet peeve, hats/gloves/mittens/socks the kids take off and then fling) but those aren’t that hard to clean up quickly if company’s coming over.
  • I have several areas that I try to keep clean and decluttered pretty much all the time–the dining room table, the kitchen counters, and the bathroom. I make my bed every day, early in the day, because it feels good to me to have a neat bed, and it encourages me to keep the rest of the house neat. Everybody has ‘trigger tasks’–those things that will cloud your mood and make your house feel disgusting if they don’t get done. What are yours? Identify them, and make those your first priorities every day. The better your home feels, the more motivated you’ll be to keep it that way.
  • If I see something I don’t like, but hadn’t noticed before–like a dusty lampshade, say, or a dirty windowsill–I employ the power of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project “Do It Now” commandment and just attack it. I don’t think “Oh, this weekend I’ve really got to dust all the lampshades!” because I guarantee you I would never get around to it. When I see something that needs doing, I do it.
  • I get rid of things for fun. I gleefully recycle all but the kids’ most precious school papers. I ruthlessly relieve myself of clothing I will never wear again. I refuse to hold on to anything unless it is truly necessary or holds very dear sentimental value. Once a month or so I go through my house with a big black trash bag or two and fill it with things to give to charity. After giving away about 1/3 of our stuff in our last move (soooo satisfying) and doing regular “Goodwill sweeps” for over a year as well as rarely shopping it seems amazing that I would still be able to find things to give away, but I always can.
    It’s a little cringe-worthy knowing how many things I have bought or otherwise acquired (darn you, Freecycle!) over the years. I have never been rich enough to afford this kind of consumption, and yet my house stuffed with stuff is proof of how much I contributed to my own messy house (and struggling bank account) by not being mindful of what I purchased. But the purging effort is starting to slow down. Every time I do a sweep, I find fewer and fewer things to give away. So now the focus becomes not getting back to where I was before by reckless shopping. Which brings me to my last tip of the day:
  • I make a big effort to shop consciously. This does not always mean choosing what seems, on the face, to be the “cheapest” option. I do my grocery shopping at the regular grocery in town, with supplementation from the farmer’s market and farm stands, rather than the big-box stores. Yes, I miss some of the deep discounts, but I’m not tempted by all the non-food stuff. And I don’t buy vast quantities of stuff as a general rule (more about that in another post) so the missed savings aren’t that great. I also find that just staying out of those stores keeps me from developing a “need” for things I didn’t “need” before.
    Now that I’m trying to decorate a new house that’s quite a big bigger than our old one, I’m relaxing the strict “no shopping for sport” rule I’ve been following for the last year or so, and have been hitting thrift and antique stores for fun. But I’ve made a rule for myself–if I don’t either LOVE something or have an immediate need and use for it, I don’t buy it. Period. End of story. And “loving” something has to mean that I can put it down, walk away, and even leave the store and still be thinking about it later. Next time you’re thinking of buying something you aren’t sure about, try a 48-hour waiting period. Chances are good that by the time those two days have passed, you’ll have forgotten all about the item you couldn’t live without.

What are your best tips and tricks for keeping your home “clean enough” for you?

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