Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Too Good to be True?

Hat tip to Elizabeth who pointed me to this post on homemaking. Keeping house has been a struggle lately, so much so that Red had to talk me down from deciding that I should send all the kids to school so that I would have more time to pick up and do laundry during the day! There may come a time when it makes sense for one or more of my children to go to school outside the home, but I am a good teacher for them right now and delegating that job so that I can clean up just is not a good use of resources and the talents God has given me. However, I want (need) a fairly orderly home to teach and learn in, and I find that especially when we are busy outside the home (ahem, little league, ballet, swimming, too much at once right now...) I can fall behind quickly and get really stressed out.

I am intrigued and inspired by this simple seven step plan.

Number 1: Make Beds Right Away
Number 2: Do One Complete Load of Laundry
Number 3: Empty All Garbage Cans
Number 4: Keep Your Kitchen Sink Empty
Number 5: Clean Up After Yourself and Help Children Do the Same
Number 6: Bathroom Wipe-Down
Number 7: Before Bed 10-Minute Clean Up

Erin has subdivided #5 to clarify:

  1. Clean up after dressing and undressing. If an item is clean enough to wear again, hang it up or put it folded away immediately; if it's not, put it into the laundry stream. Commit to one or the other, don't just throw it on a chair.
  2. Clean up after going somewhere in the car. Take everything out of your car every time you come home, except stuff that is supposed to stay there permanently (maps, emergency kits) and stuff that's ready to go for the next car trip (which should be well corralled). Encourage habits that make this easier, like kids keeping their stuff in bags, having a trash container, etc.
  3. Clean up each item on your to-do list as you finish it. Paying the bills? Don't save a pile of stuff to be filed, file each item as you finish it. Doing schoolwork? Put away all the materials you used for each subject before you start a new one.
  4. Clean up the office, desk, schoolroom, or wherever you do your paperwork after the work session is done. Sweep up pencil shavings, clear the surfaces, ready it for the next use. Homeschoolers, get that schoolroom ready for the next day.
  5. Keep the kitchen surfaces clean while you're cooking. Don't put dirty spoons on the counter or balance the whisk on the edge of the pot where it will fall and spray beaten egg everywhere. Put it on a plate that can be washed, or sometimes disposable stuff like newspaper/foil/wax paper.
  6. Begin cooking with these seven items ready for use (not hidden away in a cabinet): (1) apron (2) empty dishwasher (3) sink full of hot-but-not-scalding soapy water (4) trash can (5) dishrag (6) clean dry towel for dishes (7) clean dry towel for your hands. You'll be able to quickly clean things, including your hands, rather than let them spread gunk all over the kitchen.
  7. Plan to use kitchen workstations so you move around less with messy stuff. Crack eggs within reach of the trash can, work with raw meat next to the sink, chop vegetables for sautéeing right next to the stove with the pan ready.

I am thankful that some of these are already habits for me. I have always been a fairly clean cook(though I don't wear an apron), and I make my bed right away most days. The latter I learned from Flylady, for me the made bed is the bedroom equivelent of the shiny sink, as I am more likely to put the other things I use away if the bed is made.

I did not have the habit of making the bed and shining the sink at the beginning of my marriage, so it is helpful to know that these things can become second nature over time. Therefore, I am going to work on just step at a time to try to add a new habit of tidiness.

My personal goal this week is going to be the clothing part -- everytime you wear something, put it away or in the hamper. Also, going to try to do laundry every day. I will still have PT gather on M/W/F and all of us put away on T/Th/Sat, but if I start a load every morning I will be less likely to stay up until midnight doing laundry without ever finishing.

We have found out that our dishwasher works just as well on a 31 minute cycle. This has changed our lives as it means that we can run it, empty it and run it again before bed each night. There is really no excuse to leave dishes in the sink this way. A few weeks ago we were super busy and I left breakfast dishes in the sink when we went out for the day -- I came home to crusty cereal bowls that needed to be scrubbed and ants in the sink -- uck! If I had just taken the two or three minutes to clear the table and sink properly I would have saved myself from having to spend twice as long cleaning it up later.

We are almost finished with the school work that P and H have to complete before leaving on their trip, so tomorrow we are going to focus on clothes and laundry -- we will totally clear the laundry room shelves (random stuff like washcloths and single socks have been piling up there). We will unpack the last suitcase from Easter, we will hang up the clothes on the floor of the hand-me-down closet.

Around here, too many jobs only get 80% finished before I get distracted, and those little leftover piles do add up over time.

I am thinking of printing out Erin's list and also trying to figure out a way to hold everyone accountable for their participation. In the past, we have been using pennies for the church collection as an incentive for small chores (buckling your own car seat belt, hanging up your towel and coat), unfortunately, I tend to forget to follow through with the system. Perhaps the kids can see this list and earn a penny for their bag each day? Or something else? Any ideas out there?


Jennifer in MN said...

I love this list. I am housekeeping impaired (with 6 kids that is a permanent disaster interspersed with cleanliness when the inlaws visit) and anytime I try to read a book or visit a "messy" website, I get overwhelmed with how to schedule what and when and how and why..... This list sounds like something I could manage and it makes sense. Now, to just get started.

Mary Alice said...

Based on my morning, I would say, be kind and gentle to yourself and take it very slow! When my very sensible, very organized husband saw this list, which looked "simple" to me, he said "wow, that looks like a lot!"

I really do think that doing just one thing at a time is helpful. I have a strong need to feel that something is complete or I can check it off my mental "to-do" list. This morning I have been putting away clothes for almost an hour and I am not finished yet, and this is only a few days worth of clothes...

I could do about clothes all day and let everything else go to pot (I do this on the days that we are changing clothes for the season, for example), but even then I am not always "finished" in the way that I would like to be.

So, here is my new goal from my 10 o'clock coffee break: 15 more minutes in the laundry room, 30 minutes in the hand-me-down closet. Between feedings, changings and standard interruptions, that 45 minutes will take twice as long and when I have done it I will need to stop and make lunch.

Oh, and if this makes it sound like I did stop home educating to get household chores done, we are in limbo right now because my school age children have finished the school year and are about to take a trip. Once they are packed and on their way (hence the importance of laundry) we will be preschool focused for a few weeks and then on to summer!

4ddintx said...

Mary Alice, Don't forget that you have a baby under 6 months, too! My youngest (#6) just hit the 6 months mark, and I'm seeing things running more smoothly around here. I also ran into this list from Erin's blog (love that blog, too!) and will be implementing some of the points this summer. That is long enough to make them a habit and have them running well by schooltime next year.

Good luck to all of us who struggle with this area of our lives!


B-Mama said...

MA and all with many children, after just changing out our winter gear and replacing it with summer T's and shorts, I am in awe of anyone who does this with more children! 3 was overwhelming!! Not only that, the organization system necessary for storing clothing of different sizes and seasons is also beyond me. I am thinking to start, I need to buy one of those label makers in order to make the bins legible and more uniformly marked. Anyone with suggestions on this front, I'd appreciate them!

It sounds, MA, like a majority of your woes right now revolve around laundry. With 6 kiddos, there's no question such volume would be difficult for one woman to handle! Once again, I'm having trouble handling 3! I heard a tip awhile back about having each kid put his dirty laundry in a mesh bag, which will go directly in the washing machine and dryer. When it is done, all that child's clothing will be already sorted and ready to fold/put away. The sorting for me is sometimes the biggest headache and time-eater. You could then employ the Tide Color Catchers to do laundry with multiple colors/whites. My mom bought me these when she read I wasn't sorting lights/darks anymore. They have been awesome!

Overall, prayers and blessings in the rat race of keeping one's home orderly. It feels like a never ending battle!

Karen B. said...

Wow! This is just what I needed today.

FlyLady works on 1 habit every month, like making your bed. I think I will try focusing on 1 or a few #s on the list per month. Maybe the habit will stick that way???????

Our behavior chart is our motivation for our children. When my children don't do their chores or (home)school work, they are given a check on their behavior chart. See this website for the chart I use:

It has really helped my husband and me stay consistent with 3 kids. Also, it keeps each other up to date with the kids behavior.

Besides rewards for a day with no checks, I give my children heartfelt praise when they do a job well done, no matter how small.

A messy house is a problem that most homeschool moms face. A lot of people have told me to let it go, but I can't live like this and it is not good for the kids either. I am just too stubborn to give up on the idea of a reasonable clean homeschool house, while my children are still young. I just know it has to be possible. Thanks for the encouraging post and the great tips!

Karen B. said...

Mary Alice,

Did you every thing of having a family closet? All the clothes are stored in one room, preferably near the laundry room. That has helped a lot of large families conquer MT. Washmore.

Kat said...

Karen, you said, "A messy house is a problem that most homeschool moms face" - I believe you, and also think that it is a problem that most moms with children not yet in school (outside the home) face! My children are 5 and 18 months now, and they are so busy and active during the day that either:

A) I find myself picking up/cleaning all day long, and also asking my older child to do the same OR

B) At the end of the day, the entire house is strewn with little Lego "creations," books, and various other toys

Keeping a tidy house is definitely a non-stop job, and some seasons are harder than others. We're just finishing up "playground season," when there is a constant layer of sand on every surface, and entering "swimming pool season," when we'll have lots of wet clothes and towels to deal with.

I like these tips, MA, thanks for sharing them with us. After 6 years, I've finally found a system that works for me, but I'm still tweaking and perfecting it, and you're right, impending trips and transitions always throw the routine off a little bit!

AWOL Mommy said...

MA, I am glad you have opinionated- homeschoolingly-militant Red to reinforce your decision to homeschool. I am finally wading into Holly Pierlot's A Mother's Rule Of Life and she opens with a very poignant Scriptural references. She was facing the same dilemmas you are with everyone at home and decided that sending her kids to school was the solution.

The next day she read the Gospel story of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. When Jesus was done preaching that day his disciples were whipped and told him to send everyone away -- they only had 5 loaves and two fishes to feed them. Jesus made it clear to the disciples that sending His loved ones away to decrease His workload was not the right answer. The meager food (our cleaning, mothering, schooling efforts) combined with his grace fed the masses. You will feed your children better than anyone else, and God's grace will multiply your efforts.

Thank you Holly.

MargaretJDMom said...

I think its funny that as a homeschool mom you felt, at least temporarily, that putting kids into a school would help keep a handle on the home front. For me, I am contemplating homeschooling for a number of reasons, but mainly because I am so sick of all the driving and what it does to our household routine. Trying to do an 8am drop off and 3pm pick up every day with a MWF 9am drop off and 1pm pick up and fitting in daily mass is insane. Not to mention the fact that the two babies LIVE in the car! Anyway, I am curious to hear how incentive programs work for people. Growing up it seems we would always start them only to have them wither....and part of me hates rewarding kids for stuff they should be doing anyway. Ever read Punished by Rewards?

Right Said Red said...

Just to be clear, while I am militant, I am not a militantly pro-homeschooling ;-) I have been very close to sending Gianna to school because we have such trouble getting out and about with all 3 (soon to be 4) kids 5 and under and she needs more socialization with children her age. MaryAlice has been a tremendous help to me in helping me see the reasons pro and con for homeschooling, and with prayer we have chosen to stick with homeschooling for at least this next year as we feel it is in the best interests of our family and the moral and spiritual development of our children. I realize that each family will make a different decision in this regard, AND I make no judgment on that. I consider myself militantly pro-education, and militantly pro-spiritual education of my children, and for us that means homeschooling. Depending on circumstance and disposition, homeschooling is not the right choice for all.

I do not think, however, that sending children to school to be more organized with the housework is a good solution, as I shared with MaryAlice. As Kat said, even with her son in school, the housework is still a challenge for any mother. There are certain things that are easier about homeschooling, and not running all over God's green earth is one of them. Finding a good schedule for keeping things clean is always a challenge, and while it is a different challenge for a homeschooling mom, it is important to remember that it is challenging for others as well.

Kyra said...

I only have one child (blushing...) but I do live with my parents and do all the laundry for the house now so it was definitely a change going from doing a couple loads for myself every couple WEEKS to doing laundry every day, half of which I have never seen before and am not familiar with the fabrics, and have to read every tag, etc.

I have found my biggest challenge has been not dirty clothes but putting the clean ones away. It takes about two seconds to carry a clean load up to its respective bedroom, but much more time to hang it all up or put it all away, so it ends up moving from the bed to a chair, to the floor....anyway my new resolution has been to put clean clothes away right away.

My clothing storage solution has been giant clear Rubbermaid containers and I tape Post-it's to the outside identifying the contents (i.e. 2T-3T fall clothes)then throw them up in the attic. When the attic gets full I bum them off on my sister, who has the biggest house and the newest baby LOL.

Tipsntrends.com's "home" section has been a great website for cheap products and organization ideas. They have a lot of labeling products too.

Juris Mater said...

Thanks for all these suggestions, and also for the assurance that I'm not the only one who struggles to find a method. I like how you all have pointed out that we develop habits and routines over time, it really is a sllooow process--the many pieces of the orderly-home puzzle begin to fit together year after year, one at a time, until we set in place some foundational parts of our own homemaking groove then keep filling in the gaps. (Of course, only to have many of them shaken up again in new baby/otherwise unusual or busy times.) What a challenge it is! I think it's important to give ourselves plenty of time without trying to make it all happen at once, and to identify the things that really disrupt our sense of order and peace and tackle those first.

bearing said...

Hey, thanks for the link! I wanted to let you know that I thought the pennies for the church collection was a ******fantastic******* idea for motivating little ones. Works on so many levels! I love it!

Sophie said...

I liked the penny idea too... I've been wanting to give my newly 6 yo some money to be responsible for...as a reward...something to put in collection...haven't figured out what to do yet.
Mary Alice, since you have older children I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and how you handle it in your family.

Anonymous said...

I think if your budget can handle it, hiring outside help with the housework can be a life saver. When my children were little, having a cleaning lady every other week kept me on track with the house. I knew that the "heavy lifting" would be done, and during the week I would concentrate on maintenance. It kept me on a schedule, and it wasn't so overwhelming.

Right Said Red said...

I second the outside help suggestion--if the budget allows. I am willing to cut back in other areas to have some help with the cleaning. Just last month we got rid of our cleaners b/c of my husband's job situation, and it has GREATLY increased my stress level as far as the care of the house in concerned. We will be adding them back as soon as we are able! Until then, these are great tips for me to work on my own.

Mary Alice said...

I just want to add that I do have a cleaning lady every other week, so I don't have to do bathroom scrubbing, etc, but it is amazing how much there still is to do. The floor under the table has to be swept after almost every meal these days because ants are in season and we seem to have so much food on the floor.

I have considered the family closet but am still a bit put off by it, but soon I will have all four of my boys upstairs and then there will be only three clean laundry destinations -- adults, girls, boys. Since we moved here, we have been using real dressers, and I think that is part of the problem. When we had baskets in closets, the kids were better at putting away their own laundry.

Our dryer is taking two cycles right now, so each load just takes a really long time and then I get behind, since I can't do two or three loads in an evening.

We do now have everyone brushing teeth in the kitchen sink, which means that I don't have toothpaste dribbles in four different bathrooms, that has helped.

Overall, my house is in very good shape most of the time, the main thing for me is just maintenance (laundry, kitchen chores, putting away toys) clearing surfaces as often as possible -- when there are 8 people in your house, if everyone fails to put away one thing that is 8 things on the kitchen counter at the end of the day...

At pre-school we had a bell for clean up, I think I need that. This month we have been in a rush at all times and we rarely finish one activity before we move on to the next, so by the weekend there is a lot piled up!

Right Said Red said...


Why is your dryer taking 2 cycles to dry? Have you cleaned out the vent to the outside? If so, you probably need a new dryer? Our dryer was doing this, and then it stopped working. We had a repair man out, and then it broke again. We finally bought a new one, for under $400 at Home Depot (I don't need a fancy frontloader dryer for $800!) and our new dryer works much better, plus it has a setting for 70, 80, or 90 minutes. A longer setting would keep you from having to check on it and restart the dryer. Having to re-run the dryer is such a pain because if you forget you get so backed up on the laundry!