By Julia Pantoga
Last week I wrote about daily housework; this week I want to address the question of how to even begin when you’ve let your house get so out of order that you figure that it’d be easier to move than pick up your house.
As with any major change in your life, such as exercising regularly or eating healthily, the first step to a neat house is psychological. As I said last week, it’s going to take time to keep your house neat, which means that you are going to have to carve out time for housework – which is no small matter. If you are anything like me, your days are not filled with fluff; to make time for housework, you are probably going to have to make difficult choices such as cutting back on hours at work, volunteering, relaxing with your spouse and children, or exercising. The price for a perpetually neat and orderly house can be quite high; deciding how you will pay for it is the first step.
The next step is psychological too. You have to convince yourself that you deserve to have an orderly and (visually) calm house. When I came to the realization that having a tidy house would be good for my soul, I began repeating the following affirmation to myself several times a day: My home is neat and orderly because I need a calm house and I always take care of myself.
If regular housework is going to be a new habit for you, these preliminary steps are essential. The habit of picking up your house won’t “stick” unless you have deliberately made time for it and you believe deep down in your soul that it is important to you. Let me be clear that when I talk about how much time it takes to keep your house neat, I mean to be encouraging, not discouraging. That is, places that we live don’t just stay neat without work. Mine doesn’t; my mother’s doesn’t; none of your friend’s homes do; none of your mom’s friend’s homes do. If your house is not neat, it does not mean that you are necessarily doing anything wrong. You just have not carved out the time on a regular basis for picking up. Only you are qualified to make a judgment of whether that is right or wrong.
If your house is less orderly than you wish it was (and everyone’s is), you are going to have to carve out two chunks of time in your life. The first chunk of time is devoted only to everyday tasks. My everyday tasks are:
• making the bed
• loading the dishwasher
• washing my pans, knives and cutting boards from the night before (Martha Stewart reminds us to never put wood in the dishwasher)
• sweeping the kitchen floor
• dealing with the clothes I wore the day before (laundry or closet)
• putting things away (I’m particularly recalcitrant about unpacking groceries that don’t go into the refrigerator right away) that I left out the evening before
The following pictures illustrate the typical state of my kitchen after breakfast:
You need to make your own list; write each task down individually, then cross things off as you do them. It really makes you feel confident and efficient to cross things off your list everyday. In the beginning, you might even want to save all of your crossed-off lists in a place where you can look at them easily to remind yourself of how much you are accomplishing!
The next chunk of time you need to carve out is the time you are going to spend getting your house in order. Some people take three days off work for this, some people give themselves two hours every Saturday morning, some make time daily. Whichever time you choose, schedule it and protect it—and (of course) write a list of specific things you want to get done and cross them off as you accomplish them.
As you are planning your tasks, start to think about things that can do double duty time-wise. For example, when I had to put my drawer of plastic containers in order, I took the entire drawer out of the storage unit and put it on my sofa, next to where I watch TV, so I could get that done while I watched a movie. A friend told me the other day that she had her young son take a basket all around the house to pick up everything that was his; then she met him in his bedroom and helped him put everything in the basket away. She was getting some significant picking up done and spending one-on-one time with her son. (This friend also told me that she cleaned her refrigerator while she was making dinner the other evening, which I can’t even imagine, unless her family was having one of my favorite dinners: potato chips, ice cream and beer).
One thing that really helps me to get things done is to give myself deadlines that involve other people. I make plans for a friend to come over to help me carry some boxes of archived files into storage, then I know that I need to go through my filing cabinet before next Saturday morning so that I am ready when she arrives.
Next week this column is going to cover the process of actually putting your house in order. I have several general principles and tips to share with you, but if any of you have tips to share, please leave them in a reply to this column. In the meantime, you have the following assignments:
1. Look at your schedule and plan time for housework.
2. Write and begin saying affirmations that will help you convince yourself that housework is important for you to spend time doing.
3. Write a list of housework tasks that you can get done every day and begin doing them.
4. Begin a list of larger housework/putting things in order projects that you are going to work on.
5. Schedule help from other people that requires some preparation on your part.
If you must start Housework (with a capital “H”) before next week, please, please don’t start any project that you can’t finish. You don’t need to do anything to discourage yourself so early in the process—like make a mess.
Most importantly, this week, I want you to remember: The goal of putting your house in order is not a clean house that impresses other people; it’s creating a space that you thrive in.