02 March 2006

Keeping the house clean

We joke in our family that Martha Stewart would develop an inferiority complex if she hung around with my mother in-law. Homemaker extraordinaire, I often lean on her for tips (as I'm a homemaker mediocre).

When asked how she keeps her house so clean, she said, "I just never let it get dirty." Hm. Of course she's an empty-nester, and my nest is decidedly full, but that's beside the point. My husband reports that the house was spotless even when he and his brother were kids.

I'm working on disciplining myself to put things away after I'm done with them. Clean up the dishes as soon as we're done with dinner. Deal with small messes before they turn into big ones. Trying to teach my kids to do the same. Keep your fingers crossed.

Need more guidance? Here's Real Simple's Keep-It-Clean Plan.

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I am a terrible housekeeper, but one little tip that I read somewhere (I think it was Real Simple, come to think of it) has helped quite a bit. Before leaving one room to go to another, look around and see if there is anything you can take with you to be put away. I've taught my four-year-old this trick as well, and she enjoys looking around to find things that need to be moved.

My tip for keeping a clean house? We hired a cleaning person to come every two weeks. It's sort of an indulgance, but I don't have to clean bathrooms anymore.

I tend to console myself with the idea that the people with perfectly clean houses are the ones who are training their children to have no immune systems. Whereas my baby will come out a germ-fighting ninja!

I take the kids' grocery cart and drive through the house. On the way I fill the cart with misplaced items, and as I pass through rooms I put them away and get more for the upcoming rooms. Doll buggies work too. (I guess I could teach this to my four year old, and I don't know why I haven't.)

My mother was an impeccable cleaning machine. Although I think it's more slightly obsessive compulsive. A cleaning trick that worked for me was to set the timer for 15 minutes. For 15 minutes I would work on one thing (fold laundry, clean up the desk, clean up the living room). If after 15 minutes I felt I was on a roll, I could add another 15 minutes. Or if not, I could just stop right there, or do another 15 minutes doing another clean up task.

I felt like 15 minutes was something I could pull off but not so daunting as cleaning until the entire room was done.

Dirty dishes seem to magically multiply. When we are done eating, each family member rinses and places there own dish directly into the dishwasher rather than leaving it in the sink. Our little one needs a little help, but even she can carry her dish. Everyone helps in clearing off the table. This also works while prepping the meal. As the family member thats cooking uses an item, instead of placing it into the sink he/she puts it right in the dishwasher. Large pots and pans are the only things that get washed by hand. The dishwasher runs overnight and the next morning the kids put away the dishes as one of their morning chores.

I hope this comment doesn't offend anyone:

As a full-time stay-at-home father, I focus my thoughts on priorities. What is important to my family? What should I be concerned with? For me, for our family, cleanliness just takes a back seat to other things. Like education, morality, and fun. My kids are happy, caring, and spectacular students (my 13 year-old just brought home a progress report where, out of the past 15 assignments, he scored 100% on every one). Keeping clean? Not so much for us. We're not horribly messy, and dishes don't stack up for more than a day. We don't have ants or roaches or silverfish. I do the laundry and make the kids take showers and wash their hands after the bathroom and before eating, but I just don't get crazy about it. I'm sure my kids will make their future romantic interests a little annoyed because their not primarily focused on cleanliness, but that will be the biggest complaint. And wouldn't you rather fall in love with someone who was smart and caring and funny and messy than someone who was neat as a pin and selfish?

Judie- You are making a fallacy of association in your last sentence. Because someone is messy does not make them smart and caring nor does someone that is neat as a pin make them selfish.

[Stu made the association, not Judie.]

No offense taken (at least not by me) -- this is a great conversation.

Time spent together is more important than a company-ready house. But I don't think it's as either/or as messy/caring and neat/selfish. As Judie demonstrated, one can build basic cleanup tasks right into everyone's routines, so it's actually a way to help each member of the family learn responsibility and togetherness. That's education, morality and fun right there.

I never learned basic routines as a kid, and I'm paying for it now. Knowing how to systematically break a large task into pieces and get it done makes it EASIER to be creative, because there's more time for creativity.

Also, basic discipline -- understanding that work sometimes has to come before play -- is good for anyone, kid or adult.


What I wrote was that we make choices when we choose the people we love, and that I think that brains and caring and a sense of humor make for a happier life and that cleanliness is just not that important in the end.

Parent Hacks Editor,

I agree that cleanliness/order is something to teach children, and that they can benefit from this in an education/caring/humor way. But if I have a choice between cleaning and schoolwork or sports or art or temple or a trip to the pier, then cleaning is going to take a back seat. It's along for the ride, but always relegated to the back seat.

At the beginning of our bedtime routine, we set a timer for 15 minutes and tidy up the house. And after we put E to bed the timer gets set for another 10 minutes for some more tidying and quiet cleaning. You can get a lot done in that little bit of time.

I love a clean home.

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