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Organizing The Everymom, Part I: Getting Started

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At long last friends, it’s here. The Type A, manic-mom in me is rejoicing a little louder than usual- I am SO excited to talk about organization. It’s borderline embarrassing. But I will happily go out on the limb of humiliation if it means helping other moms stress even a teeny-weeny bit less about household organization. Right there at the top of all mom-blog searches, just below losing weight and parenting tips (or articles to let you know you’re not killing them and everything will be fine) are the how-to-get-it-clean or how-to-keep-it-that-way posts. I’m not super sure how to help with losing weight or working out, and I definitely don’t know how to parent your kids- Lord help me as I try not to screw up my own- but the organization thing? I feel pretty solid about my skills in that arena. In talking about our spiritual gifts, and hearing many of my mom-friends share their amazing stories of friendship, abilities to write kind notes or bring a warm meal, to offer a hug at just the right moment or to sit with someone when they get bad news, I heard pretty clearly in the back of my head: “not your gifts, girl. But man, you could clean their houses and do their laundry while they pull themselves back together.” 

It’s a true story. I got nothin when it comes to saying the right thing at the right time- I get thank you notes out 3 weeks too late, I forget my BFF’s birthdays, and I am late for occasions when I am the guest speaker. In many avenues of my life, I am a hot mess. But when the kids are crying because mommy forgot today was our snack day at Girl Scouts, and I took us on a long car trip without the 2-year old’s beloved Blue Bear, and I packed one diaper too few for the events of the day, I take tremendous solace in the fact that we will walk through the door to a clean house, with a pre-prepped dinner, clean sheets on our beds, and clean, folded clothes in our closets. It really is the little things sometimes.

So…where to start. I remember in my first year of homemaking (not stay-at-home-mom homemaking, but newlywed-working-minimum-wage-job-while-pregnant-and-going-to-college homemaking) feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed by the amount of work it took to keep our house looking like the one in which I grew up. My mom set some pretty impossible standards. If you know my mom, you know she is always put-together.

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My glamorous mama. Not the everymom- she’s a legit supermom.

The woman never leaves home without makeup, has her nails filled in every two weeks without fail, and has never, EVER needed to touch up her roots. Girlfriend is ON POINT. And her house was no different. I remember apologizing to friends for the house being a mess when they visited after school, the “mess” being one or maybe two water glasses left by the sink. She taught me and my sister her elaborate laundry routine (literally going to every person’s hamper and sorting out the load you were washing- permanent press, towels/socks, whites, or darks/denim), routinely maintained the yard, and cycled out seasonal clothes into the attic prior to season change. The house was dusted with furniture polish, windexed, and bathrooms were bleached. It was a palace of cleanliness, and, in my own home, I seriously could not figure out how she did it.

Then she told me- she had a housekeeper. Duh! How did I not remember that? I remembered us helping, and I remember a cleaning lady coming regularly, but I didn’t realize what a HUGE difference having help might make. Since hiring a domestic assistant is nowhere near in the cards for me, I took a slightly different approach, and I have not stressed (or at least, not had a panic attack) about a messy house since. As you take a look at the steps below, I hope you’ll feel the way I felt after my mom’s revelation: relieved that no one has a 100% clean house without help, and that it’s not an all-or-nothing kind of battle. That being said, let’s get to it.

Step #1: Prioritizing

Think of this part as finding your inner domestic identity. One of my sweet lifelong friends, Jennifer, reminded me recently that we are all wired differently. Such an important thought in the midst of the I-know-better-than-you mommy-war culture. How I approach keeping my house may be vastly different from the way you keep yours. For the love of all things good, friends, don’t try to be like me if it ain’t you. For reals.

The best approach to finding your inner domestic goddess is as simple as deciding what matters most to you. Come up with your negotiables and non-negotiables for your household standards, based on what will actually make a difference in whether you’re happy in your homemaking or not.

In doing this for myself, I broke out the chores/areas of my house that I felt like I should work on, and then figured out first if they were a must-do (non-negotiable) or a when-I-can-do-it (negotiable), and then within those categories, how important they were to me. Here’s how it turned out:

Chore

Negotiable

Non-Negotiable

Importance

Dishes

✔️

High

Laundry

✔️

Medium

Vacuuming

✔️

High

Dusting

✔️

Medium

Bathrooms

✔️

High

Windows

✔️

Low

Kitchen

✔️

High

Toys put away

✔️

High

Kids’ Rooms

✔️

Medium

Entryway

✔️

Low

I’m not entirely certain if that made sense how I just described it, so here’s an example of my thought process: Of my non-negotiables, if I had to stay up late knocking stuff out so I’d sleep better, I’d be sure dishes were done, the crumbs were vacuumed, the kitchen was wiped down, and the toys were put away. And though it might drive me nuts, I’d be willing to let the laundry wait until tomorrow. On the other hand, if I needed to knock out a few things on a Saturday, I might start with negotiables that I still prioritize, like cleaning the bathrooms or dusting high-traffic areas. Ultimately, I figured out the chores that give me the most bang for my buck- the ones that make a difference to me if they’re done, and that make me insane if they aren’t done.

Step #2: Creating a schedule

You’d be surprised at what a difference this makes. I can remember growing up, playing at my cousin Logan’s house nearly every Saturday, and seeing her dad turn into Mr. Clean, every single Saturday, wearing his headphones and a tool-belt full of cleaning supplies. He hauled their central vac system around like a boss, and cleaned bathrooms and wiped down countertops. It was impressive. I may not have all the details right (it was a long time ago, okay?), but one thing’s for sure- that was their routine. 

I am not an all-in-one-day kind of girl. Never have been. I need naps and wine and reading chick lit and the occasional Parks and Recreation break. What I can handle is a little bit, every day. The only downside to that is…life. I’m extremely self-disciplined, but I am also super-prone to distraction. I am always one Wikipedia article away from an entire day wasted on the internet. (If I were someone else, I’d say bless her heart.) So I need a visual to help myself stay on track. Enter: the whiteboard. I can totally swear by this thing. Check it out:

IMG_3277Ahh yes. Note how empty the big calendar is? Not featured on the list of negotiables/non-negotiables is “calendar accuracy,” which should probably be a new standard in the near future. Baby steps, people.

You can see my own little chore schedule there, right? I’m pretty solid about sticking to that, because it’s actually doable. And it’s pretty all-encompassing. In a pinch, I put off the negotiable stuff for when I have time, and just do the non-negotiables for each day. Not on there? Dishes- because for real, if you ever see an unwashed dish in my house it is almost assuredly from a visitor. Everyone else knows those things must. be. done. Whew. Glad I got that out of the way. Notice how I also left no chores for Sunday? The hubs has a non-negotiable: we will have a Sabbath. Not playing around there. So chores get done before Sunday, and we can enjoy a day of preparing ourselves for the coming week without the stress of extra household stuff. (Except dishes of course. But I digress.)

Step #3: Figuring out who can help

The who in this house is the kids. There are a million lists on Pinterest showing the developmental capability kids have for chores, broken out by age. I’m not exactly great with those, because we have some pretty extreme developmental ranges in this house. I basically asked, “who is tall enough to do this job? who can do this job without breaking something? who can actually complete this without me having to clean up an even bigger mess when they’re done?” and voila, the chore chart was born. Except I don’t have a chore chart…because for the life of me, I cannot stick to a single variation of chore chart.

Instead, I put together a cleaning kit, both upstairs and downstairs (we’re in a townhouse, remember?), and when I’m working on chores, my peeps join in. Take a look:

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Yep… super simple. This is the downstairs kit, and it contains Lysol wipes, 2 swiffer dusters, a magic eraser, paper towels, upholstery cleaner, and a raggedy hand towel. If I’m in the living room, they can wipe down spots on the couches and swiffer the end tables and built-ins. If we’re in the kitchen, they can wipe down countertops and the kitchen table. And the magic eraser is for all the havoc they wreak on my hardwoods with sloshed yogurt/smoothies/milk. They actually enjoy this stuff- the routine is now that while I’m washing dishes from dinner, they go right to the cleaning kit and get out wipes, and tidy up. And then I get to smell the lemony-freshness of their handiwork without lifting a finger. Win.

The upstairs kit is virtually the same, but instead of upholstery cleaner and lysol wipes, I have windex and carpet cleaner. I also keep clorox wipes under my bathroom sinks, so that everyone can wipe down their sink a few times a week and save me the trouble.

The other way to get “help,” especially if you don’t have little assistants, is to get smarter about cleaning. I hate cleaning toilets. It is seriously the worst. So we use bleach tabs in the tanks and that pretty much takes care of that. We squeegee the glass door and tile walls of our shower so soap scum never accumulates. I pour vinegar and boiling water down the drains in my kitchen sink to keep mold and mildew at bay. And the kids (and us parents) leave shoes downstairs at the basement entry to our house, so we never track in dirt or debris.

Step #4: Look at your own processes

This started with laundry, but turned into a makeover of virtually every process in my house. Laundry was my responsibility when we were teenagers- and I learned to hate it. I just hated putting away laundry in a thousand rooms and sorting endlessly through everyone’s hampers to find what needed to be washed in each particular category. Kill. me. Then I saw my hubs do laundry for the first time, without sorting it. I watched in awe as he located a match for every. single. sock. His black pants didn’t have lint all over them. His red shirts didn’t turn the rest of his laundry pink. It was complete blasphemy against everything I ever knew about laundry. And yet…it worked. And now I do the same thing. I don’t sort anything- except by owner. The girls’ laundry, the boys’ and mine, the hubs, and towels/sheets. That’s it.

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That’s right, son. Rinse, load, repeat.

I did the same thing with dishes. I know, I know. Shut up about dishes. The fact that there are no dishes piled up is important to me. So now, whether the dishwasher is full or not, I run it every single night. Yep. No apologies. And I empty it first thing every morning. No exceptions. It’s easy enough to accomplish while the kids eat breakfast and my coffee is brewing, and I can immediately get all dirty dishes out of sight. It’s a beautiful thing. I never would have done that before, but hey, we’re all evolving, right? I bet there’s something in your cleaning routine that isn’t working. And I bet there’s a way you can tweak it to make it work for you. Do it, mama. And don’t look back.

Step #5: Talk it over with your stakeholders

This is by far the most important step- who knew that communicating your priorities with your spouse/significant other/roommate/whoever would make a difference? Go figure. I don’t want to understate the significance of my hubs here- he really is the best hubs ever. I’m always amazed by just how far he will go to be sure I’m happy. Sharing my non-negotiables with him has made a HUGE difference in the workload around here. He knows now that his glass belongs in the dishwasher- not the sink, and I know that since he knows, I’m not going to nag him about it. If he’s been in charge of dinner while I’ve been at a church meeting, he vacuums the crumbs under the table. We agree on what’s reasonable and not reasonable, and we worked out the plan together. He also makes sure the kids stay on the hook for their roles, and he does his part. We’re a team. And my end of the bargain is that I won’t nag or expect the uncommunicated. He keeps me company while I wash the dishes, or he washes them while I do bedtime stories. Either way, we both understand the kitchen is clean before bedtime, and no one makes me feel guilty for being a total neat freak (and they don’t, for the most part, undo my hard work).

My ultimate point here is this: find your inner domestic goddess realistically. Don’t set unattainable goals or try someone else’s method. Figure out what you want to do, and then figure out how you- in the time you have, in your current world will get it done. And don’t be afraid to ask the people involved to help you make it a reality.

Here’s the deal friends: none of us does it all. We just do what’s important to us. My furniture will never be polished and my oven will always have something strange stuck to the bottom. I’ll always need to dust my computer keyboard and my rugs will almost assuredly need shampooing. Those things don’t matter so much to me. It’s balance. Those non-negotiables I listed? Those make me feel like a domestic superstar. I walk in to a clean kitchen and an empty hamper and I feel like my day is somewhat a success, even if the rest of it was utter chaos. What does that for you? What will make you feel like a boss in your own home? Start there…the possibilities are endless.

Good luck, mama. You got this.

xoxo~ LWH

 

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4 thoughts on “Organizing The Everymom, Part I: Getting Started

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