Some of you asked “How on earth do you handle all the housework?” while others of you hoped I would be so kind as to post pictures of the inside of my messy house. Well, I was crazy enough to do that once — in a Faith & Family article about spring cleaning a few springs ago. Don’t hold your breath for another messy photo shoot anytime soon, though.
Not because my home is eternally immaculate — it’s not. It’s very much a lived-in, worked-in, homeschooled-in, small-children-live-here kind of home. But it’s not neglected either. We do handle basic things like meals, laundry, dishes, and clutter on a regular basis. On the whole, I think we do a pretty good job of keeping our heads above water.
Notice I say “we.” That’s because I do require basic household help from my kids. I know, I know … I already told you all about how much I hate chore charts. But this January, I gave in. I found that I was going nuts trying to keep up with some basic small stuff around here that my kids would readily do and should be learning to do anyway … if I only required it of them.
So I came up with my own simple rotating chore chart that made sense to me. I enforce it a minimum of four days a week (mostly to keep us on track on our heavier schooling days — Monday through Thursday). I also made up a separate list of the steps involved in some of the more complicated chores so that there would be no excuses for anyone skipping steps or cutting corners. In case any of you are dying to see my simple chore chart, I published it for you here.
But enough about kid chores. I also want to share some general principles for those of you moms who write to me in desperation because you truly do struggle with keeping on top of housework. For those of you who are drowning, frustrated, or entirely unmotivated, I would encourage you to keep in mind the following:
1. Just do it.
It might sound silly and Nike-ad-like, but it really is that simple sometimes. There’s no way around it — we all have to do unpleasant things sometimes. If we just do it, it will get done, our homes will run more smoothly, and we can get on with the fun stuff. If we whine about it, ignore it, cry about it, dread it, and put it off, not only doesn’t it get done, but we make ourselves (and possibly our families) miserable in the meantime.
The next time you do your most dreaded chore — whether it be folding laundry, scrubbing the toilet, or cleaning out the refrigerator — time yourself. I guarantee you will be surprised at how little time it actually takes to complete the dreaded chore when you finally focus. Personally, I am embarrassed to admit the amount of time I have wasted over the years thinking about and putting off changing bed sheets when the doing of the actual job winds up costing me only about 15 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I can do pretty much anything for 15 minutes.
2. Mix it up.
Throughout your day, try alternating jobs you hate with ones you don’t mind so much. This will keep you moving along while preventing you from feeling like a slaving Cinderella. When I am pregnant, it is out of necessity that I alternate standing jobs and sitting jobs — I just can’t be on my feet all day long. As a result, through the years, I have learned to relish quiet moments of folding laundry or organizing a bookcase for the few minutes’ rest they afford me. I alternate these with more active jobs like cleaning the bathroom or standing at the sink.
3. Change your attitude.
Why are you doing housework? Is it for your family? For your neighbors? For your mother-in-law? Try this: Do it for yourself.
Don’t laugh at me, but I consider getting my laundry done every day — all the way down to putting clean clothes away in drawers and/or closets a gift I give myself. Whatever else is going on in the world, if I am on top of the laundry, I feel like my life is in order. Having that very real sense of accomplishment is what motivates me to see the job all the way through to completion. I think, Do I want to have an unfolded pile of laundry greet me in the bedroom when I finally go to bed tonight? No, I don’t. So, even if I need to enlist help along the way, I get it done. For me. Your key job might not be laundry, but it might clutter control or vacuuming or washing dishes. Get it done. For you.
4. Make good use of your time.
About ten years ago, I read Confessions of an Organized Homemaker: The Secrets of Uncluttering Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life. I heartily recommend it to anyone who struggles with organization. While I don’t follow all of the book’s advice to the letter, some of the basic ideas about home organization have stayed with me through the years. One thing I remember clearly is what Deniece wrote about laundry. Her line was something like, “Don’t let your laundry machines stand there laughing at you while you sort clothes!” She meant to begin by throwing a load of towels or jeans in so that something is being accomplished while you’re standing there preparing the rest of the laundry.
Don’t walk around your house doing random things in random order — make efficient use of your time. Think about the order in which you do things. With the help of your modern appliances, you can come up with simple ways of doing many things at once: You can move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, put another load in the washer, and clear your sink and start your dishwasher before you vacuum the living room. Then, while you are vacuuming, you are also washing clothes, drying clothes, and doing the dishes — sweet!
5. Bribe yourself as necessary.
If you truly are unmotivated, motivate yourself. I love to listen to certain podcasts, but I don’t let myself use my iPod unless I am working out or cleaning the bathroom. It makes these tasks infinitely more appealing and ensures they get done on a regular basis. I also sometimes plan to do a brainless chore, like sorting through a closet or cabinet, while I chat on the phone with a friend. For really big jobs, you can promise yourself a bigger reward — like an evening out with your husband or a new haircut when the dreaded thing is done. Whatever works. Just do it. Which brings us back to the start of my list …