So far in this house cleaning series, we’ve talked about what a clean house requires (Part 1), how expectations get involved (Part 2), what to expect regarding bugs and cleaning (Part 3) and now we are going to cover Dirt, Stuff and Mess.
Now let’s talk about actual Dirt.
In my opinion, dirt is fairly sterile usually, and not much more than a cosmetic concern. I vacuum or sweep my floors to keep the dirt level down, but not to “clean” it of its bugs. If I want to do that, on a hard floor, I get out my steam cleaning machine and kill everything in sight with 180F steam. Bahahahah!!! Ha. …eh. Yes, there is joy in house cleaning some times. 😉
Dirt in general is not a huge concern of mine. I have nothing against dust. I’d rather be spending the extra 20 min a week bleaching down my food preparation surfaces than dusting. This obviously also depends on how dusty the air is where you live. In Southern California, in the middle of a dry, windy desert area, we could dust and three days later draw a line through it again. Even better, the house was infested with spiders (usually the harmless kind… we went on the warpath against the black widows when we moved in) so within days of cleaning the ceiling, there would be dusty strings of broken cobwebs. In a situation like this, trying to “win” would drive anyone crazy. You would literally be dusting everything in sight every day. So if you life in a windy, dusty climate then learn to “lose” gracefully – expect that there will always be some dust, somewhere, and limit your activity to times or places where it’s important to you. Don’t, for example, dust the tops of doors. We generally left the cobwebs for big clean days, or when someone might be coming over. That kind of thing.
Here in the rainforest the dust generally seems to get caught in the high humidity and settles elsewhere…the floor maybe? Not my picture frames anyways. To my mind, dusting is something that should be done in commonly used areas regularly, and around the house on a environment-dependent schedule. Once a month, once every few months, once a year – it should be flexible.
Dirt really only is noticeable on light areas. So decide within your family which areas you really care about (walls? floors? counters? cabinets?) and focus on those. If you have dirty little fingered children, you likely have a dirt line going down your walls from about 3′ on down. Same for cabinets. When our house was being shown for sale, for about two years, all I remember is _constantly_ wiping down the walls. No matter what, they would have smudges within hours of being cleaned. So if you are showing your house to prospective buyers, maybe worry about the walls. If not, let it go! I mean, not totally – I cleaned one house once where they obviously hadn’t wiped walls for several years, with lots of kids and dogs, and it was nasty – but do it on a relaxed schedule. Bathroom counters should get wiped more regularly because of their proximity to human…excretions…as should kitchen counters because of food prep, but other surfaces really only need to be wiped when they actually look dirty. Now, if someone spills juice on the wood cabinet, by all means, clean it up right away! I’m not talking about that – that’s creating a microcosm for molds to grow not to mention possibly damaging the furniture – I’m talking about regular ol’ life dirt.
So we’ve dealt with Bugs, and we’ve dealt with Dirt. What’s left? Ah yes….Stuff!
I’ve written a whole post on purging your stuff during a Spring Clean. And let’s face it, it’s far easier to keep the stuff cleaned up when there’s less of it! So if you need to purge, do that first, last and regularly!
Most of the time, and let’s admit it, almost all of the time, stuff is not a problem by itself. It generally stays where you put it. And if you have room for it, and you like it, or it’s useful, there is no reason why it shouldn’t have a place to stay put in. The real problem is people. People and Stuff.
I could probably write a book about the aggravations of people and stuff. But I don’t need to because it’d likely sound the same as your book. There are a lot of good systems out there to get people to get their stuff together. Hooks, baskets, bags, boxes, garages….several large industries would suddenly collapse if we all stopped trying to organize our stuff! Really, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter what system you use. Almost every system will work as long as the people involved in it actually USE the system. So most likely, if you have a stuff and people problem, what will solve your problem is better people training….or better self-control! Also, this is an area where we need to remember to extend grace to each other. Cuz we have ALL left something where it wasn’t supposed to be. 🙂
As a parent, the best thing you can do for your children is in this area is to come up with a system, train them in it from the very young years, be consistent while training them, do not allow it to become a point of intense emotion (c’mon, y’all, there’s plenty more things to give the kids as topics for their future shrink than which shelf the milk goes on in the fridge), and just assume it will be years before they are actually trained. My children KNOW, like, they KNOW, that they are supposed to take their shoes off at the front door. It is INgrained in their little heads. And yet. And yet. I still find shoes all over the house. The oldest is the worst right now! But we all persevere, and in general, shoes remain near the door…-ish.
Now, when the person and the stuff that is aggravating you is not a child of yours, you really have a limited amount of influence. If, for some random example, the person is your husband and the stuff is his socks…well. Let me just say that I have actually heard, from real lips, the reason for a divorce being “He wouldn’t pick up his socks!” I am not joking. Now, my husband and his socks are a personal issue for me. He takes them off, balls them up, and throws them at the dog. They both enjoy this little game. Maybe the dog sees it as affection? Who knows? But, generally, it ends up as socks all over the house. That he doesn’t always remember to pick up……
So, first there is talking. And when that doesn’t work, most people move to nagging. And when that doesn’t work, some move to divorce. Here’s another idea. I heard it as one of those inspiring stories as a young married. Decide that, for the sake of your marriage, you will overlook 10 absolutely irritating habits. When a sock-like issue comes up, choose it as one of the 10. The trick to a life-long happy marriage, of course the story goes, is losing track of which 10! And say to yourself, “Oh, that must be one of them” as you pick up the 100th sock. 😉 Seriously, talk first. Many people honestly don’t know how irritating their sock-like habits can be to others. And we all do something that is irritating to someone. So talk first.
Lastly, let’s talk about Expectations and Mess.
To me, mess is a slightly different topic than stuff and people. No matter how minimalist you get, there will inevitably be times when your stuff is not where it is supposed to be. I’ll talk more about practical tips to get it there, but for now let’s talk about expectations.
To live together, stuff must be used. And it must be put back. How messy should your house get before it is too much? Here’s my simple metric, which thanks to this article I had to articulate to myself. Because usually it’s just a picture in my mind. 🙂 So life is “Normal” if the level of mess is something that an energetic, able adult could clean up in 15 minutes. My living room floor was covered in toys 10 minutes ago. Then I got two minions to do a quick pick up, and voila! Clean floor. So that would qualify as “messy but not too messy” – just life being lived. If it would take an adult over about 15 minutes to clean up an area, it is too messy. Again, I’m sure I’ll be getting all kinds of people disagreeing with me on either side of this but hey! We need a baseline here!
If there are certain areas of your house that consistently get past the baseline, you need to either change your system or renew efforts to keeping it, potentially re-training other people involved.
The aim for public areas of the house to remain within our “baseline” is so the 1) the space is useful and usable, 2) the people in the home can practice hospitality by inviting others over, 3) the people in the house can enjoy their living space without feeling overwhelmed and suffocated, and 4) things are where they can easily be found.
This has just been considering what I would call “public” areas of the house. Now, bedrooms are a different story. If you are an adult, and you like your bedroom the way it is, and so does any other adult who shares it with you – fine! There has to be some areas in life we can just be ourselves! If, however, you or someone else finds your bedroom state unusable (ie, you literally cannot walk to the bed), then put some effort into doing some re-organization. The goal is making your living space useful. As for children’s rooms, there are two aspects to this. First is the need to train children to learn to value and take care of their stuff. Second is the need to allow your children a certain amount of autonomy. As they get older, parents should respect their children’s space as their own. This comes after the point where you are sure that your children have been completely trained. Parenting is such a balancing act. Here’s where we have come down on it. I must be able to walk into a room. If the floor is unusable, it’s too messy and it must get picked up. On the other hand, I don’t require my son (for example) to organize his Legos on his desk in any way that suits me – I leave it up to him. He will suffer if he can’t find something anyways, and learn certain life lessons on his own without it needing to come from me. Parents in this generation tend to refuse to allow their children to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Mothers of 16 year old boys will pick up the clothing off their floor and clean them instead of requiring them to perform the simple act of putting them into the laundry themselves. In my opinion, this harms the child more than helps them. They must learn that there are consequences to actions; never putting the dirty laundry into the hamper means no clean clothes; never keeping school books straight means losing important school work and getting a bad grade, etc. Again, this autonomy kicks in when a parent can safely say, “Yes, my child knows that dirty laundry gets put into the hamper.”
In the next section, Part 5, we are covering expectations and Ability.