There is a vast gulf of misunderstanding between the two extremes of housekeeping, with passive-aggressive anti-cleaning memes on one end and Pinterest royalty on the other. My people often have a very narrowly circumscribed image of what ‘clean’ looks like, and they don’t like it. It’s a static, lifeless stage set. The picture usually includes something like plastic slipcovers or doilies or white shag carpeting. What we are rebelling against is a strict standard of perfectionism. I don’t like it either.
I keep a clean house because I work at home, and I don’t like being surrounded by clutter or dirt or sticky surfaces. I have also learned from experience that cleaning a clean house takes a fraction of the effort it takes to attempt to do housework in a dirty, cluttered house. I also see it as a form of rebellion in its own right. It irks people, and I find that funny. If you could stop being annoyed by my perceived perfectionism for a minute, you might learn a few neat little tricks. I mean, it’s not like my house has a “fast metabolism” or good genes.
My goal is to get the maximum benefit out of the minimum amount of work. My home environment is a supply station and base of operations, as opposed to a storage unit. Every room is there for a specific use. For instance, our bed is for sleeping, and that’s why we don’t pile laundry on it. We eat 3-4 meals a day at the dining table, and that’s why we keep it clear. It takes about 45 seconds to make the bed or wipe down the table, and 30 seconds to wipe down one kitchen counter. It would be easy to add a bunch of throw pillows, stuffed animals, place mats, dried flower arrangements, cookie jars, canisters, vases, appliances, stacks of junk mail, dirty dishes, and other random items, whether intentionally or not, that would add a lot of cleaning time to the stopwatch. None of these things are part of the system of using each room for its assigned purpose.
Almost all the labor involved in keeping our house free of dirt is performed by machines. Like most people we know, we have a dishwasher, washer and dryer, and vacuum cleaner. We don’t have to slop the hogs, chop firewood, pump water and boil it, make our own soap, wash dishes or clothes by hand, carry sheets down to the river to beat them on a rock, or even hang-dry laundry if we don’t want to. (I often do during the summer, because it dries faster). I didn’t have access to these modern labor-saving appliances as a kid, so the novelty has not worn off of the miracle of not having to make weekly trips to the laundromat. To me, it is seriously no big deal to spend 4 minutes emptying the dishwasher or 8 seconds loading a single dish after I use it. I’ve timed it at 3 minutes to load the washer, 3 minutes to move wet clothes into the dryer, and 2 minutes to empty clean clothes into a basket. I think the reason people get behind on the laundry is that they let it pile up until it takes an hour to fold and put away. The root cause of that is owning enough clothes to support those large piles.
I’ve made some weird choices based on my preference for maximum efficiency. I don’t have a coffee table. My belief is that coffee tables exist for two reasons: collecting clutter and stubbing toes. I don’t generally put my art in frames, because it’s one more thing to dust, and a potential safety hazard here in earthquake zone. I don’t have window treatments because they’re a hassle to wash. A lot of our furniture choices are based around the needs of our Roomba. Perfectionists, I can only assume, care about impressing people. I care about making sure my house is easy to live in.
There are three parts to my housekeeping system. 1. Buy-in from my husband. 2. Clutter control. 3. A schedule. #1 was easy because the system is its own advertisement. The house is at least 80% clean at least 80% of the time, and our weekends are free. We don’t argue or quarrel and we don’t have to panic if someone drops by for a visit. I spend about 20 minutes cleaning the surfaces of one room each weekday and about 20 minutes putting away laundry and emptying wastebaskets. When I’m done with a room, I don’t bother with it again until the next time it comes up in the rotation. If we go out of town or get the flu, rooms just get skipped for the week, but they don’t take any longer to clean than usual. At any given time, there are probably some dog hairs on the couch, parrot feathers on the floor, and muddy paw prints and/or shreds of chew toys somewhere in the house. It’s definitely not “perfect.” At least they are different individual hairs and feathers from one week to the next! The goal is maximum comfort, maximum enjoyment, maximum relaxation, minimum stress, and minimum hassle. That’s perfect for us.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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