Friday, October 16, 2009

Cleaning things up

My favorite battles to fight are the ones you can fight with words; anyone who has read my blog for very long knows what I mean by that, I'm sure.

But every now and again I find myself mired in a different kind of battle: the War on Dirt. I'm not alone in this battle: every mom fights it, and quite a few dads get involved in it too. Children are reluctant draftees in this war much of the time, but they can be motivated to take action against the ubiquitous foe; motivated, or sometimes bribed.

I've been fighting this battle today, which is why I haven't had time to blog. But like any commander in a protracted war against a wily and resourceful enemy, I've been pondering the need for a change in tactics.

Seasoned homeschooling moms will know what I'm talking about (and I'm sure the non-homeschooling moms have similar experiences, too). Every so often we find that our usual strategies against dirt, clutter, and so forth just aren't cutting it any more. Routines or cleaning schedules or chore charts which have worked smoothly for months or even years are suddenly ineffective. Sometimes it takes a crisis (of the sort where mom, depending on her personality and hair color, either stomps around the house shouting words like "filthy" into the unresponsive air, or stomps around the house muttering these same words in half-syllables that make her puzzled children wonder just what language she's speaking) before mom realizes that the well-oiled engine of her home-cleaning efforts has somehow broken down on the job.

That's the kind of mood I've been in today. The sudden shock of realizing that our long-time strategy of doing one big housecleaning session every Friday afternoon, supplemented by plenty of spot-cleaning and tidying during the week, was wholly inadequate to keep the house clean made me rather grumpy and irritable, I'm sorry to say. I may have fussed, rather. I may have developed a temporary martyr complex, and gone around sighing much of the evening as I swept, mopped, scrubbed, and vacuumed, turning down sincere offers of help with a somewhat put-upon air. Only my confessor will know for sure.

But if I did do any of those things, it was because I was annoyed with myself--annoyed at letting things get rather out of hand before coming to my senses and admitting that no, our long-time strategy which had become quite routine and comfortable was not enough anymore. It's way too easy to let routines get comfortable, and to fail utterly to notice when more clutter or more grime than usual starts to accumulate.

And I was especially annoyed because this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. In fact, my cleaning efforts usually fall under two main headings: the big cleaning day with a little spot cleaning type as described above, and the "break up the big day's worth and do a little of it each day" type which worked well when my children were toddlers.

My girls are teen/preteen, not toddlers, now. And they do help, a lot, around the house. But this school year, which includes a first-year high school student who's still trying to sort out how she feels about things like algebra and Spanish and high-school level science, is becoming very time-intensive compared to previous years. We have a lot to do, and we work until fairly late in the afternoon each day--and by the time Friday rolls around, no one, including Mom, really wants to spend the hours from about 4 p.m. until dinnertime cleaning every room in the house.

So it makes sense to go back to organizing things the way I did when they were toddlers and I had to work around nap times. It would be a lot less stressful to break apart the "big clean" into daily manageable chores than to have to spend a large amount of time on one day of the week trying to get it all done. And if I'd realized that earlier, I probably could have avoided the whole "stomping around" thing.

But like many people, I'm a creature of habit. The Friday cleaning session has worked for quite some time now, and is especially efficient in the summer (which I may have to remember when next summer rolls around). It was hard to admit that it wasn't working anymore.

It was harder to clean about 3/4 of my house while sustaining an unjustified bad mood. But that's our secret.


Deirdre Mundy said...

I'm still in the preschool toddler stage--which means my routine is basically:

1 room a weekday and Saturday (our house has 6 rooms). Lots of Laundry and Dishes Every day. Extra stuff gets cycled in as I can......

It works. Our house is NEVER totally clean at once, but every room is totally clean once a week, and I keep reminding myself about the difference between cluttered and dirty. (I.e. I aim for HYGEINE, not beauty at this point...)

But it really depends on whether you can live and work in a house knowing that it's not going to spread disease even if the legos are all over the floor...

Anonymous said...

I currently have a kindergardener and a toddler, and am 7 mos pregnant with number three. Sadly, I've never really had a cleaning routine that I was satisfied with. I get very ill at the beginning of each pregnancy, and spend the rest of the pregnancy trying to catch up on what I didn't get done during the first trimester. But I suppose that most areas of my house are clean at least a couple times a month (with the exception of my bedroom and the laundry room). I'm not good at the organizational aspect of things, and now that I'm homeschooling it's definitely harder to get the day-to-day work done. I find myself stomping around the house, shouting about filth with disturbing regularity!

--Elizabeth B.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Elizabeth-- it's only filth if it's dirty! Toys and books are just the stuff of life!

I'm pretty sick through pregnancy too-- which may explain my lower standards....

Also, I wash the kitchen floor (VERY SMALL KITCHEN) on my hands and knees, so I get my midwife mandated hands and knees time in. And if I only get it half done before I get interrupted, I just make sure it was the nastier half! (I mean, VERY SMALL. Like deep-cleaning on hands and knees is maybe a 15 minute job....)

I think part of the problem is that when you have little kids, even if the house *IS* clean, it never, ever *LOOKS* clean. As soon as you get one room company-ready, they're compelled to destroy it again! (I have an almost 6, a 4, a 2 and one due in December.)

The other big help is to remember WHY we clean. We clean to keep our house safe and healthy for our families, NOT to make it onto the cover of 'house beautiful' or to impress that mom from church who always has it all together. So the question to ask yourself is not "Is my house perfect" but "Is it safe and healthy?"

Sorry to rant like this, Erin. I just get so sick of moms stressing out over the house to the point where they descend into pits of self-loathing. And I think it's worse for home-schoolers b/c since our short-folk are HOME all day, they have an extra 6 hours to make messes that other kids don't have! And we have 6 hours less of cleaning time!

Anonymous said...

I could just imagine the Victorian housekeeper--all that horsehair on ornate woodwork, velvetry and plush, rugs, polishing and dusting, and on top of it long dresses, petticoats, hats and boots, natural fabrics, no custom of removing boots at the door (unless of course one ran barefoot), long hair all without Pledge and deep cleaning detergents, pleasant no-tear shampoos (although castile soap is mild, it stinks).

Bet Red felt good at the end of the day's work, though! Truly an enjoyable day of rest the next day.

Corey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Deirdre--thanks for the encouragement! My due date is actually the day after Christmas! Good luck with your new little one (I am the oldest of four kids myself, and each of us was two years apart, so I was six when the youngest was born)

It's true that things aren't usually filthy at my house--just messy. I'm getting pretty good at recognizing that the kids' clutter isn't filth--just a natural part of life with young ones.

What I struggle with is the WHY of cleaning--too often I'm really trying to do it for myself. I want a room to look just the way I want it to, for my own satisfaction. Being something of a perfectionist, this impulse mostly serves to make me discontented and miserable. But, I'm getting better and I've come a long way over the last few years!

--Elizabeth B.