Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Getting Things in Order III -- Household Routines

So in my last post I talked about how decluttering started me thinking about how I could better live a responsible life.  Part of this, that I didn't mention last time, came from Father Dubay's emphasis on what we owe to our needier brethren.  First, we owe it to them not to hog a lot of things at their expense.  Secondly, they set for us an example of vulnerability.   Poor people don't necessarily choose to be vulnerable, any more than small children choose to be simple.   There are plenty of poor people who are not saintly.   Yet poor people are a model for all of us, Jesus said, in their radical dependency, just as small children are a model of simplicity.  

As we get older and richer we put up barriers of stuff, of decency, of rules, of status or power.    These things are completely non-conducive to a Christian life (when they function as barriers, that is, not in themselves).   When you place your trust in them your heart turns slowly to stone.  It stops being responsive insofar as they truly have a grip on you (I do know many people who have plenty of "stuff" but aren't attached and use their possessions to be of better service to others -- so it's not the FACT of possessions so much as the enmeshment with them that clouds up the spirit).   But it's nearly impossible to avoid the traps without conscious, continuing efforts to divest oneself of these trappings.   Or so I find.  You can read the whole Bible in that light.   I don't think it's properly understood how radical God is in this regard.   For some reason Christian vs non-Christian gets tied up in "good" vs "bad" -- I'm not sure how many more ways God could have reiterated that this distinction is a false one except in terms of participation in God's life. 

Can order and routine -- like possessions -- be a barrier, a hedge, a status trip?  Sure, and I think that was one reason I failed so many times during the years.   I immediately started focusing on the thing itself, patting myself on the back for success and berating myself for failure.... a kind of works-righteousness, perhaps.   I am oversimplifying, for my intentions were generally good and I did make some progress.

Basically, I think I sabotaged myself because I started feeling unhealthy about my efforts.   I read a book about compulsive over-eating that made a similar point.  If you don't work on the inside as well as the outside, the outside changes lose their momentum.   You can only look at your new fit body in the mirror for about 2 minutes before your satisfaction is gone and the brownies look much more appealing.    It seems like I could only feel good about my organized life for about 2 minutes before I started longing for my old ways, which did have some things to recommend them, otherwise I wouldn't have started doing them in the first place.   Flylady talks perceptively about how the newly organized Flybaby often starts yelling at her husband and children.   How many times did I change my ways and then get all grouchy and compulsive?  Then my interior would realize it's much better to be a basically loving and accepting though somewhat negligent person than an OCD monster and I would give up.  

Moving on -- last spring, after I had gotten rid of many, many full trash bags of stuff (see sidebar for progress report) I didn't have an excuse not to tackle my household routines.   I wasn't overwhelmed just facing the clutter every day.   I could actually see the dirt in the corners that had been hiding.   So I updated my systems.    I'll describe them here again since they are still working with some minor tweaks.

Which by the way is what I am working for with all my different systems.   I want something that is basic -- not wildly idealistic.  Something that covers the minimums, like the foundation stones of a building.  I can expand greatly or revise details without shaking the foundation.  If that isn't clear I'll try to make it more so as I continue through this series.

Another requirement besides minimalism is that I can keep it in my head.   So if this looks complicated, it's really not.  I can keep this in my head, and my head is not a very organized or methodical one.   I do have it on paper just in case!  But my standard for decent simplicity is that it doesn't need a whole new layer of tasks like flipping through charts.   I want it in my head, and easy enough so that it feels natural.    Otherwise, guess what?  I probably won't do it.  I realize that about myself, at least at this point in my life.   

So here goes:

Every day I have laundry, cooking and tidying.   Those are just given parts of the day.   I do laundry daily -- it's part of my morning routine -- but I have big days on Monday and Friday -- when I wash sheets, towels, furniture covers and that kind of thing, so it is several loads (I am usually at home on those days so it's easy to just keep putting in loads).

Then every day I have a MAINTENANCE JOB and a FOCUS JOB.   The Focus is something like Flylady's Zones.  Basically you divide your house up into areas.   Mine are Greatroom (combined living room and dining room); Kitchen; hall and bedrooms; Loft; Master Bedroom; Garage.   But instead of spending a week in each one I spend a day on each one.   I put the specific jobs on this form.   I don't usually need to look at it because it's usually quite obvious what needs to be done in a specific zone to make it look presentable (it usually involves scrubbing or dusting, putting away and straightening, and sometimes repairing).     My estimated time frames for the maintenance and focus jobs are 20 minutes for each, adding up to a doable 40-45 minutes a day, though sometimes I go a bit longer.


Vacuum rugs (spotlight downstairs)
Focus on Greatroom
Big laundry day #1


Clean bathrooms
Focus on Kitchen
write grocery list and menu


Mop floors
Focus on hall and bedrooms


Vacuum (spotlight upstairs rugs)
Focus on Loft area


Clean bathrooms
Focus on master bedroom
Big laundry day #2


Gather and take out trash
Focus on garage
Office Day (go through mail, sort papers etc)

I don't work on Sunday, except baking and lesson planning, pre-reading books, etc.

It's hard to describe how freeing this is.  Every day there is one maintenance task and one focus task.  This covers the basic 80%.    The house gets tackled over time.   My central processing units are freed up.  I don't have to make decisions about what needs doing. 

I'm trying to figure out how to manage the deep cleaning which covers the next 15% (I'm saving the last 5% for that kind of rigorous House Beautiful perfection that I probably won't ever need to reach in this lifetime).   I could:

  • Do a thorough deep clean 3-4 times a year
  • Focus on one zone once a month and get that deep-cleaned
  • Do one or two deep clean jobs for one or two zones each week.

Any of these would work pretty well, so I just have to pick one and then try to do it and see if it works for me. 

I don't try to conform myself to some great system any more, by the way, because that's no longer a high priority for me.    With most of these types of things there's a variety of approaches.  Any of them would get you "good enough" especially if you aren't dealing with a whole lot of clutter and complicated stuff.  


You'll notice I don't have my kids included in this.   My kids have always had chores and still do though the younger ones don't tend to have to do as much as the older ones did (less work to do around here with no babies and toddlers).   But I haven't got to the Mothering part of this series yet.   For simplicity I wanted to distinguish different areas as much as possible and get my personal stuff in line and running before I included family members.   I am not a natural manager!  But having these jobs laid out, of course, helps me get the kids involved since I know what's to be done in a day and what I'll need help with.  


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Willa. I am in a drowning-feeling phase right now. After my baby (who is now 5 months old), I did set up a similar basic keep-up system, but because I'm still getting up twice or thrice at night and I have 3 others with needs and activities, even that frequently doesn't get done. So then I find myself spending chunks of time on one area (laundry, kitchen cleaning, etc.) while other areas get even farther behind.

    Do you have ideas for catching up while still doing the minimums when you don't have the time (or energy) to have a focused cleaning day (or two or three)?

  2. Hi Mystie,

    I know how the drowning-feeling goes.

    Recently it has helped me to think "central" or "core" vs periphery. So if I only have a limited amount of time I start in the literal center of our living spaces and work outwards IF time permits. The window sills can be neglected for quite a while without a problem, while the table and counters can't. You know what I mean. The central living spaces are usually the kitchen and the living room and the bathrooms. The central part of those rooms are usually the sinks, counters, and central floor space.

    The core living tasks are laundry and meals, but doing those perfectly doesn't seem as important as just making sure they happen. I used to toss my kids' clothes in separate baskets and let them fold them and put them away, even if they turned out a bit wrinkled. And meals can be quite simple, too.

    When I had lots of littlies and medical things going on I relied on tiny bursts of time to do basic cleanup. My m-i-l was a great example. She could blast through tidying a room in about 2 minutes while a baby was occupied in a car seat or whatever. It's surprising what you can do in a tiny piece of time. I honestly didn't use baby's nap time for cleaning -- I napped myself, or hung out with the kids, or did things that I couldn't do with a baby in my arms. I even kept a list for those times so I wouldn't "waste" them.

    So I suppose I'm saying I would do the Focus jobs differently -- instead of spending a week or a day on one area, I'd think in terms of 10-15 minute chunks doing the essentials in each zone. Then when I had more time I'd do the less essential jobs -- or supervise while my kids did them.

    I remember once on a Charlotte Mason list someone said they applied the "short lesson" idea to their housekeeping and that helped.

  3. Hope that reply didn't sound too lecture-y. If it does I apologize. Sometimes I read over what I wrote and cringe but it honestly doesn't sound that way in my head when I'm writing!

  4. No, it didn't sound lecture-y at all, thank you! :)

    Some days I don't have the energy to clean for a burst, but I am starting to recognize that as an attitude problem as much as it is a physical reality.

    Having a focus would help. The center/core idea is perfect! I also need to adjust my expectations. I *want* to have a clean house (which is an improvement for me), but for this time I will have to be content with a minimum and not getting it all done.

    Thank you so much for spelling out your thinking in these things; it has helped. I do, however, find myself assuming that once I don't have small children it will magically be easy to keep house and keep order. Not that I kept a clean or orderly house before I had children, though. Your posts have been a reality check for me, too. :)

  5. I used to assume that, too. I was really surprised that I still had challenges in this area even when I didn't have babies and toddlers! I think it's because it's slightly easier to ignore -- and because there's more running off in all different directions, and being distracted by all that's involved in having a group of school-age kids.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!