How To: Tackle Tidiness

If it were not for children, my husband and I would always have a clean house. In fact, having them home from school all week has kept my frustration level high because everywhere I look, I see a mess. Tonight my husband asked me why I was cleaning so frantically so I explained how embarrassed I was that a daycare parent saw our messy home. He reminded me that anyone who saw it would understand that many children make many messes. I am clinging to the hope that instead of judging me for my untidy home, they are thinking "Better her house than mine!"

Keeping a tidy home has always come naturally to me because I am a Martha (I was the oldest daughter in a family with six children and mom said that when I moved out, she noticed a difference in the general tidiness of the home). Over the years I have had requests from friends for help with their homes. One sister (who is a Mary) told me that she started watching me to learn what to do to get a handle on her home's tidiness.

The other day I realized that I have many posts on learning to have a Mary Heart (because that is what I am working on in my life) but I have not shared my gifts on how to have a Martha Home! I started thinking about a few "How To" ideas on organization - so this is the first:

Tackling Tidiness

1. Start with a clean house.

I know.

Maybe you don't have that option because your house is already a disaster. I will deal with that in a later post. I am just saying that it is easier to keep things neat if you start with an orderly home - then it is simply a matter of maintaining what you have already done.

Having company is always a good motivator for me to get my house really clean - it's also a chance to build relationships and exercise hospitality!

2. Consider having "Kid-free zones."

This does not mean that your children are not welcome in their own home - it just means that it is not absolutely necessary for them to have free run of the entire house, cluttering every inch of it with toys and getting into the things that belong in those rooms.

For several years we owned a historical home with many formal rooms. That house was great for having company - which we did often, hosting many holidays and birthday parties in our home. There were four bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs. The main level boasted formal living and dining rooms, a parlor, a family room, a kitchen, bath and laundry. As you can imagine, keeping up with a house of that size proved to be overwhelming. It would have been impossible if the children had been allowed the full use of all of that space. Eventually we started closing the doors or gating off some of the rooms  like the formal rooms and the guest bedroom. The house was so large that the children had plenty of room to create a disaster, but it was contained enough for me to keep at least a little of my sanity.

3. Clean your own bedroom first.

I am a make-the-bed-every-day kind of girl. I know that some of you feel that you will only get back into it later and mess it up again so why bother, but there is something refreshing to me about climbing into a bed with the blankets and sheets pulled tight. On  the occasion that the bed does not get made (my husband's once a week sleep in day ; ), I find myself making the bed late in the day, or simply pulling the blankets tight before I can get comfortable that night.

Why does cleaning your own bedroom matter? Because any woman with little children can appreciate something that does not have to be re-done several times throughout the day (like dishes, laundry, picking up toys, sweeping the kitchen...). I am a firm believer that the Master Bedroom should be a kid-free zone. I don't mean locking them out in a thunder storm, I just think that their toys and personal belongings should be kept elsewhere so that that space will stay clean - which also means that's the place where mom  (and dad!) can breath a sigh of relief upon entering.

This is the room for kindling romance, too, and nothing kills romance like clutter and chaos. Romance requires peace, so the Master Bedroom should reflect that. I understand that for some of you the MB must serve double-duty as a home office or workout room, etc. In those cases, I think that an attractive room-dividing screen could be a good option for separating the functions of the room and masking any clutter associated with those purposes.

4. Don't ignore the obvious.

Don't step over or around things that are out of place, pick them up and put them away.  Sometimes it's easy to think, "I'll put it away later when I clean this room." or for most children there is, "It's not mine." or "I didn't get it out."

It doesn't matter! If you want to have a tidy home, the first rule is not to ignore things that are obviously out of place. It also does not matter who used it, who it belongs to or who got it out. One of the best things for children to learn is that families take care of each other, and sometimes that means cleaning up after a loved one.

As an aside, probably the only thing that I did "right" from the beginning of my marriage was to firmly decide that I would not be offended at cleaning up after my husband. I decided to be HAPPY to serve him in this way. What a load of bad attitudes that decision has saved me!

5. If you make a mess, clean it up!


A little children's song comes to mind:
If you make a mess, clean it up!
If you wear it, be sure to put it away.
If you get it out, put it back -
Or you will turn your home into a messy shack!

In cooking, I learned this basic principle: Take out every ingredient on the list. Use each one as needed, and put it away while it is still in your hand. At the end of the recipe, each item should be put back in it's place - so if one is still out, you know you made a mistake!

Of course, that also makes clean up painless! It's already done!

This principle works with everything else, not just cooking. Do this. Teach your children to do this - then you will truly have a handle on tidiness.

6. Do it NOW!

Don't put off until later what should be done right now.

As a teenager I was required to do dishes. We did not have a dishwasher way back then so we had to do them all by hand. I can't tell you how many times the dreading would lead to procrastination - which often has the by-product of more work. The longer those dishes would sit there, the harder they would be to clean and more time had to be committed to the task. Eventually I learned that if I would get right up from the dinner table and wash those dishes before the food had a chance to adhere firmly to it's host, the easier it would be, and I could be off to my free time more quickly.

Not only that, but it saves all the angst of dreading the task!

7. Finish the task.

There are times when I will do the dishes and start the dishwasher but get interrupted or decide that I am too tired to finish all of the sweeping and wiping so I say to myself, "I will do it later." Sometimes I fold almost all of the laundry but leave a pile of my husband's Tshirts, saying to myself, "I will fold them later." Occasionally I will forget to turn on the dishwasher only to discover that my family is using dirty dishes out of it!

When I come back to the room later and see the unfinished task looming over my head, I always wish that I would have gone that extra mile and finished that task so that I could have the satisfaction of a completed task rather than having several unfinished tasks and nothing crossed off of my list.

8. Put the kids to work.

Mom did not make all of the messes and it is simply not practical or possible for her to be responsible for cleaning up after everyone! It comes back to the principle of caring for each other as a family. Not only that, but cleaning up after the children does not do them any favors in their futures.

Put the kids to work.

Give them a reasonable list of chores to do and be realistic about your expectations. Even the youngest member of the family should learn to pick up after themselves. After reading today, I handed the books to the 1 year olds and they stacked them on the shelf and clapped their hands and cheered at a job well done.

9. Make it easy.

Make it easy for your family to help. Put laundry baskets in your childrens' bedrooms, the bathrooms - anywhere that laundry is a problem. Do this with other things as well. Label shelves or cupboards. Put pictures on boxes or baskets so young children will know what belongs inside them. Think of ways to make your home "work" for you.

It helps to have a place for everything so that you can keep everything in it's place. If you are having trouble finding places for all of your belongings, it may be time to streamline your posessions and live more simply.

10. Accept Imperfection!

Other peoples' houses aren't perfect either - and if they are, so what!

I was saddened to hear a friend describe to me how they never did anything fun in her childhood because her mom could not leave the house if it was not completely clean. She was not talking about going on a vacation and wanting to come home to a clean house - she meant a simple outing to the beach! She said that by the time they were done cleaning up, it would be too late. This friend is determined not to give up living for the sake of her house!

I like to keep my house tidy enough that, if needed, I could have it presentable with an hour's notice.

- - But if you stop by unexpectedly? Expect to find it messy! 'Cause this house is lived in!

Don't allow the quest for cleanliness to rob you of your joy.


Anonymous said...

Organization is the key at my house. I have a good friend, that I laugh and say I have to visit at least once a month to give me a new zeal for organizing. Her house should be in a magazine! With having a daycare in my house...the day is so much smoother when you start with a tidy house and everything has a place. Thanks for this post! I love reading your blog!

Aaron said... the part about kids doing things. Mom constantly got after me to "just put the cup in the dishwasher. Why do you set it in the sink and let it get all crusty and THEN put it in."
Guess what we practice at our house (unless it the machine is running)? Drives mom more crazy when she sees me do it.
The sad thing is...for some reason i dont follow it at thier house even now.

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