Confessions of a horrible homeschooling homemaker part II: How I clean this joint.

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I was talking to my mom this week. She’s been doing a lot of big cleaning and decorating projects around her house recently. She’s not super enjoying it.

“The thing is, I’ve realized I’m not very good at this,” she said. “I don’t think I really know what I’m doing.”

Aha. Lightbulb! My problem is hereditary!

But maybe I should go back a step.

Growing up, my mom lived in kind of a magical house in the country with an indoor pool and a Scooby Doo two-sided fireplace.

I have asked her repeatedly how it worked — a fireplace that heated both her room and her brother’s, and she just tells me she doesn’t remember, but it did.

“Could you like, see into his room through the fire?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Probably?”

My mom’s family also had a live-in housekeeper.

I know what you’re thinking — that I am the child and grandchild of Fancy Pantses. But not really.

My grandpa was a country vet. He did have a “car phone,” before anyone else, but that was so my grandma could call him and tell him which county he needed to head to next to pull a baby cow out of a mama cow.

My grandma ran his home-office and volunteered, and did church things, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to wonder if she had a live-in housekeeper because even though it was the 1950s and 60s, she wasn’t particularly homemaker-y, and figured “Why go on with this charaaaade?”

And it was a big place. Indoor pools and Scooby Doo fireplaces don’t clean themselves.

(Well maybe the fireplace did. I need answers!)

So here’s where the story gets weirder. We didn’t have a live-in housekeeper. But I never remember my mom or dad cleaning.

Like, never. (Once. Once my dad put a half bottle of Joy into the dishwasher and flooded our home with bubbles.)

And yet, our house was always tidy; our toilets clean; our dishes done.

My mom ran our family’s business full-time, literally working 7-days a week for 20 years, so she hired a maid service to come once a week and dust the bookshelves and mop the floors.

It was like they were fairies. Or elves. You just left a check on the counter and you came home and the whole place smelled like Pine Sol and magic.

So when I moved out at 18, I found myself in an apartment with a roommate. One day, probably 3 months after we’d moved in and the novelty of splitting everything exactly in half had worn off, she suggested we spend a Saturday morning cleaning up our home that smelled like socks and old soup.

“OK!” I said eagerly. “What should I do?”

She looked at me with a combination of disgust and utter disgust and said flatly, “pick a room and clean it.”

“OK!” I said still perky, and so I grabbed some 409 and started spraying everything in sight — the front of the fridge, the TV, the windows, a dusty plant …

I did this for about 15 minutes. I was cleaning! Like a grown-up! 

***

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I’m about to switch gears considerably, but before I do, I just have to say this — although my mother and grandmother might not have enjoyed cleaning, looking back now, they were both incredibly organized, hard-working women, who yes, at busy times in their lives each paid people to help them with some housekeeping, but really, they were able to do this because they both kept relatively picked-up, orderly homes.

They had systems.

My grandmother had a schedule for polishing her silver and cleaning her cabinets and used to have me over on Saturday afternoons to help. Two times a year, our families would pick a weekend and work together to clean all the windows inside and out in everyone’s house.

With ladders.

And once, my grandparents accidentally rented a house they owned to drug addicts. I remember distinctly after the police left, my mother cleaning a little hill of cocaine out from under the bathroom sink with a Dustbuster while smoking a Virginia Slim and shouting at my sister and me to “Stay back!”

(After that, my gandparents’ next tenants were our pastor’s daughter and her husband.)

My point is, perhaps my mom and grandma were a little too busy being awesome otherwise to teach me how do some basic household tasks.

So, I’ve spent the past several years trying to figure out how to be a homemaker. I’m still not great at it, but I feel like I’m getting better.

***

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Part II oF Part II, where I ACTUALLY tell you how I clean my house

So the first thing is, I want to update you on the chore sticks.

I had set a goal this year of teaching my kids some basic household chores.

I like to pick something like this to focus on during the summers. Last year it was a morning checklist. It was really basic — I created a list for my son, and a picture list for my daughter who was a pre-reader at the time:

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Make bed

It’s easy-peasy now. I just say now, “OK, did everyone do their checklist?” and if they haven’t, they do it, and a long time ago the cat ate their lists right off the wall.

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A glimpse at our summer rhythm

So this year was about the chore sticks. Every morning they pick two. There’s no complaining and no swapping, but if they want to trade with each other, that’s OK.

Our chore sticks include things like:

  • walk the dog
  • wipe the bathroom
  • swiffer the living room (pets! hair!)
  • wipe the table
  • sweep the kitchen
  • empty the dishwasher
  • feed the pets
  • recycling
  • a laundry job (this can be starting a load, putting one away, etc.)

The great things about this system are variety and chance — I’m not asking them to do a job so it doesn’t become a power struggle. The bad thing is, sometimes, the laundry doesn’t need to be done, but I really need something else done instead.

The other piece of the cleaning puzzle is what I do. I’ve created lists using this great printable, and it works! For daily and weekly stuff.

The other stuff, the stuff my grandma was awesome at, I am not so good at yet. In fact, when my friend Jamie came to visit in June, she looked at my new chart and remarked that it was ambitious that I planned to clean my baseboards that month.

One of these people has it together and the other one is me.

One of these people has it together and the other one is me.

I told her the truth, that I didn’t have lots of ideas for what to do that month, so I just started copying the examples from my organization pin boards. True story.

Another true story: still haven’t done them.

Here’s what I actually do on a daily basis:

  • make sure all pets get fed
  • dishes
  • wipe counters
  • wipe stove
  • scrub sink
  • sweep kitchen (if one of the kids didn’t)
  • pick-up bedrooms
  • quick bathroom clean-up
  • pick-up living room/dining room
  • a load of laundry
  • scoop cat box
  • swiffer floors (if one of the kids didn’t)

I do this stuff as part of a quick morning rotation that goes: my bedroom, main bathroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, basement.

Every day. Same thing. Like a boss.

Small child cleaning in grown man's shoes.

Small child cleaning in grown man’s shoes.

The weekly stuff we do on Fridays as part of our rhythm.

Weekly stuff includes:

  • dust
  • clean downstairs bath
  • glass (windows, mirrors, doors, etc.)
  • wash bedding
  • water plants
  • pick-up basement play area
  • pick-up back porch
  • organize library materials
  • big clean of upstairs bathroom including tub
  • vacuum
  • clean out car
  • mop
  • garbage

Fridays are the day the kids clean their rooms; and when they finish, they each get a house job like dusting, wiping the windows, vacuuming or mopping.

This is what has been working for us lately. Our home is definitely not perfect, as I write this, we are out of both toilet paper and cat food.

But I’ve made some big strides since the days of just spraying random things with 409.

***

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Or “Thursdays.”

So here’s the thing: I don’t come from a family of natural cleaners. But maybe that’s OK. I come from a family of strong women, who knew how to prioritize. They did the best they could, and I do too.

I think that’s really all we can go for when it comes to cleaning.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love wiping the sides of a toilet, but I love my home and I especially love the people I share it with.

And together, I think we’re doing a pretty good job.

Note: I’m a sucker for good, kid-safe cleaning products. I frequently order from here and here to motivate myself.
This post was originally published on Aug. 4, 2014. It may contain affiliate links.

Confessions of a horrible homemaking homeschooler

My 'command center.'

My ‘command center.’

My husband and I have this cute thing we do, where we don’t really say it aloud, but we both think the other one does the dishes wrong.

He scrubs each dish to death even though they are going right into the dishwasher; the process takes him like 45 minutes, and watching him do it feels like a study in how-to-make-this-look-harder-than-it-really-is.

(I feel like I should hand him a small cup of water and a  towel at the end.”You really did it,” I would say hugging his sweaty back. “You’re my hero.”)

So much extra effort.

I, on the other hand, once read a thing* that said that a certain amount of grease and such is vital (Did you read that people? VITAL) in the dishwasher dishwashing process, and it has become my anthem, my theme, my conviction, as I glance casually at a plate looking for a whole piece of toast or an entire bottle’s worth of ketchup and finding neither, throw it in the general direction of the dishwasher, dump some soap on top and close the whole thing up without even shutting the little dispenser door.

These dishes are 150 percent ready for the dishwasher.

These dishes are 150 percent ready for the dishwasher.

“Everything will sort itself out in the rinse cycle,” I say, waving my hand and getting back to important business like writing about how much I don’t trust Minecraft.

So you can imagine, that when our dishwasher stopped working last week, there was some unspoken tension over who had caused the malfunction — Mr. “Dishwashing is my Art,” or yours truly, the world’s worst homeschooling housekeeper.

Probably both. We broke it by confusing it. That’s my theory.

(Which would still be my husband’s fault then, because he refuses to embrace my laid-back and still generally effective method. Ahem.)

Because the truth is, I just really don’t like cleaning.

'Look! Mom cleaned a window!'

‘Look! Mom cleaned a window!’

I know there’s a certain homeschooling mom stereotype, that we all have complex organizational systems and actually know where things are.

I know moms who are like that and I envy them. I envy their serenity, and it makes me want it. WANT.IT.

And so I go home and start pinning things to my “Organization” board, which is just becoming a “things that work for other people but make me feel bad to look at board.”

My most effective system for cleaning is to invite people over, and then run around terribly motivated until my house has a casual “lived-in elegance,” read: don’t look under the beds.

My friend Jes and I, who each spent more time than we would have liked cleaning for open houses and house showings had very different views on how much we should pick-up for strangers.

She said she didn’t feel comfortable with any laundry not tucked away in drawers and I said if people are going to look in my washing machine then they deserve to find DIRTY UNDERWEAR SOUP.

That’s my effort level, you have to understand. That is my starting point, and so when I read about people cleaning for an hour a day, or doing bathrooms on Tuesdays and bedrooms on Fridays, I just think to myself that that sounds really involved, and instead I attack the biggest pile of dog hair, paperwork, laundry or dust.

My desk: Calendar, notepad, wooden car and pizza-shaped eraser. What?

My desk: Calendar, notepad, wooden car and pizza-shaped eraser. What?

I do have a system for keeping my children’s rooms neat, and it works incredibly well if we do it every week, but if we miss a week or two, the most effective method becomes sending them to the movies with Gigi and spending a half-day throwing out broken party favors and picking up tiny rubber bands.

The key to organization is grouping like items together.

The key to organization is grouping like items together.

I have no doubt that my family would benefit from a better housekeeper. But we own roughly 7,000 baskets, and I am an enthusiastic purger, which keeps things mostly under control.

Get OUT of my HOUSE.

Get OUT of my HOUSE.

Also, I am the only person here who cleans the toilets, and I have a charming disposition.

So I don’t know what else these people want from me.

Oh, that’s right! To never run out of clean socks or toilet paper again …

And so, mostly, I do the best I can. I figure what I lack in cleaning skills I more than make up for with panache. My linen closet is so functional that I actually have a basket for lady items labeled “Menstruation Station.” 

(The basket is stacked on top of a box of homeopathic medicines, which is stacked on top of a broken hair crimper.)

So rest assured, fellow mamas (even those of the homeschool variety) we don’t all “have it together.”

And, if you’d like to read a little bit more about my thoughts on some other homeschooling stereotypes, why don’t you head on over to Homeschool Diaries today and read my guest post?

I can’t promise that reading it will help you clean your house, but it just might make you feel a little less guilty about your dirty one.

Much love,

Kara “Filthy Dirtball” Anderson

*Please do not ask me to cite my source here. Just believe it, then live it. In fact, I once heard a plumber say, “It’s a dishwasher, not a garbage disposal,” and all I could think was, “It should totally be both. I’m taking that to Shark Tank.”

This post was originally published on April 14, 2014.

Because we haven’t had a good world-turner in a while.

I’m sitting here praying in a bathroom and wondering if that is terrible.

(Pants on; lid down. Nothing yucky.)

But I know that when I walk out the door again, I need to PARENT, so I am sitting in the silence, and sending up requests for strength.

I keep getting distracted, though (also bad), by the coffee pot and the claims that the new “one basket technology” it uses is the most hygenic way to make hotel coffee.

And yet the whole aparatus is set up in a BATHROOM, so you might as well brew your morning mug with toilet water, right?

I’m so grateful I don’t drink coffee.

You just can’t not be in a bathroom when you are in a bathroom.

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We are in Nashville right now visiting my sister, and I am on my own with two kids in a Hampton Inn. It’s bringing out the crazy control freak in me and I am missing our regularness.

(Sometimes rhythms and routines become safety nets and saviors.)

iPods and pajama pants are missing. We’ve already made a Target run.

But it’s so worth all the small things to be here.

When I saw my 3-year-old nephew, he gave me the biggest hug and told me he loved me.

Then he asked me why my hair was messy.

I cut it last weekend in a move that I would have described at the time as “brave” or at least “springy,” but I realize now it was just a reaction to my mom being hospitalized again.

{Chop the hair. Something I can control.}

“I liked your hair more when I visited your house,” he said, touching it gently.

It was only a month ago. During the hospital mess. We made mint chip ice cream in my kitchen together.

It was the highpoint.

So frankly, I’m just thrilled he remembered me.

Because I want to be a really good aunt to this kid and his brother, who live 9 hours away and are surrounded by the nicest people on Earth.

If I had to shave my head to stand out I might consider it.

Wait.

Nope. I’d do it.

So there.

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I wrote all that stuff above a couple of weeks ago in Nashville, and considered just deleting it, but the it occurred to me that it was important to share my frame of mind at the time before I tell you this.

The day after we got home, we adopted this nut:

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We had put in an application before we left, and when they approved us, we raced right out to get all the stuff — bowls and a bed and tiny poo-poo bags and fancy-pants dog food and bacon treats — and then we just went and got him.

We had all fallen in love with this guy, who is a hound dog of unknown origin and who we named Champion.

But here’s the thing: I have to tell you that this is not me.

Because a new pup is a world-turner, I tell ya.

Nothing has been normal or routine since we brought Champion home, which has been a lot of fun and a little smelly.

Mostly, I just let him drag me places and try to keep him from eating the cat.

Like full-time.

Full-time job.

It’s all I do.

I had a conference call this week and I had to assign a baby-sitter for him so he didn’t kill our toaster.

But our actual baby-sitter? I cancelled on her this week because she is pregnant and you can only ask so much of a person.

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So at this point, you might be wondering why I would OK adopting a dog two minutes after driving home from two states away.

Because like I said, that isn’t me.

I see people on the internet sometimes do BIG and CRAZY things, and I admire that, but I don’t aspire to it because I know myself.

I know I’m not up for that.

But I also know now that I can do it.

The past 8 weeks have been a mix of terrible and wonderful. The highest highs, and the kind of lows that can only be experienced when you find yourself having to let go and just love a person …

So here’s what I know.

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Ready?

  • I know I can survive a haircut I don’t love.
  • I know I should have realized that a long time ago.
  • I know that I can parent solo on the road.
  • I know that my kids are more independent and reliable than I gave them credit for before.
  • Which means they can feed the dog.
  • I know my parents are not perfect, but I love them.
  • Families are just HARD sometimes.
  • But I do love them, and I am learning to just accept. Just stop trying to fix. Just be honest.
  • {Just bring a book and earbuds.}
  • And I know that I can get through being BIG and CRAZY.
  • But I also know that’s not what’s best for me all the time.
  • I’m not going to like, buy a boat to live on or shave my head.
  • I don’t care what I said before.

The thing is, some world-turners you don’t get to choose.

They just happen.

We had one of those a few weeks ago with my mom, and it was terrible.

It’s different when it’s a choice — when you say, “OK. Let’s just do it,” when you load two kids up in a van with your dad and drive 9 hours away for mashed potatoes and mint chip ice cream; when you adopt an untrained dog who howls when you leave the room like Tyler when Caroline let Klaus kiss her that one time.

So today, whether your BIG and CRAZY is because of a choice, or because it just is, I wanted to remind you that you can do this.

You can make it through.

We mamas are the toughest bunch — you and me and and the rest of the women who are not just mothers, but mothers to the world.

We are capable of a lot, and we can do pretty remarkable things.

So never forget that, OK?

Happy Mother’s Day.

Much love,

Kara