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!
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
The weekly stuff we do on Fridays as part of our rhythm.
Weekly stuff includes:
- 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
- clean out car
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.
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.