Thoughts on Being Clean

I've seen this article floating around the web: My House is Messy and I Don't Care

It's like a burr under my saddle.

Basically, the author talks about how her house and car are a mess all of the time and she doesn't care. That part doesn't bother me: there are all kinds of people in the world and if your messy house/car/desk doesn't bother you then great!  But here's where I got annoyed: she talks lovingly about a sweet, tight-knit family she knew during her childhood who happened to - you guessed it - have a messy house. Her line of thinking is that they wisely chose to spend time together as a family instead of wasting it cleaning which was a main contributor to their harmonious family. She takes that to mean she shouldn't worry about cleaning (or getting her kids to clean) because that would be a waste of time that could otherwise be spent together. Messy house = happy family.
She goes on to say, "It's totally true that I could come home from work and get everything off the counter and table (again) and clean the bathrooms (again) and yell at the kids (again) to pick up all their stuff, but, well, I'd rather not."

Hmmm. Well. Yep, that's pretty much the definition of cleaning right there. Heck, and parenting, and marriage I'm pretty sure it's, like, a law or something, "everything tends toward a state of entropy." I dunno, could be wrong. ;) Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, organizing, parenting, house maintenance, lawn maintenance, and personal hygiene all have to be done again, and again, and...well, you get it. That's just life. It's often tedious, mundane, and seemingly endless.

But that doesn't mean tending to it is a waste of time.

My Personal Experience

Growing up, our home was a mess. I mean, just a wreck. It was awful. I felt like I did a lot of dishes, sweeping, laundry, etc, growing up, but yet I really never learned how to keep house. Does that make sense? When I got married it was an endless cycle of letting the house get messy and then cleaning it up (usually in a mad rush prior to having guests). Over and over. I felt like I was missing something. How did other people do it?

I wasn't a naturally neat person, and I didn't learn how to keep house growing up, but I refused to believe I was doomed. I started reading websites and books. I started paying attention to the "naturally neat" people around me. I started to learn and figure out a system that works for me. I'm nowhere near perfect, but I keep at it. Do I keep at it because I'm trying to be perfect or fit someone else's ideal? No. I push on because I learned, among other things, a truth that was surprising and totally counter intuitive.

What I Learned

It seems weird, but here's the number one thing I've come to understand:

It's easier and takes less time to be one step ahead of the mess than constantly one (or 10!) steps behind.

I know!! I was shocked, too!

As for it cutting into our family time? Well, no. Because it's not so much about allotting more time to cleaning, but rather simply creating clean habits. It's like those diet gurus tell you; set yourself up for success and you are more likely to be successful. Scenario 1: kids jump out of the car as soon as they get home, leaving all the toys, books, papers, snack wrappers, and water battles abandoned in the car. This happens day after day after day. The result? The car always looks a mess and when it eventually needs to be cleaned it results in a HUGE car cleaning project that takes a lot of time to accomplish. Scenario 2: The kids and adults never leave the car unless they are carrying at least whatever they took into the car with them. Every time. The result? The car is never an embarrassing wreck and when you do finally clean it, it's just a matter of vacuuming out the crumbs and dried leaves which takes a whopping 15 minutes. So, which scenario actually takes more time? The messy scenario. Both groups spent the same amount of time exiting the car and entering the house. The only difference was that clean group scooped up a bunch of stuff before they did so.

Still not convinced a clean house is for you? That's cool. No really, it is. "It takes all kinds" my grandmother used to say. Be who you are and don't worry what everyone else thinks, but take care not to stroke or placate your ego by making silly, false assumptions about "clean freaks." Don't try and put a positive (and oh my gosh NOT a holy) spin on something that's really just a personal preference. Thanks for reading my ramblings. Have a nice day. :)

Interested, but not sure where to start? Keep reading.

Steps to Clean Living

1. Like anything, it all starts in your head. If you don't believe that keeping a neat house is important, you'll never keep a neat house. Once I saw the value in housekeeping, I was motivated to, well, keep house. In addition, I realized I was my own worst enemy and that I was keeping my house messy; not my full-time job, not being pregnant, not my newborn, not my newborn-and-a-toddler-and-moving, not my two-kids-and-homeschooling-while-my-husband-works-all-the-time. Me.

2. Less is more. The more stuff you have, the more cleaning you will do. Period. If you are a naturally neat person who LOVES cleaning, then this doesn't hold you back. You'll clean more/longer, and probably love every minute of it. But, let's face it, most of us do not fall into that category! If you don't like to clean, don't make the rookie mistake of skipping right to the cleaning how-to books and then marvel at how it "doesn't work for you." It won't work because purging must come first before you can even think of cleaning. This was a HUGE revelation to me and has made a huge difference in my housekeeping.

This "less is more" philosophy also includes the amount of time you actually spend cleaning.  I kept psyching myself out by looking at a mess and thinking, "Oh no! I don't have the time to clean that up" when in reality said mess only required 10 minutes of my time and it was indeed 10 minutes well spent! It was a real lightbulb moment was when I realized that most neat people don't ever have large blocks of time to clean so they clean in small chunks when and where they can. 

3. Organizing isn't just for Martha Stewart. You thought I'd finally start talking about cleaning, right? Well, we're not there yet. Because right on the heels of purging comes organizing. It's just as necessary. Look around your house on a messy day. Notice where things tend to fall and ask yourself if it's just a lack of discipline or a lack of organization? For most of us, it's a little bit of both, but if you organize first, you'll probably find that it doesn't require near the amount of discipline you first thought. So, for instance, do mail and receipts pile up on the counter? Then create a little mail station in that general area. Make it realistic and SIMPLE. Something you will actually use. Then use it. Coats piling up in a corner? Then purge the coat closet and use it for coats (!), install some hooks on a wall nearby, or invest in a coat tree. Oh, and don't get sucked in by those flashy Container Store ads or elaborate Pinterest ideas. Most of the time, I've found I don't need to spend a lot of money. I pare down until I have just what I need, and then I can usually find something cheap or free to contain it all.

4. Figure out a clean routine that fits your life. is a bit much for me. I can't get into a lot of her binders, lists, etc. But that's okay, because, like many things, I find I can take what works for me and leave the rest. So I focus instead on her zones. The house is divided into zones and each week focuses on one zone. Little missions are suggested for each day to help move things along. I LOVE it. The point is, there are tons of methods out there so don't be discouraged if what works for your friend/neighbor/mom/sister doesn't work for you. Keep trying until something clicks. There are tons of websites and books devoted to cleaning. When to clean, how to clean, more tips and tricks then you'll know what to do with! Just find something that makes sense for you and your family

So, there are my thoughts on messiness and cleanliness. I'm not perfect and I still backslide. The old way of thinking creeps in way more than I'd like to admit, but I see the value in being neat (not in being a neat freak, that's a whole 'nother topic) and find myself going back to those "neat" principles again and again because living life like that is less stressful and takes less of my time. I don't freak when people drop by and I certainly never require a week or even a day to prepare for company. I feel like I'm imparting an important life lesson to my boys: the mundane tasks of everyday living are just a part of life that we shouldn't try to escape or ignore, but dive into and move on. I feel like our house is homey and inviting. Our house isn't a jumble of stuff we slog through, it's a home and a haven. It's peaceful and serene.

The bottom line? If your house is a mess and you don't care; GREAT! But please don't try and...I dunno, ease your guilty conscience (?) by subtly or not so subtly suggesting that those who do actually keep a clean house/car/whatever are missing out on something, neglecting something important in their lives, or are somehow blessed with more hours in the day. If you're messy and you know it, then clap your hands! Own it. Embrace it!  But don't be a bully and put down others who don't do as you do (or is that do as you don't?) to make yourself feel better. It's petty, ignorant, and you might be talking yourself out of a less stressful, more organized life!


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