Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crazy Clean

Nothing creates a bond that turns siblings into best friends quite like the common enemy of a crazed mom on cleaning day. Today, that crazed mom was me.

I'd like to say that I did if for the kids; they've been bickering a bit and their relationship needed a boost, but in reality, it isn't a strength, but I have an extraordinarily low tolerance for crap in my own home.  No need to get all self-conscious, it honestly doesn't bother me in other people's homes.  I was raised this way (with a low tolerance for crap) and I've routinely been known to accidentally throw really unflattering melt-downs when my house, and hence my psyche / inner chi, are a mess.  There are definite triggers:
  • stepping on Matchbox Cars / Legos / Polly Pockets / Squinkies / Littlest Petshop / marbles / darts
  • drinks, dishes, & snacks left in sticky piles as if our suburban split level came with a brownie to clean up after us.
  • garbage on the floor (seriously!  There is a garbage can within arms reach but the klennex is on the FLOOR?!)
  • dirty socks on the couch (just gross)
  • drawers crammed and unable to shut with what was previously perfectly clean & neatly folded clothes
  • art projects, homework, magazines, books, or random scraps of paper (especially candy) left lying all over
  • lack of sleep & hormones (In the spirit of honesty, my blow-outs might possibly tend to be a little bit cyclical)
  • the list goes on, but these are ones that popped in mind today.
It was my DH who first saw the pattern years ago and decided that something needed to be done.

messy house + lazily laying around  =  psycho wife
orderly house + cleaning up (before relaxing) =  much more lovey wifey

The Goal:  fewer cleaning sessions that start like this***

Over the years, we've grown into a comfortable spot (the kids might consider it more like a military base).  I have fewer melt-downs ( a couple a year rather than a couple a week) and we are all a bit happier for it.  I try to lower my expectations and the other members of the household try not to pull any triggers.  Generally speaking, if someone stops by the house, it is basically straightened.  There may be laundry in the family room in the process of being folded or an unmade bed or or a couple of pots air drying in the kitchen, but for the most part, it is straightened (don't mistake that for clean which is a whole other thing).  This doesn't happen by accident. I have a instituted a fairly strict multi-part system adopted by asking everyone with a clean house how the heck they kept it that way*:

--  Use phone time with friends to be productive.  I'd love to embrace the old-school friendships of my Dear Grandma and "just sit down and enjoy the visit" but it frankly isn't practical.   Pick-up little stuff and swifter the floors/corners while chit-chatting; multi-task and do all of the simple stuff while catching up.  The time goes by super fast and when the phone call is done, the house is much better.  It is amazing what can get done in only 10 minutes.  As a side note, make sure these things are quiet.  A friend should never need to know that you are multi-tasking.  For example, avoid doing the dishes or starting a load of laundry or cleaning toilets.  You also shouldn't need to exert much effort, like carrying in the groceries, or painting the hall.  Good tasks are things that take no concentration or effort:  dusting, sweeping, wiping down counters, organizing the junk drawer, clipping coupons, and picking up, sorting, &/or putting away laundry.

--  It is motivating to clean with a sound-track.  I made a playlist on my ipod called: Cleaning (a link is here with a couple of the songs but beware, most of them show my age and all of them are super cheesy).  It contains a group of songs that get me motivated to live simply and clear out my life.  An hour of music is a good beginning; at the start of the playlist, feverishly clean for exactly one hour.  Putting a limit makes one's time more productive (eventually, try to exercise a bit while cleaning).  When those songs are over, the beds are made, dishes done, shoes away, floors swept/vacuumed, chaos moderately averted, and sanity partially restored.

--  On the good days, when I haven't just accidentally screamed about the current state of affairs until I am hoarse, we have a cleaning party.  By the time kids can walk, they can put things away.  Tell them where it goes and they need to march (hop, skip, jump, or gallop) it over to the bin and put it away.  Most kids don't enjoy cleaning but are better in a orderly environment.  If I am having fun, they are usually having fun.  Albeit the cleaning goes slowly, but if it is a game (with music), it works just fine.  As a side note, I usually don a British accent (mine is terrible and sometimes turns Southern or Australian) and pretend to be Mary Poppins, or butlers in a grand mansion.  Sometimes my DD hops everywhere like a bunny and calls me sire.  I also learned not to make them clean up a mess from a child that I insisted they invite over, but their own friends, they clean up after, generally without my help.

--  Keep a garbage can and laundry basket nearby and whatever doesn't belong in that room, put in the laundry basket.  Carry the basket from room to room, all the while putting things into it and taking things out.  My DS is really good at running things up and down to the right rooms.  I was reminded by another FM to never under-estimate the power of a race, especially for boys.

--  Regularly people come over and ask for a copy of our Family Expectations.  It hangs proudly on our wall and was devised shortly after a seriously dramatic (and embarrassing) melt-down by yours truly.  My DS and I had gotten particularly frustrated with each other over expectations and he felt like there was always "something else" and I felt like he was doing barely anything but complaining. Our DS needs thourough expectations and a list; he comes by it honestly, I love lists and need to physically cross things off.  He also functions better with consequences and rewards.  We've been using various degrees of this list for about 6 years (in the beginning it was a much more simple checklist and a marble jar, later it turned more detailed and had money attached).**

--  Our family loves electronics and nobody (even me) relax in front of them until the house is in order and our work is done.  Electronics / Screens (even Pinterest, FB, the Blog, or a book) are not begun until the house is as it should be, not perfect, but acceptable.  It is our family's relaxing reward for a job well done.

Publicly displaying my neurosis like this makes me a little sheepish. I try really hard to appear laid-back and not so high strung (I doubt I'm pulling it off).  In college I attempted to deny my instincts and never made my bed, but eventually, my true colors came through.  I love people who live on whims and glide through the day, I'm just not cut out for it.  I get really stressed and more than a little crazy when my life isn't organized.  Rather than driving him nuts, thankfully, I found a DH who rarely rolls his eyes at me; he at least feigns genuine when he tells me that he loves our orderly home and would not want it any other way.  My kids are better when our lives are orderly.  I don't know if it is because I am better and I hold a barometer for our family or if they are genuinely just better.  Either way, our life feels happier****.

*DISCLAIMERS:  This system didn't really come into full effect until our youngest was 4.  One of my favorite Frugal Mentors told me that my life will come back into focus when my youngest is 4.  She was totally right for me.

**The family expectations list doesn't work for all kids.  My DD was over-whelmed (partly because she could barely read).  She is naturally a very orderly child and does this stuff anyway just to make me happy, so we don't use the list very much for her.  It was originally laminated so that it could be carried around, crossed off with a dry erase marker, and then cleaned every day.

***My DD is not thrilled that I included this picture from when she was 2 but it illustrated my point so well.  In reality, she is a good cleaner and doesn't complain, she just gets the job done.  This picture was from the day after Halloween and she had a very rare, sugar hang-over melt-down.  In the scrap-book is a picture of her happily smiling and dressed as Pinky-Dinky Do and then right next to it is this picture, with the day after effects of Halloween.

****I want to make it clear that it is my lack of ability to cope that has made me orderly.  Just because my house is rarely in shambles, doesn't mean that I have my act together (my poor kids will attest to that today).  The reality is that in the midst of chaos, I'm absolutely insufferable.

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