Domestic Success 101
7 Ways to Conquer the Beast
I've been reading a lot of Dana K. White lately. She's the author of How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind, as well as Decluttering at the Speed of Life, in addition to her blog A Slob Comes Clean and podcast by the same name. (You can read my review of her first book here.) She has such a likable and relatable (to me!) personality that I share her with anyone I think would appreciate her and benefit from her message.
She introduces her podcast as being about cleaning and organizing for those that do not necessarily enjoy cleaning and organizing. I fall into that category. I actually do enjoy organizing sometimes when I can do it uninterrupted, and like to find systems that make my life easier. But I do not like cleaning. I do not like housework. If I never had to prepare a meal for the rest of my life, I would not miss it for a second. If I did not have to lift a finger to the laundry, other than putting it on and off my person, I would not miss it for a second. And don't get me started on the dishes. I think it's safe to say this sentiment applies to 99.9% of the population.
Reading her books got me thinking about the strategies I have implemented over the years to make my domestic life easier, so I thought I would share some of the things that have helped keep my house sane without me having to be constantly running from fire to fire to maintain order.
Problem Solve What Makes You Crazy
1. Shoes. This is an area that easily gets totally out of control, especially once you have kids. If you don't have a designated plan for this one area, you are going to be tripping over shoes every time you come in and out of your house. Or, find that they are scattered haphazardly all over, and end up running frantically to find matches when it's time to head out the door. Forget about your kids ever remembering where they put their shoes, it ain't gonna happen. In my house I have two shoe racks in the garage, one for kids and one for parents. Our shoes live one those racks. Shoes are put on and taken off in the garage as we come and go. For the kids, they each have a small box on their shoe rack for all their pairs of socks. It just made no sense to me to keep socks and/or shoes up in their rooms and have them (or me!) running up and down for these items every time we needed to go somewhere.
2. Backpacks on the floor. I can't stand having stuff laying on the floor just waiting to be tripped over. This totally feeds into the philosophy of "everything having a place," which is totally annoying, but absolutely necessary if you don't want to live in a cluttered disaster zone. Find the most convenient place for them to be kept and install a simple hook or hooks on the wall so they are at least off the floor. Maybe this will be in the garage or just inside their bedroom closet, so they are also out of sight! In my house, they have to be close to the kitchen and playroom/school room where we can easily get them prepared with water bottles and lunches on school days, and access them when we do school at home. I am not crazy about how this looks, but at least they have a place, we know where to find them at all times and kids can easily be responsible for them.
3. Outerwear. I live in beautiful Southern California, so all the myriad layers required for colder locales doesn't totally apply, but we do get "weather." It gets chilly at night, sometimes downright cold. It rains. We get hail or thunder now and then. We do have to think about layering, particularly toward the end of the day as the temperature almost always drops quite a bit, even in the summer.
One thing I have found difficult with outerwear with children is that they can't typically reach the height of a coat closet rack. I want my kids to be responsible for putting their own things away, so I made it easy for them. In my house, we have a rack of hooks in the laundry room which is the first stop on the way in from the garage. Their most used sweatshirts live on these hooks. A bonus for me is I can just grab them and throw them in the wash whenever I am doing laundry. If we needed hats and mittens/gloves, I would most definitely provide them each with their own designated box or drawer in some convenient location so they don't have to go digging through a huge pile, or leave them scattered all over the floor of the house, laundry room or car.
4. Dishes. By far, the kitchen and the laundry get the most press when it comes to household angst. If these are areas you struggle in, I suggest what Dana K. White discovered in her "deslobification" process. Dishes math is something she discusses in her first book, and that is a days' worth of dishes takes 10-15 minutes, two days takes an hour, three days takes hours. Make dishes a daily priority, and you will be surprised at how much easier your life will be. At the very least, run the dishwasher every single night. Unloading a dishwasher takes no more than five minutes, literally, and an unloaded dishwasher in the morning will make it open for everyone to load as dishes are dirtied throughout the day. Your kitchen will be transformed.
5. Laundry. My laundry routine for years was "whenever all the hampers are full or everyone is out of clean underwear it's laundry day." Always unpredictable and always reactionary. I have found reactive as a form of household management (as opposed to proactive) to be incredibly ineffective and stressful. I ended up feeling like I just ran from one task to the next, always behind, always stressed, always with way too much to catch up on.
Establishing a minimum of a once a week laundry day has taken the stress and weight of this never-ending task off my mind and shoulders. Some people prefer a daily load in order to minimize the size of the job on any one day, but I tried this and just could not stand doing laundry every day. Drove me completely crazy. Dana empathizes, and I like how she explains that laundry has to be a project for her so that there is an end. I am the exact same way. Otherwise, when I get done taming the beast of laundry and see dirty clothes in the hampers at the end of the day I feel defeated and irritated. If I give myself permission not to worry about laundry on more than one (or two) days of the week, it doesn't bother me anymore when I see the hampers filling up. I know I don't have to think about it until next Friday. It is so freeing. (Read how I get laundry put away efficiently here.)
6. Surfaces. I have had daydreams of getting rid of all the surfaces in my home. If there is a surface, people (including myself) will put stuff on it. On all of them. Draw some lines in your home. If there is a surface that consistently drives you nuts (hello kitchen counter!) because it ends up being the dumping ground for everything that enters your home, focus on that space every single day. Establish some rules.
In my house, I have made my kitchen counters off limits to any non-kitchen items. If toys end up on it, they go straight into "toy jail," (a box I have in my pantry). My kids know this. If there is mail or something my husband put there, I immediately ask him if we need it. If we do, it goes either to my desk or to his desk. Papers from school? If they are superfluous, get rid of them immediately. If they are needed, they go with the rest of the child's school stuff. Tools? Retainers? A baseball glove? Hair clips? Toothpaste? All the randomness needs to go back to where it belongs. Make it clear to the other members of your family that the kitchen counter (or dining table, or piano bench, etc.) is not a dumping ground. The more frequently you can keep it clear of clutter, the less it will be continually re-cluttered. When those living in your house see random stuff sitting on a surface, it is a subconscious invitation to add to the pile.
7. Let Go of Guilt. You are not obligated to find a place for everything that comes into, or that has already been living in, your home. DO NOT feel guilty about getting rid of stuff. Getting rid of excess will greatly contribute to restoring sanity and order to your home.
You don't need to keep the papers your kids bring home from Sunday School, unless you actually review them with your child. If you typically do nothing with these items, get rid of them immediately. If you do review them with your child, get rid of them immediately after reviewing.
You don't need to keep every scrap of paper your child draws or paints on. Be selective and establish a single home for pieces you want to keep. Get rid of everything else.
Go straight to the trash or recycling bin after getting your mail. Dump everything that is not urgent or pressing immediately. Do not let junk mail live in your house.
When you buy are receive a set of toys with a million pieces, get rid of some (half?!) of the pieces (Lego sets do not apply to this rule). Play-doh sets are a good example. Some of them come with what seems like twenty different shape cut outs and other tools. Your child will not use and does not need twenty. Choose her favorite five items, and donate the rest. Apply this strategy to other types of toys (or beads, or hair ties, or bracelets, etc.) that consistently get out of control.
Throw away broken toys.
Donate stained, torn or worn out clothing. Donate clothing and shoes you and your children never wear. You know you have some.
If you struggle with getting rid of stuff, I appreciated this podcast by Dana about the "value trap" that sometimes prevents us from getting rid of stuff in our homes. Also, her book Decluttering at the Speed of Life is a really great, easy, step-by-step guide to decluttering through all the rooms in your home. She realized, through simply decluttering, her home stayed under control longer and easier. It wasn't in need of organizing, it was in need of purging. I find the same thing works wonders in my house when it starts getting overwhelming and out of control. It is always a signal for me that we need to purge.
I appreciated this podcast episode by Dana regarding reducing the paper clutter that comes into the home. Check it out, as well as Taylor Flanery's website on what you should keep and for how long when it comes to paper.
Here's a fun illustration of how stuff can invade our space without us even really realizing it. I once found phone books in a prominent drawer in my mother's kitchen.
Me: "Mom, why do you have phone books?"
Her: "Because they were left for me at the front door."
Me: "That doesn't answer my question."
This scene played out in the year 2017, not 1992. Several months later, she texts me this picture, with the caption, "Grandma has this telephone book, you think I'm bad." Part of me wants to defend my Grandmother. It appears as though she actually got a lot of use out of that phone book! If that is the case, then by all means, keep the phone book! But when you're younger than the age 85 and know how to find phone numbers using the internet, get rid of the phone books.
One of the hardest parts of managing a home is managing the stuff that comes into it. Do not let stuff rule your life. And definitely do not keep phone books just because they were left for you by the phone company at the front door.
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