I’ve been thinking a lot about housekeeping routines lately. I want a clean and tidy house. I spend most of my time here, and I find it difficult to write, try a new recipe or play a game with the kids when a cluttered, dirty house is staring me in the face. I think we do reasonably well, but I know we can do better.
The thing is, I don’t want to think about keeping the house clean. I don’t want to resent the time it takes out of my day or feel guilty if I don’t take the time. I want it to become as automatic as brushing my teeth before bed, and not take much more time than that, either.
But just as it’s not automatic for my kids to brush their teeth before bed (without a reminder–or three or four–they just won’t do it), housecleaning is not yet a mindless habit for me. This spring I’ve begun to think about my daily housework a little like my kids’ “morning work” that they do every day at school–just a few exercises that have to be completed before moving on to the rest of the day’s activities. For me, this includes emptying the dishwasher, loading the breakfast dishes, making my bed, and starting a load of laundry. In reality this routine only takes about half an hour. What I haven’t accomplished yet is adding–automating, really–the rest of the house cleaning. It isn’t that we don’t clean house. We just tend to do things on an as needed basis, an oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-stand-it-anymore-I-have-to-clean-it-right-now reaction.
So the first mindless routine I worked on was laundry. With a family of five, in just a couple days our laundry bin is overflowing. I used to do it about three times a week, and made a special effort to be all caught up on Friday so nobody would have any laundry to do over the weekend. But then Monday morning would arrive, and I found it so disheartening to stumble down the basement stairs and face a toppling pile of dirty clothes.
My new routine is simple. Every day–even Saturday and Sunday–I sort the dirty clothes in the bin (we have a laundry chute, so thankfully I don’t have to collect dirty clothes from upstairs), and every day I wash, dry, fold and put away one load. Sometimes there is an inevitable second load (usually involving one of the kid’s bedding), but most days it takes 10-15 minutes total. Honestly, today I timed myself and it took seven minutes to fold this basket of clothes. Exactly one more minute to put it away.
I read somewhere that it takes three weeks to learn a new habit. After six weeks, I’m finally at the point where I don’t resent the laundry. No, really! I don’t even think about it anymore. I am always caught up. There are no overflowing bins, no baskets of wrinkled clothes waiting to be folded. And if, once in a while, I miss a day (things happen!) it’s not a big deal to get back on the horse, so to speak.
I’ll be back in a few days to update you on how we’re doing with some other new routines, and whether the kids get on board with the project. When I suggested that it’s time they learned how to clean a toilet, I was met with expressions of abject horror. “But that’s SO GROSS!” Perhaps it’s time to watch some old episodes of How Clean is Your House?. Now that’s a horror show!