Let’s face it: few of us, if given the choice, would spend our entire days cleaning. Yes, sparkling surfaces and grime-free carpets can do wonders to improve a person’s outlook, but who has the time or energy to do it all every day? I sure don’t! But in the midst of my husband’s illness, I know myself well enough to recognize that my emotional state will suffer if I let the house slide. The trick is daily taking care of those things that make the biggest impact, and saving the rest for those rare moments of down time. Here’s how.
Establish a routine. I have a daily housekeeping routine that I follow almost without fail. Because it’s a routine, chaos never really has a chance to take over, and dirt never really builds up. More importantly, because it’s a daily thing, I can now speed through it in less than a half-hour each day… and that’s in a 5 bedroom, 3.5 bath home! (If even that routine seems overwhelming to you, consider using my crisis cleaning checklist the first day, then moving on to the daily routine to keep things up.)
Decide what rooms are your priorities. I cook a lot, and my husband’s cancer treatments lower his immune system, so having a spotless kitchen and sanitary bathrooms are not negotiable. Those are the areas where I focus the majority of my efforts when doing a daily cleaning. The family room and living room I pretty much speed through, making sure there are no dirty dishes, food spills or trash. I leave the more intensive cleaning of these rooms for weekends (the only days now that I’m not driving for 2 hours to get him to and from treatments.)
Be ruthless about clutter. In our house, the family enters through the garage right into my kitchen. Needless to say, they all pretty much dump whatever’s in their hands on top of my kitchen island. And guess who gets to deal with that? Yep, me. Not long ago, I had to announce that I’d be throwing away anything sitting on my kitchen island when it was time for me to make dinner. After both my husband and son lost things they’d placed there (or, rather, thought they’d lost them, because I decided to be nice about it the first few times) they got the hint. Now they find it easier to just put away whatever they bring into the house and not risk having it tossed. As for other rooms, I’ve adopted a bedtime rule for clutter there, too: magazines, games, CDs… whatever… get put away before bed. Anything left out is fair game for me to toss or, more likely, put in “clutter jail”: a box where I put the things and make the offender do chores to “bail out” his stuff.
Use free moments wisely. These days, I spend a lot of time waiting: on hold with the doctor’s office, for my son to get dressed for school, for the coffee pot to do it’s thing. Rather than just stand there, I’ve been doing my list of chores that take one minute or less (and the follow-up lists here and here). It’s amazing how much a difference those spare moments can make!
Get your family involved. I’m rather old-school when it comes to children helping around the house: I believe it’s essential life training, particularly now that schools no longer offer Home Ec courses. There’s a list of chores that kids can do taped to my fridge. When my son says he’s bored, when he wants to earn money or extra screen time on the computer, or when I just need the extra bit of help, I assign him a few tasks to help around the house. He always complains, but so what? When he’s done, he appreciates what he’s earned — even if it’s just my gratitude for not having to do it all myself.
Re-adjust your standards if needed. These days, I’ve had to reconsider a lot of things I used to consider “urgent” around my house. Spotless carpets? With two cats and an active pre-teen that’s not going to happen. Instead of vacuuming every other day I’m down to twice a week in most rooms (one thorough, one just the high-traffic spots). Completely dust-free surfaces? I doubt I ever see those again… but I do manage to dust the bigger horizontal surfaces every couple of days and make sure to do a more thorough job when we do the weekly bedroom cleanings. (Fortunately, I’d already taken steps to reduce household dust.)
Realize: your home should be homey. There’s a tendency some of us have — and I sometimes get like this — to think our homes should look like those we see in magazines. You know what I mean: spotless surfaces, carefully arranged knickknacks and throw pillows, everything color-coordinated and new. That is NOT life. That’s NOT anyone’s real home! That’s a picture of a moment in time created by interior decorators. Even if they’re photographing someone’s actual house, they’ve brought in props and swapped furnishings before their lighting crews come in to adjust lamps so every possible sparkly surface gleams. Even then the photographer selects only a small scene from the whole room to show us. Unless you plan on having a crew like that in your house 24/7, don’t try making your home look like that.
Home is a place where we retreat from the world and be with those we care about most, the people we don’t have to impress at all. Keep it clean, yes, and tidy up when and wherever you can. Then relax and enjoy your life with your loved ones, and see those fingerprints on the wall, the coffee stains on the carpet, the dinged table tops for what they truly are: signs that a family lives and loves there. Those aren’t stains or blemishes — they’re reminders that living well together is the most important task of all.