Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Possibly Boring Narcissistic Post About Housecleaning (You've Been Warned)

Because of this post, it seems that there's some interest lately in my own particular housekeeping habits. Strangely, before this discussion came up, I'd been musing for awhile on this topic--sort of--as one worth writing about. Specifically, I'd been thinking about how, gradually and over time, I have embraced a fairly set-in-stone schedule in many aspects of my housewife life. My theory is that this has been an almost unconscious evolution toward making my life as a stay-at-home mom more structured, like the previous grad-school-and-ambitious-career life I was so familiar with and good at for so long. All those years of Ph.D. courses and dissertation-writing and licensure exams and clinic work required discipline, structure, and, yes--a schedule. You can take the mama out of the goal-driven career life, but you can't take the goal-driven life out of the mama? Or something like that?

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about what works for me in terms of maintaining our home--not because I think it's necessarily better than the way anyone else manages theirs, or that I believe my way is the right way for you, but because, well--it seems like some people are interested. And also because my main housekeeping strategy was an idea taken from someone else, for which I am grateful. Who knows--maybe it will work for you, too. And yes, I realize that in that Sunday-morning post I was COMPLAINING about my housekeeping workload; but honestly, the way I do things around the house really does work for me, better than anything else. I'm not saying it makes me love housecleaning, but it generally keeps the house neat and my family sane.

A quick note, first: in our house, pretty much all the cooking and cleaning falls under my responsibility. This is a joint arrangement between Christopher and me, and though I don't enjoy cleaning, I do think this arrangement is fair and right (for us). I know that some stay-at-home moms do not see keeping house as part of their full-time jobs, but instead focus on parenting duties and share the housework with their partners after-hours. However, in my family, we agree that keeping house is part of my job as a SAHM. Christopher does the dinner dishes, unloads the dishwasher (usually) in the morning, and folds the laundry, but I do everything else--and there's a lot of "everything else." This works for us.

My basic strategy is simple and old-fashioned. What it boils down to is this: I dislike cleaning so much that it is far more distasteful to me to have to spend a whole day or weekend cleaning an entire messy house than it is to do a little cleaning every day, according to a set schedule. Awhile back I was reading the book Woman First, Family Always by Kathryn Sansone (I won't get into the merits and flaws of this book here), and was struck by the author's suggestion to make a written weekly list of all household chores and then check them off as they are accomplished over the week. Simple, right? But until then, my housekeeping approach had been fairly thorough but haphazard; there was little rhyme or reason to what I'd do when, and I couldn't guarantee that certain chores would actually get accomplished every week. Kathryn's idea seemed like an easy way to take the thinking and procrastination out of household work and instead make it focused, quick, and reliably done.

So now I do have a list--it's on a white-board on the fridge door--and every weekday I have a set group of chores I accomplish that day: on Mondays I clean the kitchen, shake the rugs, and sweep/Swiff all the hard floors, for example, and on Tuesdays I dust all the rooms. Fridays I vacuum everything, empty the trashes, and switch out all the dirty towels for fresh. You get the idea. In a normal week, I try to leave weekend days free of all chores except laundry and cooking (neither of which are included on my list, since they are ongoing tasks performed as needed), and I clean the catbox every day. But everything else has its own day, and I rarely deviate from the schedule. While, on the surface, this may seem crazily compulsive or fanatical, in actuality I experience it as exactly the opposite: it reduces an overwhelming job (keeping the entire house clean) to daily, short tasks that together add up to regular weekly cleaning. And I bet many of our mothers--or grandmothers--counted that as perfectly natural. I should note, however, that there are glaring omissions from my list, such as wet-mopping, which gets done whenever (and rarely), and that changing the sheets does not happen every single week. Oh well. See, I'm not a perfect housekeeper, am I?

I love my little schedule; I love knowing at the end of each week that my house actually got cleaned (mostly) top to bottom. That doesn't mean I enjoy cleaning, but it's part of my job right now, and every job has its unpleasant duties. My schedule at least makes cleaning house straightforward.

Now: how do YOU do it? Do you clean on a schedule, or not? Do you clean at all? Do you share cleaning duties with your household partner, if you have one? Do you hire out? Are you an at-home mom, and does that inform how you keep your house? I'm curious. Fill me in!


Anonymous said...

I will note for the world that
a) I am DEEPLY APPRECIATIVE of the fact that Shannon keeps our house so well,
b) I am both surprised and not surprised to learn that her system of housecleaning is grounded in a LITERATURE SEARCH (albeit a narrow one), and
c) like some sort of cleaning-commercial housewife, Shannon does sometimes do chores while looking pretty darn good. (I'm not saying she looks good because she's doing chores - I may be a guy, but I'm not a 1950s guy.)

Shan said...

b.) No lit search, just a random library book I happened to be reading, and

Mom and Kiddo said...

Sometimes I clean things just to have something to distract me from the moments of boredom that SAHM-dom creates. Not that cleaning is exciting, but at least it is an activity. Fortunately it is not very time-consuming to keep a 650 sq foot apartment clean.

Elise said...

Well, as you know, my standards for cleaning are different (= lower) than yours, but I admit that I can see the appeal of having more structure around what gets done when. Cleaning in our house is definitely a shared activity, and I think we *try* to operate under a general principle of "see something that needs doing, and do it." But having said that, the truth is that mostly our house only gets really cleaned if we have people coming over. :-) So I guess it's a good thing we're social. It's not that I don't enjoy having a clean house, because I TOTALLY do, it's just that when it gets right down to it, often I'd rather read/sleep/work on my computer/etc. than do the picking up. I'm certainly better about it than I used to be, but it's never going to be a top priority. Until I win the lottery and hire a full-time, live-in housekeeper, that is.

Shan said...

I should note to Elise that one of my favorite things about having a schedule is that I almost never have to clean to prepare for company coming over. The house is always in a fairly consistent state of relative cleanliness, so while I MIGHT run the vacuum over high-traffic areas an extra time or dust the most visible living-room surfaces if I'm expecting guests--whether for the weekend or just a quick a.m. coffee visit--most of the time I don't have to. I love this! Previously, I HATED having to clean the whole house to prepare for people coming over. (Not that we're all that social, but it's still nice to be generally prepared, plus it makes me feel like being social more often, knowing that the house looks fine. You know?)

Shan said...

Oh, one more thing I meant to mention in my post. There is a caveat to this cleaning schedule business. It requires--for me--allowing the girls to watch public television for a short time pretty much every day for me to be able to consistently keep the house clean. That is one thing I gave in to when I decided to get serious about keeping house by a schedule. Some of you do not like your children to watch TV, and to you I say, it might not be realistic or possible to clean house this consistently if you do not have any sort of free time away from direct care of babies. There is no way I could get all my housecleaning chores done with my girls (who are only 2 and 4) hanging on me the whole time--and believe me, they would. I cannot do it all during naptime, because a.) noise wakes up my girls very easily, b.) I usually use that time to cook dinner in advance so I can run when Christopher gets home, and c.) my girls naps are not consistently long enough to get everything done. I'm not thrilled about daily TV, even public TV, but I've made peace with this system.

donna said...

I love how you use your blog to interact with your readers. It often makes me consider having my own blog.

As for how I clean... I do it on a schedule. (Shock, I know.) I've always cleaned on a schedule - even before kids. (Granted, it was a different schedule, but a schedule nevertheless.) I find that it's the easiest way for me to make sure everything gets done and to keep the house in a constant state of clean (yes, I have high standards and know it). And yes, I don't have to worry about massive cleaning when people come over (not that we're social). More importantly, it helps me to keep my sanity to have a clean and organized house.

Most of my cleaning is done either when the kids are in bed or when the kids are out (for example, when they visit Great Grandma on Saturdays). I have the kids help whenever I can. (They swiffer the kitchen/dining room floor. They both (often, not always) like to get on their hands and knees and mop the floors. My son LOVES to help fold laundry. They are responsible for putting away their toys.)

In our house, the house cleaning, cooking and up-keep are a very shared, but divided, responsibility. For example, if you cook, the other person cleans. We have designated parts of the house we take care of (not that we ever discussed it, but we just fell into it). I can give you details about who cleans what when, if you want. I do the shopping (grocery, drug store, etc.) and menu planning. (Although we often do the grocery shopping as a family affair.) We both do home-repair-type things around the house. We do the big house cleaning (like windows, screens) together - and either get the kids involved or make them play on their own or together.

Fun post!

donna said...

Oh, and while my kids don't enjoy the "you need to go to another room because I'm cleaning", they understand (yes, from experience) that if they bother mommy while mommy is cleaning, mommy gets grouchy. And no one wants that. They would much rather play together - or separately - than have a grouchy mommy. So, thankfully, we haven't resorted to parking them in front of the tv.

Anonymous said...

I can so relate with your need to clean on a schedule. I set up mine when I had been a SATM for about 2 months. It drove me crazy to see everything needing to be cleaned all at once, and often I could not remember when I had last done what!!! Now it's totally ingrained in me (change sheets on Mondays, clean bathrooms on Tuesdays, etc.) I also use PBS kids to help me achieve my goals, and I also try to get the kids involved as much as possible--wet sponges in the bathroom, helping to put clothes in the dryer, etc. I figure that at least then they can't use the excuse later on that they don't know how to clean! :)
I think Mom and Kiddo said it well--it helps to distract from boredom. And, it's nice to have a goal to strive for each day, isn't it?

Mnmom said...

Have you ever read "The Egg and I" by Betty McDonald? In it she introduces the character of Ma Kettle. I'm that character. Ma Kettle describes how she used to try to keep a clean house but was worn down by the habits of her husband and kids. I've thrown in the unfolded towel!!