Today I'm going to write about something that I have wanted to talk about in this space for a really long time: housekeeping. But first, thank you for your birthday wishes over the last few weeks. We have one more birthday approaching in a couple of weeks and then birthday season will be past us and I'll heave a sigh of relief. And I thought I'd also update you on the illness front. It turns out this was pneumonia. And my first chest x-ray also showed something concerning in my lung, and I ended up having follow-up x-rays and a CT scan to find out what was going on. In the end, it turned out to be nothing. But between the pneumonia and the uncertainty, it was a kind of stressful time there for a while. Anyway, that's all on the mend and I'm avoiding human contact at all cost (OK, that's an exaggeration), to avoid any more exposure to illness this season!
So, back to the housekeeping. This begins with a confession: I am not tidy. I am not neat. (I am clean, and actually slightly obsessively so, about things like bathrooms [I clean mine daily] and sheets [I change them at least weekly without fail] -- after the advice given to my own mother when she was a newlywed by an older friend and mentor of hers, a mother of five, who had been given that advice by her family physician when she was struggling with keeping five little ones healthy. So my mom took that advice to heart in her own family, and now, so do I.) But mostly, I think I fall into that "absent-minded professor" category: brainy, a bit scattered, and, well, kind of slovenly.
I have a hard time keeping after clutter. I mean, I know everyone says that, but I'm worse than the average person. I am not good at getting rid of stuff when I don't need it anymore. I'm a saver. (You know the type.) Between overwhelm, busyness, lack of diligence (a huge problem of mine, and others like me, for whom so many "academic" things have come easily), and absence of any sort of system, this house can be quite messy, chaotic, and disorganized.
Of course I appreciate a tidy home, but getting there has always been so hard for me. I see how our family thrives when things are running smoothly, but achieving that on any kind of consistent basis has been extremely hard for me. It's so hard to know where to start. (And for any of you wondering right now about the home that you've seen on the blog: never discount artful photography.)
I'm going somewhere with all this, I promise. Last summer, thanks to the advice of a friend who had experienced the same type of frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, self-blame, and general stress from a life lived in messy surroundings, I found something that worked for me. My friend felt so transformed by her new way of life that she was nearly evangelical about it. And now I'm about to be.
We call them "my cards".
It's a system outlined in the book Sidetracked Home Executives, written by two sisters who had come to the end of their ropes with housekeeping. They came up with the system because they needed it. Simply, you write every single task that needs to be accomplished in your household on 3x5 cards, which are color-coded based on the frequency of the task. Daily chores are on yellow yards, weekly chores on blue ones, and anything that is done monthly or less frequently (seasonally or annually), are on white cards. (Pink are for "personal" things, like appointments, classes, activities, homework, vitamins or medicine, etc.) I made a card for each and every task that needs to happen in our house. As I've gone on, I've eliminated some cards that I don't need anymore (because I never forget to do the chore, and so don't need it anymore), or consolidated some. With other things, I've changed the frequency, after seeing what has worked and what hasn't.
The system has been so freeing for me. There is no longer any emotional attachment surrounding housekeeping. If I don't complete all my cards, I just re-file them and get to them the next day (or week, or whatever). I do complete most of them most days. And I do get so much pleasure from completing something on a card -- even something small, like changing the dog water -- and filing it to the next day. As I see the day's cards diminish, I really do feel a sense of accomplishment. And it's such a good feeling to finish them and then feel "free" for the rest of the day.
My house is still not perfect. We have clutter "hot spots" that are constant battles. I fall off the wagon sometimes. Sometimes even for a couple of months. But I know that I have a system in place that can support me as I work on forming stronger habits, making our home beautiful and peaceful, and keeping our family happy and healthy.
In my next post, I'm going to talk a little bit more about actual cleaning, my favorite tricks and tips, and using natural cleaning agents (something I've been doing since I was first married and really love).
And finally, I am giving away two copies of Sidetracked Home Executives. These are not gifts from the publisher, I'm purchasing them myself to give to two of you, hoping that someone out there will be helped by the book as much as I have been. I will also throw in some supplies to get you started (some cards and maybe a surprise or two). Please leave a comment on this post and I'll draw two winners in one week (Thursday, March 24). Good luck!
Edited, March 25: Comments closed! I'll announce the winner in a separate post in a little bit! Thank you all for entering!