Friday, March 6, 2009

Setting Reasonable Standards in a House Full of Littles

Life is, as you can imagine, more than a little hectic around my house. I have four children, ages 6, 4.5, 2.5, and 10 mos. I homeschool. And, to top it all off, I'm imperfect.

All these things come flying down on me when I look around my house some days. It seems that just as I finish picking up the living room, M&M pulls a shelf or two's worth of books down. When I bring a load of clean, freshly folded towels up to the bathroom, I find that Bud-Jack has filled the sink with Captain Crunch and Crest. While I'm hanging pictures and curtains in the girls room, G is pulling down the curtain rods and disassembling the dresser in his own room. And as I help the boys pick up their toys and clothes, Teeny is in hiding in the next room cutting up her doll clothes. It all just becomes so overwhelming and so discouraging.

That is when I have to remember that this is, truly, just a stage. All my kids have gone through the "pull all the books off the bookshelf" stage; I hardly think a teenager will have any desire to fill the sink with cereal and toothpaste; G merely needs some space and materials to deconstruct and construct in the garage; and Teeny will eventually realise that she likes her things enough to keep them around for a while.

Still, all the positive thinking in the world is not enough to make me feel good about my house on those "special" days. What I always need is a plan of action -- a go-to method -- some small steps that can help keep a minimal semblance of order around here. I have my husband to thank for my three daily to-do's:

  1. The first thing on my to-do list is to wash two loads of laundry. This used to be an overwhelming feat, but J simplified my life when he came up with the basket method. He placed four baskets on our laundry room counter: one for me, one for him, one for the boys, and one for the girls. These baskets hold *clean* laundry, not dirty. Twice a day, I unload the dryer into these four baskets, not folding the laundry. This makes getting two loads washed a breeze. Towels and dish rags get folded and set on the ironing board. Once a week, during an free moment, I have a folding fest, and the kids and I spend about 20-30 minutes putting laundry away.
  2. The next thing on my to-do list is The S. J came up with The S one day when I was panicing about cleaning the whole house for that evening's dinner guests. He stood in the living room and told me that our adult guests would not venture anywhere beyond the foyer, the half-bath, the living room, and the kitchen. In our house, these rooms form an S shape. So, every day I clean The S first and work to keep these areas looking good.
  3. J's third wonderful idea is the hardest to accomplish at this point; but as he finishes school, I believe we'll get more consistent about it. The plan is: J puts the kids to bed at night while I pick up the living room (usually books, dirty clothes, and a coffee cup or two) and clean the kitchen (dinner mess). After we're both done, we sit down together and enjoy our evening together. It is incredible how mood-altering it is to both go to sleep and wake up to a clean living room and kitchen.

I work on these three steps and wait for J to come up with more brilliant ideas. I'm also working through the ideas at Messies Anonymous.

After I get my house in the right order, I can focus on the atmosphere. But part of creating the right atmosphere involves relaxing my standards and giving myself and my family a break. I read a great line at Femina once: "The only thing that absolutely must be organized in my house is my attitude." Isn't that the truth. What is the point of keeping a clean and orderly house if it causes me to nag and berate my husband and family all day and night? What do I or my family gain by a neat, orderly mother/wife who is too busy to read aloud, hunt for worms, play catch, watch a movie, listen to ideas, . . . "go to bed" ; ) ?

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