House cleaning tips from a slob

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When my house is a mess, I feel guilty. And when I feel guilty, I get grumpy. And when I get grumpy, I’m more inclined to snap at my family for small things. The other option is that I spiral into a pit of self-pity and sadness that I’m not better at cleaning my house. I feel more pressure than my husband to keep our house clean and more embarrassment when it isn’t. I interpret our messy house as my own personal failure.

You’d think that would make me an excellent housekeeper. But it doesn’t. Instead of doing something about it, many times I just beat myself up. I have had literally years at a time where I couldn’t do better for a variety of reasons and still berated myself over it.

However, I have recently learned some things, and as a reforming slob, I’m going to share them with you in case you aren’t one of those rare folks who love to clean. I don’t offer a detailed cleaning plan. I’ve tried those, and they stress me out and make me feel worse about all that I’m NOT doing. Instead, I’m offering real-life tips that have helped my family. 

In order to get where I’m coming from right now, you need to know where I’ve been. I grew up as the youngest of two children. I have one older brother. My mom has always loved to clean. (I know. It’s weird to me, too.) She comes from a long line of women who keep immaculate homes. When my grandma was younger, she would vacuum under her furniture weekly. Weekly. I’m talking under armchairs and recliners. Growing up, I had some chores to do around the house, but my mom did most of the cleaning. She was good at it, and she liked it. When I got married at age 20 in the middle of my college years, my husband and I worked together to clean our small college apartment. It wasn’t always straightened up, but we did an OK job cleaning the bathroom and kitchen and such. In our second apartment, we continued. Our biggest cleaning strategy was to do it all at once, usually on a Saturday morning.

When we moved into our first home, though, we went doubled in square feet. Cleaning certainly took more at that point, but we still did OK with cleaning everything at once. It got a bit more challenging because my chronic bladder condition flared for a couple of years straight and kept me from being able to be on my feet for long periods of time, but we made it work.

Ten years into our marriage, we had our first child. Suddenly spending two or three hours cleaning the whole house was almost impossible. I did well to keep myself clean, let alone the house. I didn’t have a great strategy. As time went on, we had a second child and I had more health issues that left me choosing between being able to take care of the kids or clean the house well. Since I had to keep the kids alive, I chose them. Between 2011 and 2017, I had three major surgeries, a minor one, a second baby, shingles and more. Cleaning? Ha!

Then last fall, we moved in with my parents. We had sold our house and were building a new one, but we had about six months in between the two and needed somewhere to stay. I’d just had another surgery. I decided to take the time to learn from my mom, the cleaning guru, while I was living with her. And I did learn a few things that have helped me tremendously. When I last lived with my parents, I was 18 or younger or only home on college breaks. I didn’t pay a bit of attention to how my mom managed her house cleaning. This time, though, I determined I would. I felt motivated because I was getting a fresh start that not everyone gets. I was moving into a new house that was starting clean, and I was determined to keep it that way.

I noticed a few things about my mom that helped me. Since we moved into our new house in April, I have managed so far to do a decent job. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve suddenly become the best housekeeper in the world or that I’m not still a bit of a slob. We still have boxes to unpack. We haven’t decorated much. We still have clutter, though we’ve done our best to purge and eliminate.

Employ the ABC method: Always Be Cleaning
One of my best tips from my mom is ABC — Always Be Cleaning. That might sound like a nightmare to you, because it certainly would have to the me of a couple years ago. But, hear me out. My mom’s strategy is to clean as she goes so there isn’t a big mess to deal with later. It sounds simple, and it really is. Like when she finishes washing dishes, she takes an extra 60 seconds and wipes down her kitchen sink. She brings in the mail and deals with it instead of tossing it on her countertop. She wipes down her bathroom counter with a cleaning wipe after she finishes getting ready. I’ve learned a lot of these tasks take a short amount of time. Seriously in 30 seconds, I can do a quick wipe of my bathroom countertop. I can unload the dishwasher in less than 5 minutes.

Keep cleaning supplies handy
If you’re going to always be cleaning, then you need cleaning supplies where you use them. My mom stores cleaning products under each bathroom sink and her kitchen sink. Moving into a two-story house, I knew myself and knew I’d either forget to bring cleaning supplies up or down the stairs or find it easy to procrastinate if they weren’t in easy reach. So I bought enough for each location. Each bathroom has wipes and toilet bowl cleaner. I do share Windex between them. The kitchen sink has wipes and vinegar. I have a separate vinegar bottle for upstairs. I know this doesn’t sound ground-breaking to many people, perhaps. But it has made a difference for me. For example, earlier this week I realized that I hadn’t yet cleaned the half bathroom downstairs and needed to. On my stop by there before going to pick up the kids from school, I cleaned the toilet in a minute. Later I wiped down the sink. And those are the biggest areas that need weekly cleaning in there, so it worked well. If the supplies were even just around the corner in the pantry (a few steps away!), I know I wouldn’t have done that. And, quite honestly, I probably STILL wouldn’t have done it even now a couple of days later.

Cleaning isn’t all or nothing
Previously I’ve had the idea that if I can’t clean everything then I don’t even want to start. However, I have been timing myself on doing tasks and realize that in a few minutes, I can accomplish a lot. And the things that need cleaned most don’t take all that long. I can spend five minutes cleaning my bathroom and feel much better afterward. Yes, it still needs to be deep cleaned and floors mopped and such, but every little step counts. Finding hours to devote to any one task is difficult. Being able to physically spend hours cleaning my house is basically impossible nowadays. I’ve changed my mindset from doing it all or nothing to doing what I can when I can. Now I almost see it as a challenge to see how much I can get done in a set amount of time like 15 minutes. And I’ve been shocked at how much I really CAN do quickly. (I also find more motivation to clean or straighten up if I have a time limit. I can endure cleaning for 5 to 30 minutes!)

Embrace the right cleaning products 
I struggled with keeping my stainless steel sink clean at my old house. It had hard water stains no matter what I did. I tried different cleaning products to no avail. I just figured because my fibro arms don’t handle scrubbing hard that I’d not be able to maintain a sparkling clean sink. Then we stayed with my parents. My mom cleans her sink pretty much daily when she’s cooking. They went on a trip and while I cleaned it regularly, I still didn’t clean it daily. It started to get a build-up. Within a day of her being home I realized it was sparkling again. So I had to ask. Her newest secret cleaning weapon? Vinegar. I was a bit dubious. Then I tried it. Seriously, I put some vinegar on a paper towel, wiped just a bit and the spots were gone. Gone! It blew my mind. So now vinegar is one of my go-to cleaners that makes life way easier. Even better is that it’s cheap and non-toxic. Who knew?! It’s the whole work smarter, not harder concept in action.

Enlist help
This one doesn’t come from my mom but from my own experiences. In the time of our marriage, my physical health has taken a hit many times. And with chronic health conditions, there are still times it takes a beating and I can’t do things. So I have learned to ask for help and be willing to accept it. My kids now have their own bathroom. They’re required to clean it once a week. They divide the tasks. I gave them a lesson on exactly what I want them to do. I handle some things for them like cleaning the mirror, because they have trouble reaching it, cleaning the floors and cleaning the bathtub. None of those things need done weekly. But weekly they have to clean the sink and counter, clean the toilet inside and out, take out the trash and check the supply of toilet paper. No, they don’t clean as well as I do, but I do check in on their progress and have had them redo things. And it still is helping both me and them! One of these days they’ll have their own bathrooms to clean.

I also ask my husband for assistance with tasks I usually do when I need to. And even though he may fold towels differently than I do or clean in a different way, it’s still perfectly fine. In the end, everything gets done and that’s the goal. I will say I have also learned when to ask for outside help. My mom and my mother-in-law have helped with cleaning our house during times I was recovering from surgery and such. I had a friend say to me that she could never let someone else clean her bathroom and trust them to do it right. I can only say that when it’s your only choice because you physically can’t do it, then you certainly gain perspective and appreciation.

Don’t procrastinate 
I’m not usually a procrastinator by nature, but I can be very good at overlooking things that need to be taken care of or put away. Very good! I try to make sure that I’m putting things away when I’m finished with them. But in that mindset, I’m also trying to make sure that each item in our house has a home. If I get derailed from putting something away immediately, then I make a conscious effort to take care of it next time I come across it.

Along with putting things away, I try not to procrastinate when it comes to dishes and laundry. There are ALWAYS dishes and laundry. But, I’ve worked to simplify as much as I can. I have arranged my kitchen around my dishwasher. So the things I use most often are stored right above the dishwasher or within a couple of steps. I can empty the dishwasher in five minutes or less and usually make myself do it the next time I am working in the kitchen (which is quite often with kids!). I’ve also worked to be practical. My kids take their lunch to school everyday. I have enough lunch containers for two days worth of cold lunches for both kids (You can find my favorite ones here!). That gives me two days to wash the containers in the dishwasher instead of by hand, which saves me time. If I throw in a day of hot lunch in their hot Thermos, then that helps even more. Each of them have three drink Thermoses for the same reason. I don’t have to hand wash lunch supplies daily. It makes me more efficient and less grumpy, so it works.

And then there’s laundry. While I’m not as fast as my mom who folds and puts her away immediately, I definitely make an effort to deal with it in the same day. At my old house, the washer and dryer were in the garage. In this house, they are on the second story in the middle of the bedrooms, so that really helps. We have also taken advantage of the laundry room and keep two laundry baskets for dirty things at all times: one for darks and one for whites. I can easily see when a basket is full and a load of laundry need to be thrown in. It helps keep me from getting as overwhelmed with load after load of laundry all at once. Another bonus is that I have a set amount of laundry baskets and I have to make sure to keep laundry folded and put away so we can use the baskets as needed. (I do keep a spare one, though. I’m not THAT good!)

My handy husband also hung me a nice bar in the laundry room so I can hang up clothes straight from the dryer. If I hang up the pants and shirts for my husband and me, shirts for my daughter and some shirts for my son right away then I don’t have as much work to do with folding either.

Give yourself grace 
This is my final tip. No matter what systems I have in place, no matter how much progress I’ve made, I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be. Life is going to get in the way. My health will flare for a week. My kids will get sick. Things happen. I have learned to not beat myself up if I get out of routine and don’t clean my bathroom this week. It doesn’t mean I’m never going to get back on track. I will, and I do. Can I say that in the past I was just a total slob and wasn’t doing my best? No way. I really was doing my best. There are some seasons of life where it’s easier to clean than others. Having babies and toddlers make cleaning a huge challenge. Going through physical and/or mental struggles makes cleaning a huge challenge. Doing the best you can? Then it’s enough. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect or having the perfect home!

Here’s the thing: I’m never going to transform into someone who loves cleaning. (At least I will be shocked if I do!) I won’t ever keep as spotless of a house as my grandma or my mom. But, that’s OK. I try to be realistic in my goals and work for what makes my family and me the happiest. We are all happier when we have clean dishes and clothes. We are all happier when there aren’t piles of papers all over the table we have to clean off every time we want to eat a meal. We are all happier to go into a bathroom that smells fresh and doesn’t have weeks of build-up. However, my family life isn’t going to dissolve into chaos if I let clean dishes sit in the dishwasher for 24 hours or a load of towels stay in the dryer for a couple of days. I do my best, but I also remember my priorities. I don’t want to be so busy taking care of my family that I don’t remember to enjoy my family.

Take my tips and see if you can put them to work for you. What other tips do you have that make cleaning easier? I’d love to hear from you!

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