Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Hate Cleaning LESS: Part III

Now that you've dug up all those awful stories from your past, it's time to:

Transform your stories from "I used to feel. . . I used to think. . ." to what you want it to be by acknowledging your strengths--the things you like to do in homemaking and focus on those.

The process: This is a tricky step because it's really personal. For me, it had a lot to do with reading the books Virginia Woolfe’s A Room of One’s Own and Simple Abundance and focusing on my love of art, philosophy, talking, and simplification. Specifically, here are some things I did:

*I became interested in finding the ways simple, seemingly mundane tasks can turn into times for contemplation and meditation. Sincerely. I started to really think about why our lives are mostly comprised of small, ordinary tasks and what kind of meaning there is in that mentally and spiritually.

*I really considered what kind of life I wanted and wanted for my children (I frequently revisit this idea) and how my ideas of feminism would translate to them in specific ways. I try to be equal with teaching the tasks for each gender and I decided that knowing homemaking skills is vital to each of my children and will have a positive affect on their future family life.

*I changed from focusing on what was wrong with my apartment/flat/home, to seeing what it could become (this chair will go here, we'll frame this piece and put it there, etc.) in a week, month, or year's time.

*I would throw out a lot and only bring in items into my home I really loved, which made caring for them and cleaning them easier. Dusting a picture I loved, or a lamp that has cool design is a lot more enjoyable than dusting junk someone gave you at for your wedding that you didn't even register, but just put up because you didn't know what else to do with it and Dillards wouldn't take it back.

*I went through hand-me-downs with a more discerning eye so that my kids had fewer, but nicer clothes helped cut back on the amount of laundry I had to do.

*I threw away the mix-matched kids cups from random restaurants to choosing teal, matching ones for $3 from Target made putting away the dishes seem more deliberate. I slowly did the same thing with office supplies, toys, decor, etc.

*When I'm talking on the phone with a friend, I will clean. Dusting, wiping, picking up, going through, most everything but vacuuming can be done on the phone which makes it more enjoyable and makes me feel less guilty about talking on the phone.

*And cleaning out the home, room by room and having a place for everything, versus finding everything a place, was a big break through for me. For example, I would have a place for cups, a place for dishes, a place for jeans, a place for schoolwork, a place for wrapping paper, etc and when that space was full then that means no more stuff. I think a lot of people just try to find/cram in more space instead of editing their stuff. They have too much stuff. How many spools of ribbon do you need? Well, first know how much you have by having it all in the same place and when that place is full, then it's enough. How much schoolwork should you keep for each child? Well, a binder for each kid for each Elementary experience seems realistic, so get a binder for each kid and when it's full, it's enough.

Then the dialogues I associated with homemaking changed. Now I tell myself:

*I am modeling the way life should be (vs. the way it is) to my children: clean, orderly, full of beauty, art, literature, music, and peace. A way of life that is important to everyone-- women and men.

*This isn't a to-do check list, this is a WAY OF LIFE. By teaching this to my sons and daughters, I am affecting generations and changing the world. This is meaningful work because it will help my children everyday of their lives.

*I will have balance in my life and not let things be more important than people. A clean, orderly home makes others feel welcome and calm when they come to my home, but I will also make time to read and watch tv and not let the ideal take over the reality of living with five children.

*It's easier for me to do this work myself, but if I do it all, I'm not doing anyone any favors. I need to take extra time to teach and reteach and then check and reteach if necessary as my kids learn to do this.

*It will never be "fair." Life isn't fair. And most of the time, this works in my favor.

*I will never iron my pillowcases and sheets, but I won't judge my mom for doing that. It makes her happy and I think it's endearing.

*When in doubt, I will throw it out and not waste my time weighing the options or I'll never get anything done.

How to Hate Cleaning LESS, Part II

This is the second in my three part quest to make cleaning a little less painful for someone. Anyone. Why am I doing this? Because those Saturdays my parents taught me how to clean have to mean something. Because the little voices in my head should be shared to make me feel less frightened. What?

So after you know what it is your ideal is--or what you like--I think you should acknowledge the dark side of cleaning. A mental dusting out of your brain, if you will. Go ahead and name the reasons why you hate it, but be specific:

Acknowledge your biases, traps, and weaknesses.
Make a constant effort to rethink the way you want to think about cleaning by first acknowledging how you feel about it and why. I think the best way to do this (identifying how we feel about homemaking) is by revealing the stories we tell ourselves, sometimes unknowingly. For example:

*How did you feel about cleaning and organizing when you were a child?
*What did your mother teach you about this?
*Your father?
*What role does is have in your life now?
*How does it make you feel?
*What's the first thing you think of when you hear "homemaking?" Why?
I'm sure some kind of specific story could be generated from one or more of these questions that may reveal the genesis of your true feelings about cleaning and organizing today.

At different times in my life, I have felt different ways about homemaking, and that can be a freeing idea because it means that if you have a bad attitude about it, it also means that it doesn't have to always be that way. These are the shortened versions of the dialogue I had in my head when I discovered myself to be a mother of young children with demands of cleaning and organizing becoming, oh-how-do-you-say?-OVERWHELMING, and I started rethinking all of it:

*I don’t deserve this. (I'm too educated to have to do this all day.) What am I modeling to my children about feminism and women's roles by taking on 90% of the cleaning and organizing?

*I have better things to do. Reading/Watching tv is a better use of my time. It will just get messy again, but the information I learn will be with me forever.

*I’m alone in this, I’m the only one who does this. It's not fair. At the beginning of our marriage all of this was 50/50. It's like it was when I was little and the girls always did more housework than the boys. It's not fair.

*My mom ironed the pillowcases and sheets?! How do I live up to that!? She made it look easy. What am I doing wrong?

*I should keep this stuff because it's wasteful to throw things away and I might need it later. Plus, we're kinda poor and I could make something unusual and useful out of it. A different purpose for this sour cream container!

Identify these stories so you'll be able to address what specific roadblocks you have when it comes to cleaning and organizing. That way you know what you're looking for in order to resolve these issues, or at least change them in some way. Otherwise, the list seems overwhelming.

Monday, March 21, 2011

How To Hate Cleaning LESS, Part I

We don’t like to talk about it, but “Homemaking” is a CREATIVE SELF-EXPRESSION. It gets a bad wrap and generally, as a society, we value being busy, and there is a hierarchy to that busyness and taking care of one's home is at the bottom.

I find the CREATIVITY in cleaning and organizing and all those other homemakey things in the style I decorate my home, in the colors I have in my home which invite certain feelings, and I try to organize it all with my ideal aspirations in mind. There are ideals I have in my mind that my home is nowhere near (I love stark, open, modern clean lines and bold modern art), but knowing if an item (pillow, print, toothbrush, etc) is near that ideal, or like it, makes inviting things into my home or not, a simple process.


Know what you like. This ideal only has to mean something to you. Close your eyes and imagine WHAT YOU WANT your home to look like and feel like with no limit of money, time, help, etc. What does your ideal home look like?

Acknowledge why this work is worth doing to you. Do you like to have a clean house? How does it make you feel when you walk into your home and it's all organized and everything's clean and in its place? How do the other inhabitants of the home feel or react to their surroundings? How much do you value this?

To me, this first part is the most exciting to think about. Over the years I have collected pictures, fabric swatches, wrapping paper, cards, and art prints that I love that somehow speak to me. I have used these little ideas (kept online or in a single binder) to help me choose wallpaper, furniture, drawer knobs, and lamps over the years. The best compliment I can get is when someone comes into my home and says it looks like me, because then I know I'm being deliberate.

This part of the hating-cleaning-less process is also a great way to save money. I like finding a bargain as much as I like having a clean house, and I used to have a tendency to buy something because it was such a great deal. Even if I liked the item, and it was a steal, and even if it only cost 2 dollars, it's money wasted if you don't need it and it won't fit into your ideal space. It has helped me pass buy the darling item (dishes, pillows, etc) at Target to wait for the perfect item.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Practical Ideas to Cleaning (Try 'em out!)

I'm feeling that my Spring Cleaning Post (see below) was pretty tough (but true), and that some people just want ideas. Believe me, I have wondered what it is, exactly, my parents did to me to change me from a clutter-prone, messy, moderately hoarding teen to the minimalist who delights in a "fresh linen" scented home I am today. I have come to realize, through meditation (in the form of completing seemingly simple, mundane tasks) that I have a list of dialogues going through my head. Through persistence and enthusiasm (oh, the enthusiasm), my parents taught me these things over and over to the fact that they became as automatic as brushing my teeth or putting on lipstick (another post for another time). I've added some of my own, too. Enjoy!

*Think about the ENERGY—mental, time, etc—it takes to keep this item. You have to see it, store it, move it, clean it, hold onto it, think about it, stumble across it. . . Is it worth the time and energy?

Keeping an item you “might need” prevents something NEW and BEAUTIFUL and MEANINGFUL from taking its place. This less important item has weight in your life. Is it worth it? Do you want a home full of things you might need, or a few things you are crazy about and love?!

Start by organizing and cleaning a place just for YOU. Pick up a copy of Virginia Woolfe’s A Room of One’s Own or Simple Abundance. Make this area in the home special and meaningful to you. Your favorite place.

Smell: Choose a cleaning product you love light a candle, essential oil, something invigorating or relaxing.
Sound: Put on your favorite music while you clean.
Touch: Use cleaning materials that feel good on your skin, or protect yourself when you have to use the heavy-duty stuff.
Taste: Reward yourself with a treat while you clean (gum, chocolate, soda)
Sight: Declutter—make it look like you really cleaned! Create a space YOU LOVE.

These items should be a few, treasured items stored in a proper place. Pre-set a limit and stick to it. Or take a photo of it (or scan it) and store it on your computer. For example, one box of school projects per year=12+ boxes of “school work” for each child. When they leave home, what are they going to do with 12+boxes of pictures and papers? (I have one plastic tub for grade school and middle school, and then a second for high school)

For example, if you’re cooking and you take out the vanilla, you put it in the mix, then put it back in the cupboard. Immediately. Don’t set it down to put away later, don’t movie it to the side. Don’t put it down. Touch it once.

5 Minute Tasks:
Break down your weekly cleaning chores into short, daily, 5 minute tasks. Do one or two a day. Do it during a commercial break or while you’re talking on the phone.

Home Maintenance:

Does everything have ONE convenient place? Make cleaning and organization simple enough for a 5 year-old to do by making sure everything has a regular place. One place for shoes, one place for pens, one place for important papers, one place for bills.

The less junk you have, the less you have to clean. When it doubt, throw it away! If you’re reluctant to do this, keep a box in the garage and throw stuff out there, and every 2 weeks, throw what’s in there out.

Fill out notecards for every cleaning task you want done.
For example: “Clean the downstairs Bathroom” has a list of items like:
*Spray cleaner on sink/around faucet and base and scrub clean
*Spray cleaner around top, seat, and base of toilet—wipe down
*Put toilet clean in bowl/scrub around sides
*Spray shower with cleaner/wipe down all faucets, walls
*Wipe down floor
*Windex mirror with paper towel
*Take out garbage/replace liner
Give these cards TO OTHER PEOPLE. Then, they know when they’re “done.”

Check out “I want you to let go of your perfectionism because that is what has been stopping you dead in your tracks and just get up and do something.” –flylady

Start with a place for everything. Make a specific list of everything you need to clean out (laundry room, boys’ closet, kitchen cabinet under sink, etc.) Then do the “Clean Sweep Plan:” Get three boxes or bags:
1. throw away
2. keep
3. give away or sell
As you go from room to room, put everything in one of three piles. Make it easy on yourself and, when in doubt: Throw It Away!

Throw away 20 things a day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tough Love

I guest posted on Today's Mama all about Spring Cleaning. Yeah, I capitalized it. It came off a little stronger than I had intended, but I guess those are my true feelings on the subject. I could give you all a list of links of cleaners I love or organizational tools I'm obsessed with, but that will only distract you from the hard truth that to just have to do it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I Should Make Some New Goals.

I just guest posted on Design Mom thanks to the mysterious and generous Gabby. I was gone to San Diego for 24 hours to return to my loving, grateful family (One point for mysterious: Who leaves for a 24 hour trip?! ME!) Coincidentally, the first thing sweet little Margaret said to me when I arrived home was “Get me a drink of water.” (One point for not mysterious: Who lives their life in constant fear of the unrelenting demands of a 3 year-old?! ME!)

Turns out, and I know this will be A BIG SURPRISE TO MOST OF YOU: I’m not as mysterious as I sometimes think I am. My fallback to making dumb jokes about potty training and “woo-whooing” when someone takes my picture in a convertible should have been my first clue, but I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer.

Here is a peek into my mind as I assessed how well I was keeping up on my goal of being more mysterious:


1. Using my maiden name when traveling (Valentine sounds so international!)

2. Driving in a Murano Crosscabriolet (not yet released to the public!)

3. Walking through the hotel room to my room (I could be anyone!)

4. Traveling by myself (no talking down a toddler from having a meltdown in public--surprisingly refreshing!)

5. Representing Design Mom as a freelance writer (Time Magazine's Top 50 Blogs!)

6. Name dropping famous people I know (Ever heard of a little band called. . . Maroon5? )

Not Mysterious

1. Referring to myself as a Mommy blogger.

2. When answering the question, “How many kids do you have?” at dinner, I took a big bite of roll, not anticipating it being so hard, and quickly found I would have to gnaw it like a hungry dog devouring a bone and simultaneously say, “Oh, I have 5 kids.”

3. Taking out my crappy camera from Target to photograph the car when everyone else has expensive Cannon's with fancy zoom lenses.

4. Not tweeting during conversations, or ever, and asking someone what they were they were tweeting about (lame).

5. Making a joke about breast pumps and poo during dinner in a self-deprecating way (does it count if they got a good laugh?)

6. Not knowing how to turn on the Murano (new cars have buttons, people! Learn from me!) or why the car when on, won't go (emergency brake, Einstein).

I was driving partners with a Christina from Mommy Loves Coffee and she is super cool.

I took this picture (with my dumb camera) to remember that cool tree on the Nissan Design property. The whole Design Center was so inspiring, with cool architecture and hipsters walking in and out.

This is the show car that eventually turned into the Nissan Quest. The inside of this car was incredible, with orange Jetson-like interior seats and no trunk which makes a larger interior. If it were on sale like this, I'd buy it tomorrow.

(*I received flight, hotel, and food from Nissan, just so you know. They didn't tell me what to write, but they were really nice to me and let me in the lobby, at least, of their Design Center. )