I actually do know what to do and how to do it.
The long standing battle between my house and my personal inclination to shun housework has gone on for quite some time. But please, don’t be one of those people who just shrug and insist they clean because they can’t stand a messy house. Neither can I! Sloppy people don’t necessarily love slop. Nor do they house ten thousand rats in the basement.
I love a clean house – I rejoice in a clean house. I know very well how to clean. Are you kidding me? I clean perfectly. Exhaustingly, borderline OCD, perfectly. Okay, it’s less borderline and more bonafide OCD. Have you ever boiled your light switch plates? Repainted all of your baseboards on a whim one night at 2 in the morning just because they won’t come spotlessly, scufflessly clean? Anyone?
I am not a pack rat, I am not a hoarder. I have little to zero emotional attachments to the stuff we own. I can toss nick-knacky gifts with wild abandon. I don’t even keep baby clothes or blankets. Why stuff them in a box to take up space out in the shop when they can go to goodwill where someone on a budget (or without a budget) can take it home and get some use out of it?
Anyway, my problem lies here:
I have children and a husband.
Now, don’t get me wrong – they are wonderful people who help out around the house and almost always put their dirty dishes into the dishwasher straight away. My children have been taught to work and have regular chores. But if you are someone who has a perfectionist, anal, OCD mindset about cleaning and then you put that person in a house with five other people who may or may not feel the same way you do about water spots on the counter, it can be challenging.
It’s just that if I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it at all.
It seems, that if I can’t have the house magazine worthy at all times, my brain shuts down and seeks asylum. For years my policy on housework became: if I can’t see it, maybe it will go away. Now, granted, I’ve had half a million plates spinning in the air – someone who runs more than one business and homeschools isn’t going to have the cleanest house on the block. That’s just cold, hard fact. But that doesn’t excuse me completely. I formed very bad habits over the years, fleeing to more enjoyable projects like website building, sewing, or organizing everyone’s underwear by color and elasticity rather than wiping the sticky jam off the counter.
Places like my computer or inside a cupboard allowed me to exercise my perfectionism without getting thwarted by little ones. If I spent two hours cleaning out the linen closet and folding all the towels just so, chances were it would stay pretty tidy for a long time. If I spent those same two hours cleaning the kitchen with a detail brush and a bottle of Pine-sol, chances were it’d all be shot to hell and a half in less time. I could run away from laundry that everyone would dirty again in a week, or I could design a shiny new website for someone. No toddler would fling yogurt on a new online shopping cart, and no well-meaning 7 year old would spatter pee all over a new blog because he was in too big of a hurry to aim properly.
The supposed solution was just another way to avoid facing the mop.
All the “Get it Together You Lazy Butt Munch*” books recommended schedules. A schedule! Of course! If I had it written down that I needed to eat breakfast, then get dressed, perhaps I wouldn’t be hungry and wearing pajamas at 4pm. With relish, I devoured all of the organizational books I could find, but I was continually disappointed. They all acted like I didn’t know how to get a box, label it “Craft Stuff” and stick all the kids’ scissors, glue, rulers, and pipe cleaners in it. I knew how to organize stuff. I knew how to fill up a bucket with hot soapy water and wash down the walls. What I didn’t understand was how to make yourself get up and do the same dumb stuff over and over and over, only to have four little people come along and crap all over your hard work.
*Not a real book, but someone please write it, I’ll buy it for the title alone.
I switched from help books to FlyLady. Her website gave me a migraine and my inbox was belching purple, but I liked the idea of creating a control journal. I pored over her site, going back and forth and taking notes. I printed out reams of articles and sample “zones,” trying to sort out how to make her system work for my family and my house. I enjoyed making the journal, but I didn’t enjoy actually using it.
I could stick to putting on lace up shoes and shining my sink for approximately two weeks before I went bananas with the e-mail. I so loved the idea of a reminder coming to my inbox, but mixed in with the helpful reminders lived a thousand pounds of junk mail I didn’t need. So I went no mail, and without any reminders, I’d forget to check my control journal and I’d be back to square one. I tried several different methods and planners but any sort of notebook or planner would fail me. If it wasn’t in plain view, I’d forget about it.
Once, I sat down and inventoried every single possible chore that needed to be done in my house, car, yard, garden, and shop. I made the most impossible chart, I had codes and colors to differentiate whether or not the chore needed to be done hourly (as if!) daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, yearly, or quarterly. It was insane. But you know what? I liked making those lists. I liked making the huge plans, the SOLUTION. Only it never was. It was just another distraction.
There must be something horribly, horribly wrong with me.
Last year, I even met with a therapist. I know therapists are commonly used elsewhere, but out here? In farm country? Are you kidding me? No. Nobody uses a therapist unless they are dealing with Very Large and Important issues like abuse. For someone who can’t seem to get the dishwasher unloaded? There is nobody. So I met with a therapist in New York via the phone. I… could write a whole post about that consultation, but I’ll refrain, this is nearing novel-length as is. She did help me in one area, and that was in explaining that people like me get things done when there is an emotional connection. I can’t schedule in an actual time to start the laundry or scrub down the shower because it just won’t happen. But I will totally start cleaning out a junk drawer when I’m searching through it for something and the mood hits.
I was so confused, I liked cleaning. I loved the smell of Pine-sol. Why couldn’t I write down a plan for the next day and stick “Scrub grout” in at 10:30? I could, of course, but then 10:30 the next morning would arrive and I’d have my head in a book or be too busy re-planning next year’s vegetable garden. That was kind of a breakthrough for me. Not that I need to leave all chores until I feel like doing them, but that trying to schedule every inch of my day; wrangling all tasks into 3 minute increments just won’t work for me. I need flexibility.
Okay, so I chewed on that for half a year. It was a good realization but how to work with it? How to make who I was work for our family without just making a blanket acceptance of my weaknesses? I wanted to change – to be better at getting important things done (children need to eat at regular intervals, not just when I suddenly get the urge to bake a pie) – where was the system or method that would work with how my brain worked?
Technology to the rescue! Almost!
While searching for FlyLady alternatives, I stumbled across HomeRoutines. I thought, “Holy crap! That is something I think I would love!” So I saved my pennies and bought an iPod Touch. Yes. I bought an iPod Touch JUST so I could run the HomeRoutines app. I installed it right away and then promptly got overwhelmed. (I am a delicate flower).
It languished and the kids took control of the iPod in all of its Angry Bird glory. And in the interim, my laundry languished.
Technology just needed a method to its madness.
A few months later, I stumbled across HabitHacker while once again searching for a Flylady alternative (I may have a FlyLady problem). I searched through the website and thought it couldn’t possibly be worse than FlyLady, so I gave it a shot. I signed up for the “Nest” emails and lo and behold, if I had had the presence of mind to restructure Flylady into something that would work with my brain, this would be it. I started making the suggested “Brain on Paper,” but went back to the HomeRoutines website and found this section on using the app with HabitHacker.
Que the angels singing.
I can’t explain why something like a control journal or a mom planner won’t work for me, but it just won’t – it’s not something I carry around a lot. It’s closed? I don’t know. I don’t have an iPhone glued to my palm like many of you do, but the iPod just seemed more friendly. More accessible. Easier to update (no need to print out reams of stuff or change spreadsheets or word documents). Small. Prettily designed. Simple.
HabitHacker + HomeRoutines, true love always.
It took me some time. I made some schedules on the iPod slowly. Tried things out. Moved things around. Learned I could schedule certain routines to only show up on certain days of the week. I kept reading the HabitHacker emails, which, for my gentle readers, I will mention contain some swears, but oh my, she is funny, and most importantly TO THE POINT. (And has a grip on comma usage, which I do not.) She strips away all the nonsense about loving yourself (done, thank you, I think I’m rad), and doesn’t try to sell you any magnets or feather dusters or purple anythings, and just gets down to business. I love it.
The app is easy to customize and easy to adjust. And you would not believe how fun it is to check things off and get a gold star. Let Alfie Kohn write a book about that! I also really love how I can see progress at a glance – if you’ve only done some of the things on a routine, the main screen will show a segmented, incomplete star.
Here is my home screen (you can click to embiggen):
That is the main screen. It has my morning routine (which HabitHacker has you add to slowly), an afternoon routine (that I created myself), and an evening routine (also created on my own). 3H is Habit Hacker’s take on Flylady’s weekly home blessing hour (I think that’s what it is called) and it is funnily enough short for the Half-a**ed Homekeeping Hour. Hilarious, see? I have my children do the 3H as their morning chores every day, so it’s set to show up all week long, rather than just once or twice. I ended up renaming it just “Homekeeping Hour” for them.
That is a shot of what is in our 3H. The kids *love* setting the timer for 60 minutes and racing the clock (after the first few difficult days, it never takes a whole hour because now we’re just maintaining). The 9 year old and 7 year old are perfectly capable of doing all those things on their own — they just have me come inspect. I’m usually doing my morning routine at the same time, so they don’t feel abandoned and lose concentration — we’re all working.
Here’s my morning routine, partially completed. With HabitHacker, you get to choose what “Polish your place” means. She says a lot of people choose the “shining your sink” routine that FlyLady pushes, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But I chose my bedroom. It was always the hole where everything got dumped and I was sick and tired of living in a mess. With my room clean, the whole world seems like a better place. So I start there. You polish your place twice a day – so I have it set in my morning and evening routines. It’s a really nice way to start the day and I get to go to bed in a clean, peaceful environment.
P4 is a funny way to remember to clean up all the poop and pee in the bathroom. HabitHacker’s take on the old “swish and swipe” but much more laid back. Crapspot is really a S***spot in HabitHacker. Hilarious, but I’m not a cusser, so I edited that… her take on Flylady’s Hotspots. Mine is the counter next to the fridge. We dump all our crap there when we come in from the car. Cleaning it off every morning is amazingly sane-making.
The HomeRoutines app has FlyLady-like zones built right into it. I took some time, deleted the samples and created our own. Each day, the kids and I choose 1 – 3 things to do in that zone. By the end of the week, we have that spot (fairly) clean. We don’t do any of the Flylady-esque “15 minutes in the zone” deals, we just do a chore or two in that area during our morning chore time. We’ve since added a “Kids morning” routine and in it they brush their teeth, comb hair, put jammies away, and check the zone. Here’s a shot of one of the zones:
You can have more than one area in a zone, which is nice for those of us whose floor plans don’t fit into a typical Flylady zone layout. It’s really flexible. You can even opt to have 7 zones that will rotate over 7 weeks rather than sticking with the usual 4 or 5. We might add a couple more zones this next summer to include outdoor areas and the garage.
Here’s a shot of the main screen that shows the ‘all’ view where you can see the whole week. This is where you’d go in and edit something on Tuesday if it were Monday and you couldn’t see it, but you wouldn’t want all this junk showing all the time, so you can switch to the ‘today’ screen. The routines you see below are Habit Hacker suggestions. I love them.
Chasing Day is Monday – grocery and errands at our house. I have the kids clean out the car when I get back from grocery shopping.
Terrible Tuesday is one of my favorites – this is the day Habit Hacker has you ‘beat back your black beast.’ For me, it’s the laundry room. That’s laundry day for me as well.
D-Day is Wednesday and it stands for Decluttering Day. I’m not a cluttery person so I don’t have a whole lot to dejunk, but it’s useful for cleaning out junk drawers and cleaning up my desk area. I tend to shove stuff in the drawers there.
I’ve also added Thursday, Friday, and Saturday routines. Most just remind us to do family scriptures and prayer each night, and Saturday reminds me to get the diaper bag ready with snacks and activities for church.
Who would have thought that liking things extra, extra, awesomely neat would be a pitfall? I mean, aren’t the sloppy, clutter-loving, hoarding people the ones with the folks with the issues? In the days when I was making my roommate cry because she let a pan of spaghetti sauce boil over and then left it to crustify all over the stove, I never would have thought I’d be the one telling my boys to just put his pajamas back on if he didn’t have any clean pants.
I can’t say that my perfectionism is cured, but HabitHacker and HomeRoutines are helping. There is a timer built into the app, but I can still go crazy when I’m supposed to be spending 11 minutes in the laundry room. I can lose hours once I get in the cleaning mind frame. But I *am* doing better at focusing on overall daily maintenance rather than letting everything go to pot and then emergency cleaning when my in laws are on their way.
It will sound trite, but these two things have changed our lives. My disorganization led to disorganized lives for my children. We ate meals irregularly, often had dinner at 8pm, their bedtimes were often ridiculously late — all because I couldn’t keep track of life. That’s all different now, and while I don’t want to jinx anything, I’m so thrilled.
The HabitHacker gal has a name, she wrote me a nice letter – her name is Jean. She loves HomeRoutines too, and is interested in hearing feedback from her HabitHacker users. The woman behind HomeRoutines is Rosie – and while I haven’t heard from her personally, she tends to retweet my praise on Twitter. I am hoping she’ll create a homeschooling app similar to HomeRoutines – but I might just have to install the app on my husband’s iPod and customize it for our homeschooling day — you could certainly do homeschooling routines right in there with your chores, but that’s just my perfectionism getting all up in my grill again.
I know this was long, and if you got to the bottom, I’m assuming you might be in the same boat I was — or at least morbidly fascinated with those of us who aren’t born Martha Stewarts. Congrats! Now say hello – comments are open ;)
p.s. This post was written out of the exuberance over my tidy house. I received zero compensation and no free product for doing so. In fact, I paid for HomeRoutines when it was over $4… and I’d still say it was worth every penny.