May 3rd, 2012


Housekeeping for Creative People

So, I've managed to keep the house relatively clean for nearly four weeks now. If a neighbor dropped by, I'd have to move the computer and some papers off the sofa to sit, and I might be a little embarrassed by some dirty dishes in the sink (not a tower worth), but I wouldn't feel like I had to stand in the doorway, blocking their view of the interior of the house. If I knew I was going to have company, it might take me half an hour (depending on how many dishes I needed to wash) to get the house ready. My parents are coming over this weekend, and I don't have to do anything special to prepare. It may be a case of the blind leading the blind for me to give housekeeping tips, but I think what I've done might be helpful for other creative, disorganized people. This has been a gradual process over the year, with one big push a month ago that got things into the current state.

Mostly, I've created a chores schedule. I assign the basic house maintenance tasks to days of the week. Monday is dusting, Tuesday is the bathroom, Wednesday is a flex day that I can use to catch up, get ahead or do anything else that needs doing that's not on the schedule, Thursday is floors, Friday is laundry. These aren't in-depth cleanings by any means. Dusting involves running a Swiffer duster around the house. The floors mostly means vacuuming the traffic patterns and any other areas I can easily get to and dust mopping the few hard floors. Bathroom means a spray with the scrubbing bubbles, a wipe and a rinse. I generally spend fifteen minutes tops on each of these. Then I also have each week of the month assigned to a particular room, and when it's that room's week, I'll do a more thorough job of the daily task in that room. So, say when it's bathroom week, that's when everything gets a more thorough scrub. When it's living room week, dusting will mean moving stuff around and using furniture polish, and vacuuming will mean moving small furniture or getting under big furniture, as well as vacuuming the upholstery. Plus, I try to come up with some other daily task in that room if the daily task doesn't involve that room. It comes down to maybe half an hour of housework a day, at most.

I'm still struggling with the office, which is a little overwhelming, and I still have my task jar with decluttering projects for when I'm in the mood and have time, so that's a project in progress.

I think there are two keys to the success so far. One is that I've convinced myself that perfectionism isn't necessary. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Even if I just sort of swipe at something, it'll be cleaner than if I did nothing. The schedule isn't rigid, so if I miss a day, I can catch up the next day. If I want a day off, I can do two days worth of tasks ahead of time. I can do the bare minimum and catch up the next week. And that brings me to the other key success point: consistency. If I'm dusting and vacuuming weekly, I'm more likely to keep things off surfaces and floors, and any clutter stands out more. At the very least, if I'm doing a thorough job once a month, that gets clutter out of the way then, and not much can build up in a month. Plus, once I've done the thorough job a couple of times and the weekly quick jobs in between, even the more thorough job becomes pretty easy. I can also skip a week on a task or barely do it if I really can't get it done without things getting too bad, as long as it was in good shape before and as long as I pick it up again the next week.

One of the keys to consistency is to find your own "broken window." This refers to the broken windows theory of communities. There's a correlation between broken windows that stay that way and high crime rates. They used to believe that it was probably because if they have high crime rates, the community doesn't have the resources to waste on little things like fixing broken windows. But then they found that if they fixed the broken windows, crime rates went down, even if they didn't do anything else. Little things can make a big difference, and that one change in environment made people more sensitive to other things, and that eventually added up to a drop in crime. So, find the one little change you can maintain that triggers your need to keep everything else in order. There's one housekeeping system that uses the sink -- if you make sure your sink is empty and clean every night, your house will likely stay clean. What works for me is making my bed every day. If I don't make my bed, the extra decorative pillows and pillow shams stay on the floor, which makes it easier to drop clothes on the floor, which makes the room look sloppy, so I accept the sloppiness everywhere. Worse, since I have a featherbed, I have to undo the bed, shake out the featherbed, and remake the bed every day if I want the bed to be comfortable, and if I don't make my bed, I just have to do all that at night before I go to bed, and then I'm tired and more likely to get sloppy about stuff like putting clothes in the hamper. If the bed is totally made every day, the bedroom stays neat, and then any clutter in the rest of the house is so jarring I want to do something about it when I leave my bedroom.

The test will come when I get busy with work and lose myself in a book. Then we'll see if I can keep this going. I tend to find that I can either write or keep a clean house, but not both, but I have high hopes that this method will still work. I do like having things neat.