Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spring Cleaning

A friend of mine called recently and asked for my advice on how to keep her house clean.

Two theories:

(a) She’s trying to flatter me
(b) By sheer coincidence, she has never stopped by my apartment on a bad day

Either way, it caused me to reflect, and we ended up having a really great conversation - some of which I thought was worth sharing. At least, more worth sharing than pictures of my baby’s feet.

I'm not an expert on housecleaning, nor do I claim to be (language provided by my legal counsel). I just have a lower tolerance for clutter than most. Plus, I love doing it. Cleaning relaxes me, the way eating ice cream relaxes me, or watching my DVR episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

So for those who enjoy cleaning, as well as those who view it as a necessary evil, three simple suggestions for keeping a house of order:

1. Sunday Solution:

Shortly after I was married, and with no scientific background, I personally discovered Newton’s Fourth Law, which is:

A clean house, no matter how clean, will become a disaster 10 minutes before you leave for Church.

Does that sound familiar? It didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried on Sunday mornings, or how much earlier I woke up, or even how much I resented anyone who left a mess. Exactly 10 minutes before we left for Church, the place was turned upside down.

(*Editors Note: The word “Church” can be replaced by the word “Anywhere.”)

Well I don’t know how long it took Sir Isaac to crack the laws of physics, but after a few years, I hit upon a solution.

It works like magic.

It’s an ironing board.

About 10 minutes before we leave for Church, I set up the ironing board against a wall. Just before we go, anything that’s out of place gets scooped up and put on top of it. The result is a clean place ready to greet us when we return, with one single, doable, out-of-the way pile of things to be put away.

Anytime I’m overwhelmed by clutter, the ironing board comes to my rescue. Once it’s set it up, I’m 5 minutes from a straightened place, and much more motivated than I would be wandering around piles of clutter, wondering where on earth to begin (which usually ends with me deciding to “begin” by eating more ice cream).

2. The Rule of Three:

This trick works so well for me, I actually gave it a name. “The Rule of Three.” Sort of like “The Theory of Relativity,” except much more important. (No offense to Albert Einstein, but a theory that can prevent the insanity of parenting in an overwhelming mess, is far superior to a theory that explains something silly, like gravitational phenomena.)

Here’s how it works:

As I go throughout my day, any time I enter a different room - for whatever reason - the first thing I do is put three things away. Three things only - It takes no time at all.

Enter family room. Put away remote, crayon, diaper (1,2,3) Then put Leah in her highchair.
Enter kitchen. Put three clean plates back in the cupboard (1,2,3) Then pour cereal.

etc. After awhile, the Rule of 3 becomes automatic.

At first, you won’t notice any difference at all. But the idea is that every time you use a room, you’re leaving it cleaner, rather than messier (even if only a tiny bit), which is sort of contrary to our nature. Over time, everything eventually gets put away, then stays put away, without having to set aside extra time to get it accomplished. It just fits into your day.

Because who has extra time?

Try it for two days. I promise.

3. 20 minute pickup

This last idea I learned from my mom, who truly wrote the book on creating and maintaining a beautiful home.

Growing up, about one evening a week, my mom would announce a “20 minute pickup.”

Here’s why she’s so brilliant: Us kids loved it.

A timer was set for 20 minutes. Music was blasted (Mom was an aerobics instructor - we rocked to the good stuff). Best of all, there was always the promise of a treat when we finished.

The magic (get out your calculators) was, that when 6 people participated a 20 minute pickup, 2 hours of cleaning got done. Two hours of cleaning! In just 20 minutes time! (Take that Einstein)

Jack and I have started doing 20-minute pickups with the girls, and not necessarily as a way to clean the house (Truth be told, when a 2 and 4-year old are “cleaning,” often more harm is done than good). Rather, the goal is to let them discover that cleaning isn’t some dreaded thing that mom barks at you to do (although believe me, they get some of that too). It’s also music. It’s cooperating as a family. It’s the promise of an Oreo.

On a few occasions, they've actually requested a 20-minute pickup. Rewarding, even if they are just looking for free reign of the rags and squirt bottles.


I'm not ashamed to admit that in the time it's taken me to write this, the kids have made a complete disaster of the family room.

Tip #4: Keep your blog posts brief.


Becky said...

I love your sense of humor Katie! I love the tips. I am going to try the rule of 3, for at least 2 days! I think the worst is having Scouts at my house. They destroy it in a matter of seconds. Needless to say we are meeting at the park next week! But really, thanks for the help, every once in a while a girl needs some motivation to keep at it.

Alison said...

you are so smart... so witty... so real!

My favorite rule is... if you leave something of yours in my room, for more than an hour... you are giving me that something. It is then up to me to decide if I want to keep it, or if I would rather donate it.

I'm starting the Rule of 3 tomorrow... for the family. They are going to LOVE you.

Kristin said...

Absolutely brilliant. I would like to request similiar posts in the future since I'm totally nervous about my impending parenthood days... What works, what doesn't, how to keep your sanity, all of that. Keep it coming. And then maybe you could put it all in a book and title it "Deep In It For Parents" to accompany your "Deep", "Deeper", "Deepest". Kind of like a Chicken Soup series.

Breena said...

I have always thought that Susan and Mother Theresa must have gone to the same school of parenting. Our 20-minute pickups were done to Jock Jams and MC Hammer. We often came home from school to a "folding party", refering to the mountain of clean laundry sitting on mom's bed that we all "got" to help fold. I LOVED this until I was about 8 and my best friend next door informed me that this wasn't actually a party, but really a chore. My current version of the ironing board trick involves an empty laundry basket and a candle. If it's decluttered and smells good, who cares if it's really clean.

Laura Stringham said...

hmmm. i will have to try your rules. my house is a constant disaster and i've all but given up on cleanliness for the next couple decades or so. we also do the 5 minute pick up in my house before dinner and such. 20 seems like a marathon in comparison, but what's life without a challenge?

Krista said...

I have debated asking your mom to come live in my basement (I haven't ever told her or Jane, so keep it a secret) just so my basement would be beautiful, and I would feel the need to keep the rest of my house in immaculate condition. It seems that I could ask any of you. Are you moving to Utah any time soon?

Susan said...

Great post and great ideas! I'm especially impressed that your Sunday clutter fits on your ironing board....most parents with little ones would need to set up the ping-pong table.

krissiecook said...

Funny, I always thought the Rule of Three was that each toddler in your home would get 3 items out for every one you put away.

me said...

I love to read your posts! You always have me laughing and have such great ideas! I will have to start with the rule of 3 tomorrow...I'm too tired tonight:)

Instead of an ironing board, I use a laundry basket and then Alex and I set a timer to see how fast we can put everything away! Alex has a blast doing it and I enjoy the help cleaning!

Flem said...

This was no flattery. Your apartment really does look clean and organized. I have been there on bad days, and the truth is, your bad days are like our best days. I just can't get it boiled down like you have. BUT I am going to start the 1-2-3 rule. I am starting with my hotel room and I will let you know if it is still clean when I come back. Hopefully the maid won't trash the place in my absence.

Lorie said...

I love you and I love the ironing board idea!!

We have 15 minute pickup before bed every night, but 20 minutes and an Oreo sound o much better!

Dawn said...

#1 I promise to try your motives, but I would need my queen size bed to pile everything on, because even though I use my extra wide ironing board daily, it's half covered with stuff already.

#2 Great idea, but as I'm getting Reed his sipper cup, he's pouring his bowl of cereal all over the floor. Maybe I should have the sipper cup filled BEFORE I go to bed?

#3 Any time I set the timer for clean up Bella bursts into tears saying she hates the timer. Then I turn on the music, and all they do is dance, certainly not clean.

I also didn't grow up with a mother that kept a spotless house like your mom. Jeff's the only young adult I've ever met that vacuumed his baseboards behind his bed weekly.

Katie and Jeff said...

How many people are going to have to tell you you should write a book before you actually do it! Just another topic you could write about! I can't believe how you make cleaning up after 3 small childeren sound easy and fun!

Emmers said...

Alli and I love reading your blog because it is so hilarious. I can't wait until someone finally figures out how hilarious it is that they pay you and sponsor you to keep writing.

senategirl said...

I'm trying the rule of 3 and it helps me keep cleaning too. Great idea!

Lorie said...

After doing my regular Friday cleaning today I am wondering if you have any tips on teaching my husband the rules of 3.

Jeannie said...

Implementing "20 minute pickup" in T- minus 10 minutes...

You're brilliant.

Leslie said...

My cleaning strategy has been to ignore the mess until the kids or bed. Safe to say it's not been working. I'll have to try some of your tips instead.

Humpty Dumpty

My dad passed away 16 years ago, but I still consider Father's Day an occasion to celebrate. I plan a favorite dinner and pick out ...