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.

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