Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Finding a home. Finding your head.

What does one do when one doesn't have a house to tidy?

Write a blog post about it.

Our beloved little house has gone on the market today. I'm stepping off the cliff and hoping to land in a larger, sunnier, more-storage-space and with-a-garage home. I'm following the plan. Life has not gone to plan at all in recent years and this is one thing I am hanging on to - we always planned to move before Reuben started school (and before Esther needed a bed to fit in her bedroom), so move we shall. But enough about that, I need to talk to you about cleaning.

It is absolutely incredible. My house looks amazing. I did have a chat with my estate agent about how I couldn't possibly create some kind of show home (after all, we live here, and people are only buying the house, right?), it's enough just to get my children fed three times a day, some days. But I have been quietly working away over the last week, tidying, cleaning and the magical "de-cluttering." A couple of angels friends came in last week and helped with much of that hard work*, and, as I have always found, once the cleaning bug hits I can't shake it. Which is helpful. 
*and of course my mother is a regular tidying angel in this house

So the house is transformed. Floors are clear. Sideboards, tables, bench tops and shelves are clear. Bedroom chairs that attract clothes are clear. But never mind the house, you should see the transformation in me.

It just feels so good to have things tidy. I function so much better in a tidy environment. I can think more clearly. I have time to do things. I have the headspace to do things. I can delve in to other projects that don't require a cloth, rubber gloves, or picking small items up off the floor. I walk through the house with a lightness that is foreign to me these days, and face the mornings with a little less heaviness. The house is transformed. I am transformed.

Do you work this way? I don't think everyone does. I know some can function just as effectively and happily in chaos, but I just find it so hard to believe. Or understand. I'm aware that the need for order is a very significant part of the way I'm made, and I am happy to own that, and not feel bad about it, though it can make life harder. I remember years ago reading something about being a mother of small children - someone wrote that you need to be able to just lie down, take a break, rest, spend time with your baby, even if the dirty nappies are piling up around you. I knew that would be a massive challenge for me, and made a mental note. I don't know if I have succeeded, though I have learnt to let things go a little.

I like thinking about what's not working in my house when it comes to organisation and chaos, and working out how to solve it. I was given a book recently (at my request!) called The Modern Woman's Guide to Domestic Bliss, by Kirsten Matthew. I have the occasional conversation with a friend or pick up the odd thing off the internet. I'm not an expert, but I thought I'd write a of a list of ideas that come to mind, in case you would like to have a bit of a spring clean, and sort out your cluttered house and cluttered head in one hit. Even just one idea might make a difference. Try one.

And, I have found even just reading about tidying motivates me. Reading the Guide to Domestic Bliss is a tightrope walk between motivation and guilt (you want me to clean that every month?! I don't even do it once a year!). Take the motivation.

Do you have any tips/habits/brilliant ideas to help keep a house tidy and organised? I'm sure you do - they may seem inspired to you, or just ordinary, but either way I'm sure they will help someone else.

PS - I don't do all these things!

  • Tell your friends you're moving house and ask them to come and help you tidy (just kidding!).
  • No matter how messy everything else is, clean your sink every day so it shines. It makes such a difference (I do it barely ever, but it looks really good on those days).
  • Do the speed-tidy that Kent and I invented. Pretend you have (important) guests arriving in 7 minutes and do a fast surface tidy. 
  • Every day spend a couple of minutes on the areas that get out of control fast (for me it's my desk, a particular bench in the kitchen, and the chest by the front door).
  • Take all your fridge magnets and photos off the fridge just to see how it feels. I like or need everything on my fridge, but can not believe what a relief it is to see such a clear, tidy space. I don't know how I will manage this permanently, perhaps try to rein them in to just one area on the fridge.
  • Clean out your fridge - chuck the old food and wipe the shelves down.
  • Clean out your cutlery drawers. Wipe the drawer, wash the trays, and pass on any old cutlery that you never use.
  • Put baskets for kids' clothes in the bathroom, to help corral them. Even if they don't get put away that evening, at least they are in a tidy spot, they're separate from their sibling's, baskets are nicer to look at, and it's easy transportation to get them back to their rooms.
  • Give everything a home. Then you know how to tidy it away. Have a place for the things that don't have a home - though you may like to consider if you really need those things at all. I have a couple of bowls for all the little bits that seem to come with home and child ownership. Random screws that may be crucial, bits broken off toys, things that just can't seem to find their way home, things that I don't know what they are. Ugh. It's ugly. But the bowls are pretty.
  • Try and keep a handle on your kids' at-home activities. When Reuben was obsessed with old cords and cables and chargers etc., I got a big box to keep them in and parked it under a lounge chair while he was in the midst of the obsession. Now he is really in to cutting and sticking which is really messy. A friend suggested giving him a container to put all the rubbish in while he works, and I have allocated his old nappy storage shelf to keep all his cut and stuck creations in. For now.
  • My mum has been doing her housework the same way since she was first married. One small job each day, most days. Dusting one day, vacuuming another, the bathroom another. She reckons it's the only way. Your housework only ever comes in short bursts so it's never too big a task. And it's a habit, which makes it so much easier. I read a blog post with this idea recently, and all the readers were the praising the writer like she was some kind of ... Goddess. Heck, that's old news. My mum should write a blog. Well, she should have in her peak household management days. Before the internet. 
  • She was also given a tip as she ventured in to married life to do the ironing every day, and not let it pile up. I don't know if this means anything to anyone, does anyone out there iron...? I must say I now find the next tip more helpful...
  • Keep your iron and ironing board in your bedroom, so that when you whip something out in the morning that could do with a quick iron, you don't have to trek to the laundry/back hallway cupboard. Love this idea.
  • Clean, tidy and de-clutter one room immaculately, and don't give a thought to the chaos that is the rest of your house until you feel like doing it again.
  • Scan your childrens' artwork and keep only a few originals. Print them out in small to hang on the wall.
  • Get rid of things you don't need. Just do it. Pass it on to people who do need it, if it's good enough. Pretend you're moving house. Go through your kitchen cupboards, your clothes, your kids' books, your bathroom cupboards. Get it out of the house. It will feel good.

Think about what's not working in your home, and see if you can come up with a solution. Sometimes we don't realise that something's quietly driving us crazy. Or write about it in the comments below and see how the rest of us can help.

I'm filing this post under the label "I am a Parent" as for me it's being a parent that gives me less time, less headspace, and more mess.


  1. Fascinating post!! I just recently read "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. The first month of her year long project was about increasing her energy levels and as part of that she went into decluttering mode. She also had a list of tips to live by, some of which have been quite revolutionary for me – so simple but so good. The best one is - identify the problem. My bedroom had been annoying me for months and when I stopped and actually identified the problems I was able to rearrange my shoes and put a hook on the back of the door for my dressing gown in about 5 minutes and at no cost and now find the space much calmer and less annoying than before. Another one of her tips is everyday to tackle one nagging task, you know that great long list of things weighing on your mind, well just do them one at a time – it’s amazing how energised you feel when you actually start knocking these things over.
    Your post also made me think of a couple of things I do to keep things tidy and under control. I love anything that belongs in the kitchen but have limited storage space and so I have a ‘one out, one in’ policy when it comes to buying kitchen things. I have to get rid of something from the kitchen of an equivalent size before I bring something new in. It makes me stop and think about whether I really need whatever I’m coveting and what I will have to give up to get it.
    Finally I have a Thursday night manic tidying session. I get home from helping to run youth group and am usually a bit hyped from hanging out with teenagers so I channel my excess energy into a 1 hour cleaning and tidying burst. I get my washing done, empty the dishwasher, put all the weeks mess away where it belongs and then get on to cleaning. It’s fab, it gets me tired and ready for bed and it means I hit the weekend with a tidy house – nice!

    1. Very helpful advice from Gretchen Rubin, thanks! And from you!

  2. I had to laugh at the bowls for randoms. I have a couple of those stationed around the house, and they are full of parts that look like they should be important and I have no idea where they have come from or what they do, but the minute it gets thrown out, you can bet I will find out what it was meant for. Odd socks is another - I don't know where they disappear to, but if I throw out the odd sock, its mate turns up.

  3. I love this post and I love this list. I have been working on my own list, coming from a similar experience - we have spent 18 months as nomads and I've had time to think about how to organise my future (now present!) house.

    One of my best stolen tips in my post comes from you, Angela! Label leftovers and bits and pieces in the fridge, with the label FACING THE FRONT. Amazing how much difference this makes - I didn't really believe you at first :)

    More from all the people I've stolen from here :) http://sacraparental.com/2013/10/13/the-sacrament-of-housework-4-my-11-best-stolen-home-organisation-tips/

  4. Good luck with the house moving - hope it all goes smoothly and you don't have to keep the house looking like a show home for long!

    I know what you mean about loving having a tidy house - although visitors to my house would never know it from the mess it's usually in!

    I love your last tip - really need to do that with some of our toys before Christmas is upon us. It would make things so much easier when you actually move house too.

  5. Have you come across Fly Lady? She recommends the polished sink too. I try to do it, and polish my counter tops too. It's so nice to come downstairs to them all sparkly in the morning. I don't always manage it though.
    I'm with you though, I definitely function in a tidy environment. Unfortunately my two-year-old is always at war with me on this. When she sees the living room tidy, she deliberately goes around messing it up. She actually admitted to me the other day that she likes it messy. Sigh. I do a big tidy in the evening after she's gone to bed and enjoy it for the five minutes before I go to bed.

    1. Ha! Well let's hope *that* changes! It's hard work.
      I'm about to google Fly Lady....