Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Extreme Spring Cleaning

Organization and keeping a tidy house are not my strong suits. Or Jeremy's for that matter. Not. At. All. We try, sort of. It just doesn't come easily for me and I struggle to find balance between keeping my house clean and my life organized and, well, everything else. Between homeschooling, writing, working, studying, nursing, bouncing, playing, watching, cooking, knitting, music, laundering, changing, bathing, feeding, etc. I am bound to have dust bunnies multiplying. But it isn't the breeding fuzz that is the real problem. No, it is the clutter. I don't know what to do with it. What to keep, what to toss, what to give away and how the heck to store what stays. It is completely overwhelming. We had a system once. It was a good system. It worked. Granted, I had a part time house cleaner/nanny and only 3 kids, not 5, but it worked! Even after the house cleaner was gone it worked. Until it didn't. Which was after we moved and had another daughter. And now another. Oh, and we added homeschooling in there too. Radically changed our income (as in a lot less). And changed our eating. Changed our toys. Changed our parenting. Shoot, changed just about everything. Except the system.

This week we are doing "Extreme Spring Cleaning" and "Extreme Decluttering/Organizing/Decorating." Attempting to anyway. The need is great and so are the demands. I don't get very far before having to do something so unproductive as nurse, make a meal, change a diaper, lay a toddler down for a nap, supervise some homework, get a snack ready, and so on and so forth. Tuesday was day two of this madness and I think we're all pleasantly surprised to discover we're having fun. Not too surprising I've approached this whole thing without much of a plan. I'm a winger. A fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type, get an idea and go for it, making it up as I go along. In an effort to be somewhat prepared I did check out organization books from the library and got some tips and ideas. The first thing I picked up on was to ditch the books. Ok, not all of them but seriously, do only people that actually LIKE cleaning and organizing write those types of books? I think reading and understanding a French novel would be easier for me than some of those books. What are those writers thinking? If I needed a book like that do you actually think I'd alread speak organizian? If I spoke the language then I wouldn't need your book in the first place. The forward on one book made me sneer: "I've always loved to systemize people's lives, to organize a room and make a meal plan and now I get to share that love with you!" Whatever you over-cheerful freak of nature. Seriously, I'm not looking to love the act of organizing just the result, thanks. The books with pictures help and so do the ones that don't try to get inside my head. I can see how identifying why there is clutter can be helpful but anything that makes me feel worse about it is actually going the opposite direction. Guilt is not helpful. Besides, I know why. Too much stuff, not enough storage, small house, big family, bad habits, and higher priorities. All that adds up to mess. Duh.

Some of the books have had good ideas. I've also used flylady.net (she's weird too, no, I'm not putting shoes on to house clean, thanks.), organizedhome.com has some great tips too and I like her book since in her forward she describes her house as being worse than mine at one point in time so I can get her. Unlike the "love to clean" chic. I don't even know her and I want to slap her. I'm picking from here and there what I think will work for us and then throw it together with my own style and ideas and it is kind of working. The most amazing thing is we're having fun. I find this shocking. We've made charts, teams, games and incentives for all of us. Cheering each other on and setting the timer we're getting more done in 15 minute rushes than we have in 3 hours on a weekend.

With our charts, teams, breaks, relays, challenges, stickers and chocolate we're knocking mess out one square inch at a time. Fun activities such as building an obstacle course from the junk we're getting rid of and pickings from the recycle bin (including cans!) keep us moving, energizing us and keeping it fun. It is a family event all the way around, run an obstacle course, celebrate, do a 15 minute declutter rush, celebrate, bag up stuff to go, celebrate, play wii fit, celebrate, organize yarn, celebrate, you get the idea. Every evening we do something fun. The park, movie night, game night, bake cookies, and dream up decorating ideas for when the clutter is taken care of helps keep us motivated. We're painting and planning, figuring out how to make the most of the little space we have. I'm scouring freecycle for shelving and other helpful pieces to turn the house from mess to best dress. Decluttering freely, I'm following the advice from the books and getting rid of stuff, lots of it even if I think the person who gave it to us will be hurt when they come and visit and they don't see it out. If we don't like it, don't use it, it's broken, isn't our style, etc. then it is out of here.

Our obstacle course

I went through the house this morning and took pictures and seeing it on the computer screen made me see it through different eyes. A big part of the problem is that I don't know HOW to organize, what is the best way to store old school work for record keeping, for example? Particularly since we have very little closets and built in storage. What to do with the arts and crafts? Or the piles of music books that I'm not going to get rid of because we actually do use them. There are plenty of things we don't need but I can't even get to some of it to figure that out. I want to post the pictures and get suggestions from those that have that annoying knack of seeing a mess and turning it into a page from Better Homes and Garden. Those of you with the Martha Stewart touch, want to help? I'll swallow my pride and post my in-progress pics for suggestions if you think you can help.

After the house has gone through it's own version of "Biggest Looser," then comes the real hard part, maintaining. According to those that love to clean and organize, we'll be happier for it. I'm pretty happy right now but wouldn't complain to be happier, I guess. But can those sources really be trusted? Guess we'll see. We're working on figuring out how decluttering and more than the most basic of housework will fit into our routine. But for now, one piece of junk out the door at a time.


  1. I actually do like decluttering and organizing. I don't think I'd ever write a book on it, but it can be fun and SO freeing. I'm sure you already know this idea but it's the best ever: you need bins. Keep, toss, donate. The bins are life-saving.

    Also I remember reading somewhere that a parent scanned her kids' art projects so that she didn't have to find a place for everysingleoneofthem.

    And I read about a couple that wants to keep EVERYthing from their relationship.. ticket stubs, pictures, matchbooks, etc. So they have a shoebox and if it fits in the box they can keep it. And then every so often they go through the box and get rid of things that aren't that meaningful anymore.

    I think the first step is to GET RID of things. Go a room at a time and once it's out of the house you can focus on a system for what you have left.

    Let me know if I can come over some weekend and help. :)

  2. See, I knew you were crazy! ;)

    We've been working the bins, more like bags/boxes/laundry basket idea and it does help. At least I don't get overwhelmed trying to find a place for everything right away.

    Yes, come over this weekend! I'd love your company and help!

  3. Looks like you are off to a great start!

    You already realize your higher priorities, so why not think in terms of organizing along those lines? i.e. the stuff that's most important and used most gets the most attention in the organizational process, the most accessible, the best system, etc... You could even rank your stuff as you go through if that helps!

    Also, craigslist has a free section, so I'm told.