Monday, October 12, 2009

Dreaming of Cleaning!

I know for a fact that a pregnant woman eating chocolate before bedtime is a sure recipe for a nightmare during sleep but I could not resist sharing a bar of 'Green & Black's Organic Butterscotch' chocolate with my husband as we enjoyed our mugs of hot chocolate the other evening. That night I was dreaming of cleaning but I did not know where to start - my house was in a mess, a trail of chaos and clutter started at the kitchen door and scenes of total disorder greeted me in every room. One particular kitchen drawer was in need of cleaning and reorganizing but I was unable to take on this task for crawling out of the drawer was a snake! Now this is not the nightmarish part of my dream - I have in reality had two encounters with snakes inside my house! - no, the nightmare for me was the fact that I had just spent two days spring cleaning my home! I was very relieved to wake up and discover that it had all been a dream! It was very satisfying to find a house that was clean, tidy, neat and ordered and to pull open my kitchen utensil drawer to see everything organized and no, there was no evidence of a snake!

I have blogged about nesting and now I am blogging about cleaning which can be a nightmare for some people, they dream of having a clean and tidy house but the reality is toddlers who kiss the window you have just cleaned, a husband who loves the convenience of a recently cleared benchtop - somewhere to put down the drill he was going to return to his workshop when he was interrupted by a phone call - maybe one day I'll be tempted to use the drill to mix my cake batter! Once upon a time, these sort of incidents would cause me undue stress but I have been able to let go of my desire for the perfect home by realizing that a home is for living in, not a showpiece to impress the neighbours. I'd rather be 'family proud' than 'house proud' and that sometimes means allowing the family to make messes- glue and glitter on the dining room table, as children produce creative works, spills in the kitchen as they learn to cook, blankets pulled out of linen cupboards to make 'houses' in the living room during imaginative play. All of these 'messes' can be cleaned up, it is just a case of teaching children that 'clean up' is part of the process. This means when it comes to tackling the bigger cleaning tasks, the job is not so arduous. Over the years I have found some principles and methods that have helped me keep messes to a minimum and have a home that is pleasant to live in because it is kept clean and is in order. I'd love to share them with you.

1. De clutter but allow yourself some corners to arrange the things you love!
Being English I was always drawn to the country, cluttered look - I loved china, vintage tinware, Victorian lamps and trinkets, pictures and photo frames and much more. A few years ago I realized it was all too much and decided to have a big clean out. I decided what I would keep and what would go - the tins on top of the fridge were dust attractors, yes, they had lovely designs but I was not using them in practical ways. The few tins I kept became containers for buttons and thread spools and went into the craft cupboard. Pottery casserole dishes I never used which sat in the back of kitchen cupboard went too, as did the crystal whiskey glasses I loved because they sparkled but we never used ( we do not drink whiskey!) I went through every room, through every cupboard and was fairly ruthless, the same applied for toys, books and clothes.

Allowing myself some corners to arrange the things I love was fun - this involved choosing appropriate places for precious possessions. I created a family gallery on the wall above the piano in the formal living room. I grouped similar frames together- my old black and white photos look lovely in pewter frames. An old Singer sewing machine table is also used to display these frames. Another family gallery is to be found in the hallway, here wooden frames mix with some of my husband's favourite pieces such as old compasses and a reproduction telescope I bought back for him on a trip to England. Don't forget your husband's treasures - it is easy to display all our feminine pieces - find somewhere in your home to display more masculine items that reflect his tastes and interests too.

I do love my 'Willow Tree' figurines - most were gifts from family and friends. I love to collect those that relate to my life - among the ones in my collection are 'The angel of Learning', The angel of Good Health and many of those depicting family life such as 'Two Alike' - my sister in England sent me this figurine after I had my twin girls. She had no idea I collected Willow Tree! I also have the Nativity scene which I display during the Christmas season.

When it came to collections I made a conscious decision of what I would collect - I love the Willow tree figurines and angels but decided to only collect those which had specific meaning for me. This helps to reduce clutter. Perhaps china is your weakness - if it is starting to take over your home could you bear to reduce your collection by choosing to collect just your favourite ranges or colours?
I chose one corner of my kitchen to display my reproduction scales, pots of herbs and freshly baked cakes. The cake does not stay on display for long! This is a Paw Paw cake - recipe coming soon! I try to keep all the other surfaces clutter free.

2. Have a place for everything and try to keep everything in its place.

Homeschool and office clutter is always an issue but keeping it all in one area makes life much easier. When we extended our home and built a new bathroom my husband gave me two options for the old bathroom which was located just off the dining room - a walk in pantry or an office/library. I was very tempted to choose the pantry but I am so pleased I went with the office. All our homeschool books line the shelves. Resources are stored in clear plastic boxes, clearly labelled and easy to locate. The filing cabinet, desk and computer are in here. It can all be closed off by a sliding door. I also relocated the family noticeboards and front of fridge paraphernalia to the office (no more clutter on front of the fridge which has to be taken down for cleaning!) Cork floorboards were attached to the wall to create huge pin boards for photos, notices, calendars and cards.

I've shared about my craft cupboard before, click on this label on the sidebar to learn more about how I organize all my craft supplies - having it all in one place close to the area where you actually use it is very practical and keeps your wardrobes free for storing clothes!
If you are not blessed with a separate study or home office find an area in your home for an office area but I would avoid bedrooms which ought to be restful places. We used to have a desk in our bedroom in a previous home. This was in the early days of having internet access and it was always failing which meant having to take the telephone technician down to the bedroom. Tip - to avoid embarrassment ensure you pick up all clothing (especially underwear) from the floor before the technician arrives! I'm speaking from experience here!

3. Have a method for cleaning

Whether you are just doing a quick but thorough tidy up or major spring cleaning, a method cuts through all the madness! I use two methods, one I first read about in an article in an American home magazine some years ago, which I find mentioned on some blogs too - the 'Mount Vernon' method as used to clean the estate of America's first President George Washington, which involves starting at the entrance - the door where your visitors first arrive and cleaning each room thoroughly before moving onto the next. I worked through my home in two days in the following order.

Day 1

1. The patio - no point in having a tidy kitchen if all the dust and debris is trekked in from the patio or your visitors trip over the shoes in the entrance way - something I am constantly having to educate my children about, as we operate a shoe free household- this reduces the dirt trekked in but can create 'shoe mountain and gumboot alley' outside the door! Anyone else identify with this not so scenic attraction at the doorstep?! Baskets are provided but I'm hoping to find a better method for shoe storage on the patio. I have some friends who use an old fashioned, wooden wine rack which keeps all their pairs of shoes together.

2. The kitchen- On my spring cleaning day I cleared off bench tops in order to clean behind and under appliances. I prioritized drawers and cupboards in need of deep cleaning, the rest just needed wiping out. The fridge was given priority over the oven on this particular day, on the next deep cleaning day it will be the oven's turn. I did clean the stove top and polish up the stainless steel appliances.

3. Dining room - Windows were cleaned in the morning when the sunlight streaming in showed up all the smears and hand prints. I have lots of windows - full length glass doors and French doors - if I was to attempt all window cleaning on the same day I would be exhausted- this is where the Mount Vernon method works a treat. Cobwebs were vacuumed away, as were the culprits, those pesky daddy long legs. The bigger scarier spiders (not scary to me!- I'm used to them!) such as the Huntsmen are allowed to stay because they help to keep other insects under control. Tables and buffet units were decluttered and polished and children were deployed to return all tools to the husband's workshop! Floors were vacuumed and finally mopped.

4. Living room - Lots more polishing in this room and a sofa to vacuum but because this room is mainly used in the evening it tends to stay tidier, except for the blanket cities which can sometimes appear when mum is writing blog posts - I suspect one is under construction right now!

Day 2

5. Hallway, Laundry and Linen cupboards

6. Bedrooms, room by room As a result of my days of nesting many of the cupboards and wardrobes were already decluttered and organized. On spring cleaning day I just had to clean and my oldest son told me to stay out of his room - he would organize it and clean it himself- his messy little brother has been relocated and big brother now has his own room. He wanted to work out important stuff such as the placement of speakers for his surround sound system. I was happy to comply- less cleaning for me!

We found an inexpensive wire wardrobe system purchased at Aldi to work well. Cable ties are used to hold the compartments together and stop the shelves from collapsing which can be a problem with cheaper systems. I try to hang as many clothes as possible - this means drawers stay tidier. I created a 'Star Wars' display in the corner of my younger son's wardrobe, as I did not want to clutter up his bedroom with lots of posters or different themes. I like to keep bedrooms restful places for sleep - too many posters, toys, mobiles and clutter in a bedroom can over stimulate a child - it is no wonder some children have trouble getting to sleep when there is so much going on in their room, so I keep the decor simple without being stark. Consider finding an alternate area for displaying a child's different treasures if his room is becoming too hectic. Could you create a corner in the games or rumpus room for a display of his sporting treasures and trophies? Perhaps you could create a rock hound's refuge in the corner of the family room putting his rock collection on display for visitors to enjoy?

A shallow basket helps to keep the surface of a child's bedroom chest of drawers tidy and his possessions organized. This also prevents stuff from falling down the back and when it comes to polishing the top all I need to do is remove the basket - not every single item. If you give him a deeper basket he will fill it with stuff and he will not be able to find the things he needs!

7. Bathrooms I have two bathrooms to clean but because they are new with streamlined surfaces and cleverly designed storage they are much easier to clean. See my post on 'The Family Bathroom' for more pictures of our main bathroom. Don't forget to declutter your bathroom cabinets too - how many of us have half used bottles of lotions and potions tucked away in here. Find your favourite product ranges and make them your signature scents. This also helps to create a co ordinated look if you choose to have the bottles and tubes on display.

The second method I use almost on a daily basis is Emilie Barnes 's 15 minute manager of your home approach which involves allocating 15 minutes to various tasks that would otherwise be neglected. Choose one drawer, one shelf or one corner which needs to be tidied- I often choose the cutlery drawer or one shelf in the pantry. This means when you come to deep clean a room you do not have to sort and clean out every single cupboard and drawer.

4. Allocate a time for cleaning every day and allocate tasks and responsibilities to specific individuals.

My house would not stay clean and tidy without us all working together so we share the workload and set specific times for household chores.

Breakfast dishes are cleared immediately and tables wiped down before weetbix has time to go hard. One child is responsible for taking down composting and feeding and checking the chicken's water (combining tasks like this saves time). Another child takes down recycling. The oldest son feeds the dog on return from milking (my teens leave for work at 4.45am each weekday morning! They also milk two afternoons together - I have to take this into account when organizing our household schedule) The family dog is also employed at the farm!

Laundry is also shared out, older bigger children hang out bigger stuff. Younger ones peg out the smaller stuff... this means no sheets are dragged along the ground! My teenage son does all his own washing - this gives me time to tackle the folding and ironing and frees me up to help teach the younger ones the basics - how to sort clothes, operate the machine and peg out properly - still working on this one!

Beds are made in the morning, rooms tidied and bathrooms checked and cleaned. We aim to have these tasks completed by 8.30am, because we are early risers this is achievable - except on Saturdays when we leave home at 7.30 am and drive to the city to do our grocery shopping and attend ice skating lessons and maybe a garage sale or two (or more- it is spring and there are lots of bargains to be had at the garage sales at the moment - the trick is to only buy what you actually need rather than other people's clutter from their spring cleaning efforts!)

We always have a quick tidy up through the house in the late afternoon before dad arrives home- blankets from tent houses are returned to cupboards, toys tossed into baskets, books returned to shelves. The table is set and I always try to have dinner ready. It makes my husband's return from work so much more pleasant when he returns to a house that is tidy and in order. He is able to relax and enjoy his evening with the family.

We have a roster for after dinner kitchen clean up, older children supervise a younger sibling, except on Friday nights when they have youth group. I use this night as training night for the 9 and 12 year old. The floor is mopped every evening - this is a daily task when you have white tiles!

5. Find the right tools for the job

For me these are:-

1. A vacuum cleaner that is lightweight, easy to carry and manoeuvre My house is fairly big and the old upright model I used to lug around made this task hard work. When it needed replacing we chose a Dyson which I love, no bags to empty or replace. The filter is easy to clean. As we have tiles rather than carpets, an upright model was no longer necessary. The Dyson's special hard floor tool is great for avoiding scratches to tiles and wooden floors. I do not miss cleaning carpets!

2. Environmentally friendly cleaners which offer good value for money with pleasant scents which make cleaning tasks pleasurable. No chemical fumes to inhale, no pollution of our septic system and groundwater. I do use baking soda and vinegar on occasion but find I need to use copious amounts of water for rinsing to avoid a chalky residue on surfaces. Anyone know how to avoid this without the need for lots of rinsing? I often use lemon juice to wipe down the stainless steel surfaces though! Our household water is in limited supply at the moment so I'm having to be careful about how much water I use when cleaning. I have tried different brands of commercial 'green' cleaners but my favourite by far is the 'Method' range found at Woolworths. The shower cleaner works really well, makes my bathroom smell heavenly and saves me lots of time scrubbing. Their wood polish is lovely too, it smells of sweet almonds and reminds me of 'Bakewell' tarts from England.

3. Nappies for cleaning cloths - the old fashioned terry toweling type
I bought 3 dozen at a garage sale for $5 and they have proved to be invaluable. So absorbent, they make wonderful cloths for cleaning and mopping up spills. We also use them to shuffle across newly mopped floors if we need to cross them. And to clean them they are simply tossed into the washing machine.

That's all Folks! The points that I have listed out are the methods of cleaning and organization that help keep me sane and my house in a state of reasonable order and cleanliness. I like to strike a balance - I have been in homes where everything was in such perfect order that I suspected obsession and the pursuit of perfectionism, which is very hard to live with and can make your family and guests feel very uncomfortable. I used to have an aunt (not a real aunt but a friend of my parents) who stood over me as a child with her dustpan and brush in hand ready to sweep up any crumbs from the biscuit she had just given to me. She would sweep up every crumb as it fell to the floor! This same lady had never removed the plastic sheets from her couch which made for slippery, sweaty uncomfortable seating at her home! She never had children by the way! And I have been in homes where you cannot find a place to sit down, with laundry piles on every sofa and chair, last week's newspapers littering tables. Disordered and unkempt homes where clutter reigns supreme are not pleasant places to spend time in either.

Somewhere between these two extremes is a homemaker who loves to keep her house clean, tidy and functional where the people who live there can locate what they need without calling out a search and rescue party.... and sometimes the solutions are so simple - a key holder at the door is one remedy that comes to mind. Her home has good storage systems and less stuff... for me, this is what has made cleaning and organizing so much easier. She implements routines that work for her family (lots of trial and error involved) and make housekeeping a much more pleasant and 'doable' task.
It may mean giving up some indulgences such as collecting 'country treasures' and being much more disciplined - choosing only what you truly love to display. Do not neglect those finishing touches which take a home from a clinical show home - the row of 3 succulent spiky plants in square pots on the coffee table look, you see in real estate brochures to a cherished family home which reflects the personalities of the people who live there whilst avoiding clutter on every wall and surface. This involves letting go of sentimentality - the past ( I recently tossed out all my old O.T college files - I have never needed to refer to notes from Anatomy and Physiology classes or old wheelchair assessment forms!) and too much forward planning - the future the 'this might come in useful one day' kind of thinking.

And in conclusion - I also need to be around to ensure that all of the above can happen. Too many commitments outside of the home and the system fails. I don't even need to leave home for this to happen, too much time at the computer and it does not take long for things to fall apart, which is why I am finishing this post and signing off and returning to my real post! My homemaker's post - one I am glad to occupy.
I hope this has helped in some way and let me know what works for you! And to finish off with a flourish some words of inspiration from an unknown author.

The beauty of the house is order
The blessing of the house is contentment
The glory of the house is hospitality
The crown of the house is Godliness

With love and joy,


white_lilly said...

Thank you for sharing your post on cleaning I really enjoyed it and have found some helpful tips. Your home sounds very cozy and inviting. We are renovating so my house is upside down at the moment, but I'm looking forward to making it warm and inviting again. I also like your words of inspiration at the bottom of the page:)

Fruitful Harvest said...

Hi Ann~
I came by earlier and left a comment...I don't see it?
I came back to finish reading your great post!
It was a long one!
Well its bed time here so I'm off!
Your bathroom looks just lovely~


Chookie said...

I use Flylady. Decluttering is the hardest part; I'd rather spend time doing something else! My elder son's room is also hard to organise as he is a squirrel. And DH grew up in the house where there was nowhere to sit (and still isn't). He's a wonderful godly husband and father, but not so good with tidiness. I find we get by unless I'm sick.

Renata said...

What a great post! I love Emilie Barnes & her books & keep a few. I'm learning & trialing different systems that work in our family. My children love job charts! Your pictures are just beautiful & your house looks lovely.

Jen said...

I am sensitive to strong smelling scents when cleaning so use Enjo cloths. I think there is a rep in the major centre near you. Other microfibre cloths may work just as well.

Jen in NSW


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