Growing up, I was known for being two things: 1) A procrastinator, and 2) kind of a slob. My room was always a disaster, and my mantra was “I’ll do it later.”
Once I got married and had my own house to manage, I improved significantly. I learned that I actually really dislike clutter, and I don’t like the feeling of living in a mess. Who knew.
However, I still couldn’t seem to keep an orderly house. I’ve mentioned on the blog many times that I haaaate cleaning, and my inner procrastinator kept putting off the unpleasant tasks until a later date. Meanwhile, tasks that should have only taken a few minutes snowballed into days’ worth of work, leaving me overwhelmed and even less eager to tackle it. Our home was not the sanctuary I wanted it to be, and I had to scramble any time people were coming over. My husband was frustrated with me, and I was ashamed of my housekeeping.
If you hate cleaning, too, check out these 12 Unique Ways to Enjoy Housework (Even When You Hate It!)
After reading several books on cleaning and homemaking, I finally realized that I didn’t need a complete personality overhaul. All I needed was a little discipline and a few good habits. Small steps to make a big difference.
I’m not going to pretend that my house is suddenly immaculate. It’s not. I will never be a clean freak or Super Housekeeper Woman. I just won’t. And I’m okay with that, and my husband is okay with that.
But because of these seven habits, I finally keep a home that is clean and tidy enough to be comfortable, relaxing, and welcoming. A home that is inviting. A home that provides rest and energy for my family. And a home that I’m not ashamed to welcome others into. And I’m pretty excited about that.
If you can relate to my struggle and are housekeeping-challenged, work on implementing these seven daily disciplines into your routines. I promise, they work!
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7 Habits I Should Have Adopted Years Ago
Cleaning up right after dinner
After working all day, cooking dinner, and then eating said meal, I definitely did not feel like jumping right into washing dishes and cleaning off counters. I would clear off the table and put all the food away, of course, and once we got a dishwasher I would load that. But all the hand wash stuff? The counters? The dishes and gadgets that needed to be put away? Those could wait. I was tired.
When I decided that things needed to change, this was one of the first changes I made. I started making sure the dishwasher was already unloaded so I could put dishes in right after dinner. I put away everything that I used to prepare the meal. I washed all the dishes and wiped down the counters. It became part of my evening ritual to clean up right away and then spend the rest of the evening playing and relaxing with my family.
Even though the last thing I want to do after a full day is continue working, and though everything in me says, “Sit down! Put your feet up! Take a break!”, I really do prefer this habit over my old system. I don’t feel any more inclined to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen an hour later, and saving them until the next day leads to that overwhelming pile of work that I mentioned in the introduction. Plus, it is so rewarding to go to bed with a clean kitchen, and much easier to relax in the evening.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I used to have a tendency to put off all housework-related tasks until my two days at home (I work part-time). After I had Aidan, I noticed this system didn’t work very well. Once I started blogging, I knew this system wasn’t going to work. By the time I ran all our errands, scheduled appointments, cooked meals, took care of Aidan, and worked on my blog, that left very small windows of time for housework. Gone were the days when I could spend hours catching up on a week’s worth of housework. Something had to change.
I started being more diligent about regular daily maintenance. As I said, I now clean up right after dinner. I no longer put off unpleasant tasks, I take care of them right away. I don’t let laundry pile up, I do a little every day. I make Aidan pick up all his toys every night before bed. And now, thanks to my Roomba, my house gets vacuumed every day, too!
Doing these small daily tasks prevents those housework snowballs that quickly leave me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. It also means that my house is now almost always company-ready, and I don’t have to panic at the thought of unexpected guests! (Reasonably so, anyway. I know it wouldn’t be by some people’s standards, but it’s clean enough for the average person!)
Smart multitasking AKA “While I Wait cleaning”
I know, I said in this post that I stopped multitasking, and now here I’m saying that I started multitasking. The difference is in the kind of tasks that I’m multitasking. I’m not talking about trying to do a million things at once. That’s the kind of multitasking that was causing chaos and stress.
The kind of multitasking I’m talking about here is smart multitasking, or as I heard it called once, “While I Wait” cleaning. This is the kind of multitasking where I unload the dishwasher while I wait for my pan to heat up. Or I wash a few dishes while I’m browning the meat. Or I wipe down the bathroom sink while I brush my teeth. Small, short tasks that I can do while I’m at a stand-still with another job.
I used to just stand around, waiting for the next step. Then I came across this idea of “while I wait” cleaning, and all of sudden I found dozens of little 5-minute time slots that I could use more productively. I’m saving time and getting more done simply by using tiny moments of downtime more effectively.
Cleaning as I go – “Minute Rule”
This one is closely related to the previous three. As I mentioned before, I used to save up all my cleaning tasks to do when I had big chunks of time. Two kids and a blog later, I no longer have big chunks of time. That is a totally foreign concept to me now. Instead, I have had to learn the art of “cleaning as I go.” When I see dishes lying around, I put them in the dishwasher. When I see clothes on the floor, I put them in the hamper. When I see something that needs to be done, if at all possible, I do it right then.
However, I also have a bit of housework ADD, and this can easily lead to job creep. You know, where you start out wiping off the counter and you end up reorganizing all your cabinets and pantry? That happened to me a lot once I made a commitment to stop procrastinating.
To balance this out, I started implementing the “Minute Rule.” I read this on a blog somewhere (I can’t remember where), and it’s genius. The writer of the post said that when faced with a task, she asks herself, “Will it take me less than a minute to take care of this right now?” If yes, then she does it. If it’s going to take longer than that, then she schedules it for another time.
This combination of cleaning as I go tempered by the minute rule has worked wonders for our home, my schedule, and my overall mood.
Making my bed
I hate to even admit this, but until a few years ago, I never made my bed. For real. My philosophy on the whole bed-making front was, “Why bother when it’s just going to get unmade tonight?” It seemed like a waste of time and effort to me. But then again … my whole room was a mess, so what was one unmade bed in the grand scheme of that chaos?
As an adult, I read one productivity expert after another tout the benefits of making the bed every day. I couldn’t believe how many highly successful and productive people mentioned making their beds. I didn’t see what making your bed had to do with anything.
I finally tried it out, and I quickly became a convert to the making-your-bed lifestyle. I don’t go crazy with any hospital corners or carefully tucked sheets or anything, but I have been amazed at the difference a quick rearrangement of the covers makes in the appearance of our bedroom and my mood. The simple act of making my bed makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, it makes our room look more put together, which is a feeling that brings me peace, and it actually makes me more productive the rest of the day.
Charles Duhigg explains this phenomenon in his book The Power of Habit. He calls it a “keystone habit” – a small habit that, once developed, leads to other more productive habits throughout the day. It was fascinating to read about, and I believe it!
While I needed to develop the discipline to do certain tasks more often – like doing the dishes, picking up the house, and washing a load of laundry every day – I also needed to do less each day. I was starting the day full of energy and plans to conquer a to-do list a mile long but finishing the day exhausted with a mess everywhere I looked. I was biting off more than I could chew, starting too many tasks than I had the time to finish and leaving a string of half-finished projects in my wake. Dishes filled the sink, laundry baskets spilled out everywhere, and dinner was a frantic scramble. I thought being more productive meant doing more, but I found that the more I tried to do, the less I actually accomplished.
Learning to time-block my day revealed to me that I had more items on my to-do list than hours in the day. I simply did not have the time to do everything I started. Once I began time-blocking, I was able to create a realistic plan for the day, stay on task, and finish what I started.
Now that I’ve developed the habit, I’m more at peace, I feel more in control of my day, and I’m more productive than ever! The best part is that I actually spend more quality time with the kids because I’m not buried under a mountain of chores and I intentionally create space in my day for building those relationships.
To learn more about time-blocking, be sure to read my post about 8 Ways I Rock My Schedule (And Get More Done!)
As I’ve mentioned before, I used to squander valuable time in the evenings watching TV and vegging. Then, for a while, I landed in the opposite extreme, trying to do too much, but all the wrong things. My mornings were rushed and frazzled, I forgot important items (like Aidan’s diaper bag!), and I was exhausted by the time we left the house in the morning. All because I was doing too much in the morning and not enough the night before.
Taking Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Evenings course taught me that a successful day actually starts the night before. I learned how to create an evening schedule that makes better use of my time and energy, helps me find time for the things I enjoy, and sets me up for a less stressful morning.
I used to crash as soon as dinner was over (except for the nights with evening activities). Now, I spend a few extra minutes prepping as much as possible for the next morning. This pays off huge the next day. I love waking up knowing that my coffee is brewing, breakfast is ready, lunches are prepped, and our bags are pretty much ready to go. It’s a great feeling!
To learn more about my evening routine and Crystal’s course, read my post about How I Made Over My Evenings (And Restored Balance to My Life).
Those are the seven habits that have transformed this reformed slob into a bona fide homemaker. And I wouldn’t go back in a million years. 🙂
By the way, if you’re like me and the term “housekeeping-impaired” is one you would use to describe yourself, I would definitely recommend reading The House That Cleans Itself: 8 Steps to Keep Your Home Twice as Neat in Half the Time.
This is the first cleaning and organization book that I feel confident I can stick with long-term. I’ve tried dozens of cleaning systems and schedules, and nothing like that worked for me. Now I know why! Reading this book provided so many “Ah-ha!” moments, and it was such a relief to finally read a book by someone that understood me and didn’t want to change me. Implementing her methods are going to be life-changing for me and our family, and if you’ve struggled with traditional methods in the past, I think it’ll change yours, too.
- Why “Homemaking” Means More Than You Think
- Put Down the Vacuum, You Need a Roomba!
- How to Clean Your Microwave Like Magic
- 12 Unique Ways to Enjoy Housework (Even When You Hate It!)