On Cleaning

Author | Nicole Hostetter

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Throughout my twenties and early thirties, while other people my age spent Friday nights unwinding with drinks, the start of my weekend more often involved rearranging furniture and mopping the floors. I would wash away not just the week’s dirt, but its troubles too. Replacing chaos with order, and giving energy and attention to my home, cleaning was a way to create peace. I loved waking up the next morning to tidy rooms where everything was in its place and traces of Murphy’s Oil Soap lingered in the air, until the happy smell of fresh brewed coffee replaced it.

This hobby of mine was completely fine, until I had children. Or rather, until I had two children.

With one child, things usually stayed where I put them. Even if there was mess, it was easy enough to clean up. With two, no sooner did I wipe the peanut-butter handprints off the cabinet door than more prints appear, like black magic. Toys scatter like breadcrumbs throughout the house — a trail to help me find my kids when they become too quiet (always a sign that something awful is happening). Kiss marks and slobbery handprints smear the bottom third of our home’s every glass door and accessible window.

And all this chaos is without including the pet hair from two cats and a dog.

Not being able to keep up with the chores was a difficult adjustment for me after our second child was born. With a new baby and a toddler creating mess after mess, with little time to tidy up, I got very stressed out, and my whole life felt unraveled; It wasn’t unusual for my husband to find me weeping over a pile of laundry when he came home from work.

Leave it to kids to break us of our habits and remind us that we are not in control of anything!

But what a good lesson it was for me.

When we emerged from the haze of my second child’s first year, I enlisted some help cleaning my house from a woman my mother-in-law knew. We could only afford to have her come once a month, but it was enough to help me breathe.

I knew that even if I couldn’t get a single chore done for 29 days out of the month, there would be at least one day where my house would sparkle from top to bottom. It was such a relief. Her visits only lasted a few months before we needed to cut that cost from our budget, but it helped ease me into a place where I learned major cleaning didn’t need to be done every day, or even every week: things could wait, and my house wouldn’t explode from not having a sparkling bathroom.

Now, I save the “Big Clean” for when company comes. Otherwise, to make things more manageable and predictable, I’ve adapted a cleaning schedule for our home. Simply put, chores in our house are scheduled as daily, weekly, or monthly tasks. This helps to relieve any existential pressure to have things tidied up at all times, and also allows me an easy way to delegate chores when helping hands are around.

As you think about creating your cleaning schedule, take into account your life stage: are you single with a one-bedroom apartment to maintain, or running a three-bedroom three-bathroom household of four or five? Your schedule and expectations should be flexible depending on your life stage. It is much harder to expect perfection when you have small children, or teenagers, at home, yet it is not impossible to keep a clean and orderly house by relaxing your expectations, and sticking to your schedule.

If you can afford it, consider having some outside help come in, even if it’s just once a month. Perhaps you can even find a friend to trade with. Each of you can save your vacuuming, mopping, window and mirror cleaning, tub scrubbing and dusting for that one day, and it’s well-worth the money to have that piece of mind all month long that, at some point, your house will be clean. Even if it’s only for a day!

Daily Chores

Deciding which chores to do every day is the baseline for keeping your house clean. These are the little chores that can be done in a few minutes, but which will have a great impact on the feeling of your space throughout the day.

Focus on taking care of clutter, and on chores that when done daily, eliminate the build-up of work over time. For example, keeping baskets in strategic places for errant toys and shoes allows for quick pick-ups throughout the day. Running the dishwasher and a load of laundry daily keep those chores from building up into something unmanageable.

For me, this list include things like:

  1. Making the bed in the morning

  2. Emptying the dishrack and dishwasher

  3. Sweeping the kitchen and dining room

  4. Running one complete load of laundry (wash, dry, fold, put away)

  5. Wiping down the tables after each meal

  6. Clearing off the countertops of anything unnecessary (piles of paper, toys, etc.)

  7. Putting all stray toys into bins at the end of the day

  8. Cleaning the stovetop before bed

These are tasks that make me feel good. They’re relatively easy to do, and the kids can help with them. I know that if I can do nothing else during the week, these tasks will help me feel centered and in some control of my living space.