Navigating the Homefront

How to Keep a House Clean January 2, 2012

Filed under: Cleaning,Improving Quality of life,Organization,Saving time — Christy @ 3:00 am

There’s nothing worse than working hard all day and feeling that you have nothing to show for it at the end.  That’s how I felt when I looked around the house in the weeks after my son was born, and the problems only intensified as he grew and became mobile.  I received many assurances that someday he would be gone and then I’d miss the mess.   Ok, so maybe living in dirty home will sound attractive some day.    I still think I’ll feel guilty if that’s how my kids think it should be, and I know I felt guilty when their little hands got dirty from crawling across the floor I hadn’t cleaned for weeks.   One book I read stated that all mothers of new babies should have a maid.  It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it?  Thankfully, I had some friends who handed me books and URL’s and said, “You don’t have to do exactly what she says, but it might help some.”   Today, my son is still here, playing with his Duplos, and the floor is clean too.

The secret is developing and following a basic routine based on your living situation. Developing a routine is a task that has to be redone any time your life significantly changes. This is the method I used when we changed realities six months ago by moving from the rural US to the urban mide-East.  I think it’s a method that would work for any one.

Make a master plan.  Get comfortable daily routines.  Get comfortable with weekly routines.  Get comfortable with monthly routines.  Tweak as needed.

I’ve realized that, it’s more important that you work consistently than that you get the whole house looking good the first week. If you really are starting at the beginning, not just moving, or improving an already in place system, I would recommend that you start with the one room that bothers you most.  Add one room at time as you get the hang of maintaining the one.

What’s most important to make a routine workable for you?


Home for the Holidays November 30, 2011

Filed under: Family,Hospitality,Organization — Christy @ 3:52 am
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Thanksgiving has come and gone already!  This is our first Christmas to celebrate in our own home as a family, and our first Christmas abroad.  Home is where the holiday happens, and I’ve discovered that means over-time for the home maker.  My plan is to get decorations, cards, and gifts done in that order, by December 18, and spend that last week gathering and preparing food for our holiday celebrations.


I read an excellent article a couple of years ago, which I wish I could find again.  The author was a professional decorator who urged her readers to focus on three things: the wreath for the door, the tree, and a center piece for the table.  Our love of food is already larger than our table, so I’ve adapted the list: decorations for the door, the Christmas tree, and the nativity scene.  Those are all the decorations we’ll have, and I’ve found that they’re actually all we need to make the house feel festive.


I love cards because the serve as a connection with loved ones I won’t be able to see in person over the holiday, and they remind me of what the excitement is really all about. My habit is to alternate sending a card featuring pictures of the family accompanied by a mass letter one year, and to write personal notes on premade cards the next year.  Usually I pick up cards at the dollar store, but three is a very crafty age and postal services are rather nebulous here. So, I’m going to have the kids make something to serve as the picture and send the notes by e-mail.


I like to make a list with a few different headings.

Name, gift ideas, current favorites      Plan A item            Plan B item              Budget


Before I head out to the stores, or rather log into Amazon as it is this year, I fill in at least the name and budget for each person on our list.  As I start looking to see what I can find, I may fill in some plan B items that I know I can get later, if I can’t find the great gift I wanted, then keep searching for the ideal plan A gift.  Once December 18 rolls around, I give up, buy the plan B gift and get set to bake some cookies and enjoy the holiday.

What’s on your Christmas to do list?


Contracting for a homemaking grade November 4, 2011

Filed under: Cleaning,Family,Hospitality — Christy @ 1:49 pm
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There are different levels of homemaking.  To put my homemaking goals into perspective, I find it helpful to think of contracting for a grade. Sometimes, instead of assuming every student is aiming for perfection and grading on how close each assignment comes, instructors allow each student to set his own goals.  For example, in order to earn an A, the student must do well on three assignments, but to earn a B, he only needs to complete two assignments. In my understanding of homemaking, earning an A would mean reproducing what my memory knows Grammy did in her home tucked away in the Appalachian mountains.  There were always fresh cookies and a cake.  The floor was gleaming. The laundry seemed to process itself, not to speak of the garden and handcrafts.  I’d be happy to make B’s:  to put healthy, home cooked meals on the table, clean clothes in the closet, and maintain general order all around. Making C’s is what I have done most days for the last three years since my son was born, and I undertook homemaking full time.  I’ve realized that, sometimes, in order to be an A or even B grade wife and mom, I must settle for passing as a homemaker.  Often, the laundry is clean, but it’s in a pile on the bedroom floor. The dishes get washed once every twenty-four hours.  I clean the guest bath while my husband welcomes friends at the front door. And my husband, children, and friends receive the love and attention which make our house happy place for them to be.


Dealing With Clutter October 14, 2011

Filed under: Cleaning,Organization — Christy @ 2:11 pm
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 Before I can clean, I have to get the clutter out of the way. In my ideal world, I would put everything in its place as I go, but this isn’t always possible.  If I want a clean home, I have to come up with some intentional strategies to deal with the clutter. I refined these methods by trial and error while caring for two babies born eighteen months apart. Interruptions where part of every task, and I was lucky to have one hand free at some point during the day.

Getting ready

Make storage spaces. One of the key pieces of advice I received from an experienced homemaker early on was to control clutter by reducing the number of things. Reduce the total amount in my house, and reduce the amount available to my children.

It is helpful to have a space designated for things that need to be discarded, or might need to be discarded.  It helps me determine if we value the new quality of our home more than the items we must sacrifice to get that quality. It also gives me time to bring them back if I truly need them, which happens occasionally.  Things that make us miserable are not worth having. Once a year, or when I’ve completed a major de-cluttering push, I can have a yard sale, take things to Good-will, etc.

One strategy my friend shared was to make a space to store some toys for a month or two. Then bring out the now new toys from hiding and enjoy the Christmas effect all over as the familiar toys quietly make an exit to the storage space. Repeat as often as your children get bored.  Currently I apply this strategy to books.

Recognize the natural flow of our home. Our keys and wallet have to go somewhere. My husband will naturally empty his pockets at the same place in the house no matter how sincerely he means to empty them where I asked him to. So, I realized that it is better to move the key basket to where he will use it, and just plan to tidy that area up once a week or so. When settling into a new space, I take some time to notice where my family tends to use and leave particular items.  Then I designate clutter stations where the clutter can be intentionally collected and contained until I have time to think about where each of those little things should go.

Get a basket. Clutter is a bunch of little things. You can carry a lot of little things in a laundry basket or something similar, even while carrying a baby on the other hip. This really helps in daily cleanup. When I lived in a townhouse, I had a wicker basket whose only function is to take multiple objects up and down the stairs.

Using a basket is especially helpful if I’m interrupted for some reason. I want the clutter to stay collected until I have a chance to get back and deal with it. If I leave it loose, it can run off and multiply again.

The initial attack

If you’re bothering to read a blog about clutter, you’re probably some what buried. Most households that I’ve visited in the U.S. are. The rest have at least one determined member who spends significant energy making them neat. Don’t expect the problem to be over come in one day.  I like to choose one room that is most central to my family’s wellbeing, and get it to clutter free status. Then, we maintain it while I tackle the second. Then we maintain the first two while we go after the third. Maintaining progress is very important, otherwise the clutter will just move around the house. This is the same process that I use when moving into a new home-something I’ve done four times in the last three years.

First I go into whatever room annoys me most, room of choice, and put everything that is in that room that belongs in that room back in its place. I put everything else in my basket. When I finish with the room, or when my basket gets full,  I empty my basket by throwing away all the things which would qualify as trash, putting as much as I can in the space I have designated for a discard pile, and putting everything else away some where in house.

If I determine that an object should be kept, it must have a clearly defined place that qualifies as its home. Even dirty laundry has a home in the hamper. I repeat the process on as many days as I need to until the first room finally has everything put away. Then, whenever I want to work on clutter, I clean the first room before moving to the next one.

Again, using a basket is especially helpful if I’m interrupted for some reason. I want the clutter to stay collected until I have a chance to get back and deal with it.

As I cycle through this process, I start adding containers and storage bins. It’s amazing how having various kinds of personal items grouped together in the bathroom keeps the whole shelf from getting out of hand, or how even dirty laundry appears neat when it’s all in the proper hamper. Each container should hold things that are related to each other. For example, in our bathroom, everything in the shower goes in the shower caddy, cleaning products have their own basket, my husband’s shaving supplies and deodorant go in a basket, my hair supplies are in one basket, then the children’s things have their own baskets. Everything goes back in a particular basket, and if it doesn’t belong in a basket found in the bathroom, it doesn’t belong in the bathroom. This principle can be applied to every room in the house.


Habits that maintain

I need to spend five to twenty minutes each day addressing clutter.  When I first wrote this article, I believed that if each room in the house is brought back to order once every twenty-four hours, the situation does not spiral out of control.  I have since discovered that the play room needs attention twice a day.  My guess is that some homes that don’t include small children might need attention of this kind only once a week.  With a little experimentation you’ll quickly learn what the time limit is that determines whether your home has been over taken by entropy or is maintaining homeostasis.  Once a week I clear out each clutter station.

Now that my children are old enough to participate, I do ask them to clean up one room at a time at given times of day.  The play room needs to be cleaned up before lunch, and before bed.  I’ve noticed that when they know they will have to clean up, they will be more reserved in pulling toys out. Since turning three, my son cleans his room before breakfast.  It takes longer to have him do the work than to do it myself, but I’m told the effort will pay off later.

Of course, putting everything away as you go is an old tried and true philosophy to clutter control.  As much as it lies with me, I try to practice putting things away as I finish with them, and encourage my children to do the same.

I have found that moving does wonders for motivating me to discard unneeded items. If you haven’t had the privilege of being forced to move more than once a year in the past couple of years, you may want to make a yearly project of pretending that you’re going to move, and reconsidering the value of the objects that you own. Many people do this as part of spring cleaning, but it could be done at any time of year.

I also find it to be helpful to plan to continue maintaining a discard storage area which I  then clean out from time to time.  If unwanted clothes and toys are already collected, activities like consignment and yard sales become much easier.

The emergency clutter sweep

My experience has been that even with all my most diligent planning and maintaining, clutter will still sometimes be out of control when I need it to be in order for company. When that happens, I do an emergency clutter sweep.  This consists of taking my basket to one end of the house and putting all the clutter I find into the basket as I visit the rooms my company may use.  I then put the basket in my bedroom and shut the door.

Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while before you feel that the clutter in your home stays under control.  Simply continue reworking these processes and looking for new tricks.  It will get easier with time.

What strategies work for you?