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Posts Tagged ‘clutter clutter everywhere’

When it comes to a big, multi-room tidy, I have a strategy, which I will pass on to you in hopes that it works just as well on your children (I have not tried it on my spouse, so no promises there). My strategy is setting up a Cleaning Challenge. Carla LOVES a challenge, especially if there’s the potential of besting me. And it makes cleaning into a game, and games are fun.

What I do is I get out a big colorful sheet of construction paper. At the top I write Cleaning Challenge! in big cheerful letters. Beneath, on one side, I write out a list of things I need Carla to do (make her bed, pick up stuffed animals, tidy the living room, put her socks and underpants away, etc.) and put little boxes for checkmarks next to them… and on the other side, I write out a list of things I need to do (unload dishwasher, clean toilets, vacuum stairs, etc.) and put boxes with checkmarks next to them. I have found that it helps if my list is longer than Carla’s, because she likes to have an obvious advantage. (To her, it is not obvious that “washing the floor” is much, much more time consuming than “picking up the crayons scattered all over the counter.”) Then I masking tape the Challenge to the kitchen wall, masking tape a marker to the wall as well, and set a one-hour timer. Then we RACE to complete as many of our tasks as possible in the allotted time, checking off each task as we complete it. This is Carla’s favorite part, I think – making a checkmark on the page, while loudly proclaiming, “Checking off another one!” – and taping the marker to the wall makes it extra fun for her for some reason.

Anyway, I haven’t tried a Cleaning Challenge! lately, but I will do so today because it desperately needs doing. (It’s my normal Day Before the Cleaner Arrives technique, and it’s worked well for many months.) (By the way, being surrounded by mess has been making me feel incredibly extra wistful and thankful for our housecleaner, and I am writing her “paid leave” checks with gratitude and hope that one day she will be able to clean for us again because I miss her SO VERY MUCH OMG.)

The Cleaning Challenge! is a good strategy for the type of clutter that accumulates over time, between housecleaning appointments for instance. But I am struggling more, lately, with the HUGE VOLUME of day-to-day messiness. Everything is so much more messy than it was prior to self-isolation. Don’t get me wrong — the tendency of a child to start one project, abandon it, and begin another project while the first is strewn about a different room is, shall we say, a familiar concept. As is the concept of piles gradually accruing on every possible surface. But it turns out that my little whirlwind can make SO MANY MORE messes when she is at home for an additional 35 hours a week. Plus, I am guessing I do a lot more of-the-moment tidying when I am not staring despondently at the news 400 hours a day.

I think the utter relentlessness of the mess is what has begun wearing on me. It was simple enough at the beginning, to breezily say things along the lines of, “Of course it’s going to be messier than usual around here! You have double the people at home all day and one of them is a tornado, so mess is inevitable! But you can live with a little mess!” And this is true. I never claimed to be The World’s Tidiest Person, not by a long shot. But it turns out that a little messiness, while endurable for the short term, over time begins to feel like NOTHING IS EVER CLEAN. And, after a few days of enduing “a little mess,” the mess balloons into a LOT of messiness and then it begins feeling like I am living in squalor and there is no point in anything anymore because we are drowning in a sea of clutter. I am already walking around in a constant state of irritation/distress/anxiety and the added mess is NOT HELPING.

So I am starting to lose it, messwise. I need a new system. Otherwise I may as well lie down on the living room floor and be layered over with magnatiles and board games and construction paper and stuffed animals and remnants of pillow forts and Barbie shoes.

I had to have The Talk with my husband last night that I need more help with the housework… But man, I feel guilty about that. He is working all day, and putting his health at risk to help other people, and he is exhausted and anxious all the time, so I WANT to be able to take the pressure off at home. But also I am here ALL DAY EVERY DAY, doing nearly all the childcare and housework and meal planning/preparation, with maybe five minutes to myself at a time and… it sucks.

For those of you who have multiple children in your care all day every day… for those of you who have multiple children AND spouses who are now ALL at home with you nonstop… for those of you who are working from home WHILE your children and/or spouses are at home with you… well, you have my deepest, most sincere sympathy and compassion. My one cheering thought is that we are ALL dealing with this right now, with our own varying levels of tolerance and manageability. Additional people in our spaces, additional maneuvering required, new levels of irritation and stress, new strategizing and planning and letting things go.

I asked a fellow parent what she was doing to keep the mess down, and she said she was trying to clean a bit every day. Well. Yes. As am I. This is a tried-and-true strategy. Every single day, I do the dishes and wipe the counters and straighten and try to get Carla to move things off Obvious Surfaces. Every single day, I try to do at least one Other Thing — a load of laundry, moving all the collected water glasses from my husband’s bedside table to the sink, moving a bundle of precious artwork from the overcrowded craft cupboard to the trash. But it’s NOT ENOUGH. The mess is a rising tide and our house is a leaky boat.

If you, too, are just trying to clean a bit every day, what does that MEAN? Do you have a checklist? Do you have a rotation of Big Items? How are you enlisting the other members of your household? If you have young children, how are you helping them get into the habit of cleaning up after themselves? I am TRYING, believe me, but a) I don’t have the energy/patience to supervise all the cleaning that needs to be done and b) it feels like just one more source of potential tension between me and Carla when we are already getting on each other’s nerves and c) sometimes the ONLY WAY I can get a few minutes to myself is to ignore what is certainly a HUGE mess in the making.

So. What are YOU doing to Keep the Clutter at Bay?

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