How simple daily routines can transform your home from slobville to livable- no perfection required.
The feeling of apprehension rose in my chest when I heard a new student was going to come by my house later that night. Is she going to ask to come in? I surveyed the situation with dread. There were toys on the floor, a pile of grimy dishes in the sink, stuff all over the counter, and a bathroom that looked and smelled like my children had consistently missed the toilet for three weeks. There was chicken poop smattered on the porch and junk from our latest home project stacked in unsightly piles. The kids’ bikes laid about the driveway, taunting me, threatening to send me into full psycho mom mode.
I dove into an angry-panic clean up session. Why can’t I stay on top of this stuff? Why are we all such slobs? My frustration grew as I threw bikes back into their parking spot and pushed the piles of stuff into stacks that lined the edge of the porch. I scraped the chicken poop off the porch in an impassioned outrage. Stupid chickens. I hate chickens. Why do we keep chickens?
I ended up in actual tears. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. I tried to prioritize the areas that would be seen by the student (porch, driveway, studio) then moved into the inside to throw my best efforts into at least making it seem like I wasn’t the most disgusting adult alive.
I have never been a good homemaker- in fact, I’ve spent most of my life wallowing in my slovenly habits and seeming inability to break free from them. In fact, it wasn’t til the very uncertain summer before the birth of our fourth baby that I quit all my jobs outside the home and managed to form regular daily routines that really helped to change the face of my home.
I am still not a perfect homemaker, and if you dropped by unannounced you will still find piles and a fair amount of stuff that really shouldn’t be left out. The porch is nearly always a work in progress and never looks as neat as I would like it. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a neat-nick by any stretch of the imagination, things are far better now than they once were.
(Full disclosure: this dishwasher top is currently covered again. #Reallife.)
Simple daily routines
Here are the simple daily routines that I make an effort to get to every day. The key word here is “effort.” I don’t always get to all of them, and even if I do, there’s no guarantee that they will be done to the level of completion that I would like.
That being said, making sure I do a little bit of something every day ensures that no one area of our home falls too far behind, and helps to keep the house reasonably livable. (Particularly for a family with four busy kids!) Here are my go-to simple daily routines that have taken my home from slob-ville to a home with breathing space.
If you don’t have a dishwasher: Admittedly, this one can be tough. If you have a lot of people in your house, it just takes a lot of time to wash by hand. (Believe me, I know from experience.)
We have found during our many years without a dishwasher that the best solution is to just keep washing the dishes as they are used. Don’t let them sit. Clear the sink as often as possible, and at least after each meal. It keeps the backlog at bay and minimizes the time spent standing and scrubbing.
If you do have a dishwasher: Count yourself blessed. We are finally among those with the miracle machine, and it has been a life-changer. Put your dishes in after each meal and run it nightly (or more frequently if needed). Empty it in the morning while you’re waiting for your coffee. Any dishes that can’t go in the machine should be washed as soon as you are able to after use.
Create a laundry schedule and treat it as a non-negotiable part of your routine. I start a load each morning and switch it to the dryer as soon as it’s done. After lunch I remove the clothes from the dryer, fold, and put them away right away. If this isn’t manageable for your work or school schedule, try switching around the timing to make it easier. For example:
- Start a wash in the morning before work, switch it to the dryer before dinner, put it away after dinner.
- Start a load in the evening before bed, then switch it to the dryer first thing in the morning. Put it away after breakfast, or after work if you don’t have time before leaving.
Try to avoid what Dana K White calls “procrastination stations-” the couch, the bed, or anyplace else that allows you to leave your clean laundry sitting around. I’ve found that the longer I wait to take care of it, the more backed up I get.
It is for this reason that I no longer use my hamper to transport my laundry. Yes, I actually carry armloads of laundry downstairs from the hamper and put it directly into the washer. I fold it directly out of the dryer onto the kitchen counter, then carry it upstairs and put it right in the drawers. I only do this because I know that if I use a hamper to hold the folded clothes… they will stay there. For a week. Or two weeks. Or until we run out of clothes.
Better to train yourself to, in the words of Nike, just do it.
3. Floor check.
With young kids in the house, a quick floor check usually means going through the house and picking up as many mysterious objects off the floor as possible. If the floors are relatively clear, there is much less general chaos. If I don’t have time to do every room, then I just attend to the highest traffic rooms or the one most in need.
As a general rule, we try to pick up the majority of floor stuff as a family before bedtime. However, I find that taking 5 minutes before lunch and dinner to do a quick pick-up saves a lot of headache when we’re all exhausted and ready to be done at the end of the day.
4. Brief Declutter
For quite a while after becoming a stay-at-home-mom for the second time, I committed at least 15 minutes a day to decluttering one small area. For me, this was a necessary and long-term process, due to the backlog of stuff I accumulated during my teaching years when I couldn’t spend a lot of time tending to my home.
My 15 minute sessions were simple and imperfect. I would pick a problem area, set my timer, and go, trying to make as many quick decisions about the items in each area as possible. Some easy areas to start mini-decluttering sessions are:
- An end table or flat surface
- That pile of paper on the desk
- The junk drawer
- The bathroom closet
Even 5 minutes in one small area each day adds up to a big difference.
5. Cleaning Time
I have tried so many different cleaning routines it’s not funny. Big Saturday morning cleaning time, monthly rotating tasks, cleaning tasks on index cards in a filing system, cleaning apps, etc.
In the end, I realized that all of my searching for a “perfect” cleaning system was really just a means of procrastinating on doing the work. Alas, my house will not be cleaned by printing out a schedule for cleaning or installing the best app on my phone. The sad truth is that it will only be clean if I actually do the work.
I’ve found that having a set schedule for routine cleaning tasks helps me to stay on track the most. I do not always get to doing my regular cleaning, but knowing what task I should be doing helps to reduce decision fatigue and overwhelm.
Right now, I try to do certain tasks daily (laundry, dishes, pickup, mini-declutter) and a big cleaning session on the weekends. I like this list from Raising Kids Making Money, and this one from Money Saving Mom. Pick which one looks best and jump in.
If you’re an every day type of cleaner, I highly recommend following Clean Mama’s free daily & weekly cleaning tasks.
My cleaning “schedule” changes from time to time, depending on what works best for us in that season.
Something is better than nothing
My good friend Rachel and I oftentimes quote Elizabeth George to each other- “Something is better than nothing.” I have chosen to apply this to homemaking with abandon.
I attribute my long standing inability to keep my house clean to a strange sense of perfectionism that can never be fulfilled. If I insist on a picture-perfect home, I will always live in frustration that I cannot make it happen. However, if I can let go and commit to just a few short minutes for each of my daily routines (without feeling the need to complete them to Instagram standards), I can keep the house both lived-in and livable.
These daily routines have the ability to transform your house-gradually- from pig-sty to comfortable. The key is to just keep working at it a little bit each day.