What Are Your Five Things?

I like lists of five.  Five things are easy to come up with on just about any topic.  Like, what are the five best movies you’ve ever seen?  Your five favorite pieces of clothing?  Five books you’d need with you on a desert island?  Today, we’re going to consider what the Top Five things that need to be maintained in your home for you to consider it “picked up”.  

(For the record?  1.  Godfather 2, Inception, Memento, Gone With The Wind, the Usual Suspects; 2.  Denim skirt, ratty Washington State sweatshirt from 1993, fabulous Calvin Klein red/black/camel dress from this year’s Nordstrom Anniversary sale, the components of my standard uniform, my mom’s cashmere swing coat with the fur collar; 3.  Harry Potter #7, Pride & Prejudice, The Buccaneers, Neverwhere, …And Ladies Of The Club.)

In all reality, I doubt if any sane person is able to absolutely commit to an ironclad housework schedule.  Calendars aren’t a universal solution.  Nothing, in fact, is a universal solution.  So if you’ve tried any of the million organizing systems in the world and none has worked, you may feel like it’s your fault.  It’s not.  Well, not entirely.  Maybe you just need to re-examine your approach.

You’ve heard of the phrase “can’t see the forest for the trees”?  This means that you’re so fixated on the details, the minutiae, the micro-ness of the situation that you lose sight of the bigger picture.  It goes both ways, you know.  It’s also very possible to see only the forest, only the whole, none of the parts.  Neither is ideal, and changing your perspective is what resolves this trees/forest situation.  So maybe you’re looking at your situation from way too far away when you rely on a calendar.

Instead of “what do I need to clean today?”, how about looking at it as “what’s my path of least resistance?”  It can be an entire room (like, “clean bathrooms”) or an area (“kitchen counter”) or a task (“laundry”).  At our house, laundry and dirty dishes clog up the entire place when they’re left undone.  What about you?  What are the five quick jobs that, if dealt with regularly, make the rest of your home seem easier to manage?

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Guest Post! Learning To Love Your Junk Drawer

Today we have a guest post from my friend Rhiana, with whom I bonded years ago over the lethal combination of designer shoes and wedding planning. When a friendship begins in such a manner, naturally it’s going to thrive.

You can find more of Rhiana’s musings over on http://kitetailsplaycenter.blogspot.com/, where she is a frequent contributor of much acclaim. I invited her to write a post because I know she’s crafty (in more of the “makes craft-type things” way than the “she gets around” way, at least for purposes of my blog…) and she and I tend to be of the same mind when it comes to organizing. As it turns out, she ran into a common organizing conundrum, which she of course turned into a victory. Enjoy!

* * *

When Kristie asked me to guest blog I was ecstatic. What you may not know is that I love, love, love me some Kristie B. I just adore this woman and I jump at in any opportunity to be part of her amazingness. (Yes, I just made up that word).

So Kristie initially asked me to blog about my craft/art area since I teach art. So that is what I started doing. And then I realized my craft area doesn’t actually functioning the way I really need it to function. So I tore it apart and put it together again. Still no dice. So I am going to work on that some more and hopefully Kristie will be gracious enough to invite me back when it is finished so I can reveal that to you. Oh, and the moral to that story- just because it is organized doesn’t make it functional.

So instead of my craft room I am going to share something else. Something dark and personal. My “junk” drawer. Now I think it goes without saying that if it was truly junk it would be in the garbage so “junk” for me is that miscellaneous stuff that doesn’t really have a home but you need to keep somewhere. I have for you exhibit A:


So I used a bamboo kitchen organizer from either Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel (I can’t remember which) to wrangle all of my crap. In the way back I have my label maker. Now I don’t use it every day but I use it often enough that it needs to be handy. And if you don’t have one you should go get one. Like now. Or after you finish reading my very, very important post.

I keep all my charging stuff in there. All the camera and phone cords are in their own compartment. I always know where they are and I always know where to find them. The front left is where I keep my pens and post it notes. The middle back is where I keep my D batteries. Why just the D batteries you ask…? Well, the rest of the batteries belong in the “Man Room” (which is a post for another day). The D batteries belong in the heavy duty Mag Light flashlight that we keep in the kitchen for power outages so it makes sense that in an emergency we aren’t shlepping down the dark stairs to our basement and into the dark, dark Man Room looking for extra batteries. We also have lighters, a stapler, the camera, tape, and extra wine cork in there. The key here is the drawer organizer. This prevents things from sliding around every time you open and close the drawer and also prevents search and destroy missions. When things are compartmentalized you can see things so much better. (Close your eyes, can you see everything in your “junk” drawer? If not, go and get your drawer organizer. And your label maker.) A place for everything and everything in it’s place. It becomes less of a “junk” drawer and more of a miscellaneous drawer.

To recap, the organizing tips are:

* Just because it is organized doesn’t mean it is functional
* Drawer organizers are indeed the best thing since sliced bread
* Get a Label maker. It will change your life in ways you never thought possible.

Thanks again to Kristie B for letting me guest blog- she is da Bomb! For reals yo!

One Extra Thing

I like the idea of One Extra Thing.  No matter what you’re doing, chances are, you are able to tack One Extra Thing onto the end of it.  It may be as simple as tossing some fresh flowers into your cart as you head to the check-out at the grocery store, or putting the bathroom rugs in the dryer on low to get rid of the lint and hair and crud freshen them up.  One Extra Thing is the cherry on the cake that makes it just a little bit better with not a lot of extra effort.

I have One Extra Thing as a category of its own on my cleaning schedule.  Every (almost) day, in every room, I take a lap and straighten it up, and then there’s one more thing to do, that will take hardly any time at all but it’s still important and will make a difference.  Some days I go off the grid and decide that the patio can wait but the cabinet under my bathroom sink cannot, so my One Extra Thing changes, and that’s fine.  Because One Extra Thing does not make or break the whole process.  It’s extra.  See?  Awesome.

What I like about One Extra Thing (enough to capitalize it!) is that it makes me feel like I’m doing well enough to do just a little more than the minimum.  Some days, the minimum (or less…) is all that happens, and that’s cool, but on the days when there’s one more minute to do something?  Doing something makes me feel like “Oh yeah, I got this.”  And then the next day I get into my car and there aren’t any Cheerios stuck to the windows.  It’s the little things, the little Extra things, that are delightful, yes?  YES.

One Extra Thing becomes a habit.  If you do it enough, you don’t even have to think about it.  It just happens, in unexpected ways (not just in housecleaning, because there’s more to life than a shiny toilet).  It means that on a nice day when you find yourself cutting out of work early, you swing by daycare and pick up the kid, and instead of going straight home to start the regular evening routine, your Extra Thing becomes stopping at the park for half an hour and becoming the Best Mom In The World.  It means that when you finally make a hair appointment that’s months overdue, you say “I’d also like some highlights” because highlights?  are totally Extra.  And they are worth it.

So what are your Extra Things?  Take a minute, think about what you’ve got going on, and I bet you can come up with some stuff that has been put off, and while it isn’t a big deal, it will make a difference in the long term once it’s taken care of.  These can be fun (like highlights!) or practical (cleaning out the freezer, which takes five minutes, for real, so just do it already OK?), to be performed as a solo or as an ensemble.  One Extra Thing really does matter.

Let the light shine in!

It’s March first!  It’s March first!  Daylight Savings time begins in ten days!  Bulbs are sprouting!  My CSA basket has asparagus in it!

Spring!  Spring is thisclose to being HERE!  I love Spring.  I love it so much that I always capitalize it.  Spring! It’s the inspiration for symphonies and young love and when you search the Google for images of “Spring” you get bright colors and clear skies and baby chicks.

It’s when you open the curtains all the way, and you realize that your blinds are covered in a year’s worth (or more… no judgement from me) of yuck, so you open the blinds and you realize that the windows are even worse.  Because who cleans windows every week?  I certainly don’t.  As much as I’d like to think that I’m this?

Um, I’m not that.

Yeah, my windows look like your windows.  And that’s cool.  Because every year about this time, I get inspired to clean up anything that isn’t able to clean itself (in recent years this also included people, but fortunately Boo will enthusiastically partake in a nightly bubble bath).

The weather gets warmer, so I open the windows and sunlight trickles into the house.  And that early Spring sunlight tends to illuminate things in a way that a houseful of light bulbs cannot (especially those ridiculous CFC twisty looking lights that are just so awful).  Spring cleaning is a big deal.  For me, when the weather warms up, I like to have people over for dinner or a movie or game night (Apples to Apples?  HIGHlarious with the right crowd).  From April until October, it’s barbecue season, and even if we’re not hosting, I like to reciprocate when I can. I’m more likely to do this when the house is clean.

For me, it starts with the windows.  I have no illusions about doing them all in one day.  Or in one weekend.  Because I have things to do besides clean windows all damn weekend.  But for a couple of hours?  Like, during naptime?  I’m on it.

The one tool you really do need is something like this.  It telescopes, so you’re not on a ladder.  It’s one piece, so you’re not switching between the spongy thing and the squeegee.

  1. Start in the room you use the most.  Those are the windows you’ll be glad you cleaned first.
  2. Go take a look at your screens.  Figure out how to remove them.  Usually, they have tabs or something along one edge on the inside.  Screens bend pretty easily, so be careful, but they should just pop out.  Keep them in order–even if your windows look to be the same size, they may be just different enough that the screens aren’t interchangeable.
  3. Lay the screens down on a flat surface (even on the grass…) and hose them off on both sides.  Stand them up so they’ll drip-dry.
  4. Fill a plastic bin with hot water, two cups or so of white vinegar, and Dawn dishsoap (add the soap last so it doesn’t foam up too much).
  5. Grab a kitchen towel for wiping the squeegee.
  6. Start at one end, dunk your spongy thing, start scrubbing.  Get the corners, get the sills, get all that crap off your windows.
  7. Immediately follow with the squeegee.  Wipe off the blade after each swipe.  One window at a time.
  8. When your screens are dry, put them back on.  Don’t rush this.  If you put wet screens back on your windows, you screw up what you just cleaned.  Trust me.

That’s it.  It’s a job, for sure, and you will not be clean when you’re done.  But your windows will be crystal clear.  This is one of those once-a-year jobs, at best.  I did ours last May right after we moved into our house–it had been vacant for years, and cleaning the windows made me feel like we were really taking ownership of the place. I’m well aware that this likely makes me a total psycho.  I don’t care. After a year’s worth of wind and dust and storms and gunk, cleaning the windows makes it feel like Spring.

I’ll have to check my calendar…

I live and die by calendars and schedules.  The only reason I was willing to upgrade to a smartphone is that I could link it to my Google calendar (oh, how I love the Google…).  The day I learned to link it to my Google Docs changed my life.

I have a spreadsheet that is my weekly housecleaning schedule.

Full disclosure:

  1. Everything does not always happen.  I do skip days. The goal is not to skip too many in a row, and then jump back in when I can.
  2. I have a cleaning lady who comes in once a month.  She goes over the entire house, but what I really depend on her for is thorough vacuuming  and cleaning the showers/bathtubs.  Everything else she does is a bonus that ultimately saves me probably 6 hours a month.  Worth it.

I start with the Room Checklist :  I deal with whatever biggest pile/eyesore/fire catches my eye.  Think about your kitchen, for example.  Somewhere in it, is a pile that never quite goes away.  Once a week, I deal with that stupid pile.  Next I take a lap–I start at one end and work my way around, putting things back where they go, dusting, wiping off, tidying up.  No big whoop.

Daily is the minutiae that if it doesn’t get done at least 90% of the time, other stuff piles up behind it.  Worst case scenarios include:  If the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, the sink gets full of dirty dishes, the counter gets full of newer dirty dishes, and I can’t cook a meal so we eat cereal or get takeout.  If the cedar chest at the foot of the bed has a pile of clean unfolded laundry on it, then dryer has clean dry laundry in it, the washer has clean wet laundry in it, the basket has dirty laundry in it, and the hamper has old dirty laundry in it, and Boo has no Princess Panties to wear, which is NOT A GOOD SITUATION..

Special Projects is my Big Picture, Longer Term To-Do List.  This is the stuff that when I have a minute (which does happen if I stay on top of the other two lists…) I can take care of.

The best part of all of this is that it’s maybe half an hour out of my day.  Tops. None of it is a crazy deep cleaning/scrubbing tile with a toothbrush sort of task. It’s maintenance.  Maintenance is good.

Calendars are also a fantastic way to stay ahead of the game.  Mr. Incredible is trained willing to email me his doctors appointments and work travel information, and I just add them to the calendar whenever I get them.  I color code his travel, so if he’s gone for several consecutive days (or weeks, yikes) then I can quickly get an idea of what my own time is going to look like.

I also use the calendar to keep track of what I’ve made for dinner–a couple of times a week I take a few minutes to make a quick 5PM appointment that’s just whatever we had (i.e. “pork chops, rice, salad, steamed veggies”).  This serves 2 purposes for me:  I don’t accidentally make the same thing twice in three days (it’s happened…) and after a month, I have a month’s worth of meal planning ready for next month.  Everybody wins!

Not everybody works this way, I know, but it’s kept me sane.  When I was pregnant with Boo, I knew  we were going to need a way to keep ourselves organized.  This helps me do that.