Saturday, October 27, 2012

Housekeeping, This Season's Edition

Housekeeping is something I struggle with daily. I'm not sure exactly why. I enjoy a neat, clean space, and I honestly do like cooking and making things look nice. But the day-to-day monotonous maintenance of a house does not come naturally to me. I don't need a well-kept house in the way a lot of people do, and it's easy for me just not to bother. But I want a peaceful home. It doesn't need to be perfect, or anywhere near perfect, but I do want to have a home that neighbors and friends can drop by. I want my house to be a place my whole family enjoys hanging out in.

I've lived in five different places since I first moved out of my parents' house at age twenty, and each time I've moved, I've tried to make a few small changes in order to keep house better than I did at the last place. For the most part, I've succeeded. I'm not about to win any Model Homemaker contests, but at least I'm improving over time.

I probably won't write many housekeeping posts. But I'm really happy with the few changes I've made after moving into this house this summer. They've made my life a lot more peaceful and actually made housekeeping easier. I think in the past I've focused a lot on figuring out a chore system and making general resolutions to clean more, cook healthier, and keep organized. This time I've focused more on setting up my house and life so that housekeeping comes more naturally to me. It's made a lot of difference, actually. I give up on resolutions and schedules easily. But I do like a nice house, and the easier housekeeping is, and the less thought I have to put into it, the more likely I am to do it.

The first thing that has really helped is grocery shopping weekly and meal planning. I'm not sure exactly why, but growing up, my family had a stock-up-for-the-apocalypse approach to grocery shopping. We always bought in bulk, and bought extras of everything. Our pantry was seriously loaded at all times. And it's the style I've carried into my married life, simply because I'm used to it. Before moving here, I shopped monthly (or less!), and bought a lot of everything each time.
I remember when I took this picture thinking "My fridge is practically empty!" Never mind that we could have lived off Costco babybel cheeses for a month.
 Unfortunately, when all I did was stock up on necessities, it seemed like I never had the right ingredients for anything. Far too often (and especially after Peregrine was born!), I found myself going for the frozen pizza or quick canned-sauce-over-pasta because it was just too much effort to figure out what I could make with 16 jars of artichoke hearts, 5 lbs of freezer-burning Italian sausage, 3 variously-flavored packages of bagels, and a whole Costco flat of canned black beans. But I've come to realize it's not the cooking I dislike. It's the figuring out what to cook. Honestly, making mac-n-cheese is just about as much work as making soup (okay, less chopping, but still). The difference is that mac-n-cheese comes in a box and tells you exactly what to do. By figuring out what I'm going to cook each week, and buying the ingredients specifically for those meals, it's like having my own personalized stash of almost-prepared meals. No thinking required. All I have to do is find the ingredients for each meal and put them together. It's remarkably easy, and we eat a lot healthier. I buy a lot more vegetables when I know exactly what I'm going to put them in. And then they don't mold in my fridge. Which brings me to--

Mold reduction. I hate mold. With a burning passion. I grew up in the dry prairie-mountain air of Colorado where growing things have to fight to stay alive. I still am not used to this soggy climate where--I am not kidding--a little seedling sprouted once out of my dish cloth.
Photographic proof! See that thing? That's a plant. In my dish cloth. Welcome to Washington State.
In the summer, the earth explodes with rich fruits and vegetables and flowers and it's amazing and wonderful. In the winter, the earth explodes with mold, and it's absolutely disgusting. Everything molds here! I fight it all winter long. And part of what keeps me from cleaning and cooking is the knowledge that sooner or later, I'll have to deal with some colony of green fuzz or pink slime or nefarious black stuff that sprouted up overnight. So, in this house, I am doing everything I can to prevent mold. It helps that this house is significantly less leaky than our last one, and that the windows are relatively new. But there are other things, too. Mold and I have been officially at war for the last four years, but I'm learning better strategies. Less food in the fridge is one. But the most important, I think, is not harboring things that grow mold easily. One of the worst culprits? Bath mats and rugs with non-stick bottoms. I went out and bought the kind that are basically just thick towels. $20, less mold, absolutely worth it.

Okay, the next change is kind of embarrassing to admit. But here's the thing: some chores I don't mind doing and I always get them done. Laundry, for instance, pretty much never overwhelms me. Even if I have loads of it do to. Folding laundry is oddly therapeutic for me. Cleaning the kitchen, however, is not. And if the dishes start piling up, I end up postponing the whole job just because I dread doing it. But in this house, I've decided to make sure all dishes end up rinsed and in (or near) the sink. 
This job always gets done. It would get done several times a day if Peregrine had his way of it.
Part of what makes dishwashing so overwhelming to me is that we kind of eat all over the house. When Andrew is home, he goes through multiple mugs of tea and coffee in a day. Peregrine's bizarre obsession with water bottles means they are scattered everywhere. Andrew and I often have ice cream or hot chocolate while watching movies downstairs. It's not that hard to decide to carry dishes to the kitchen and rinse them whenever I notice them around. And making myself do just that--not wash them and put them away, just rinse them and put them in the sink--makes the big dishwashing job a lot more compact and easy to do. It also makes the house so much more presentable, too. Rinsed dishes in the sink are expected sometimes. Dirty dishes all over the house are not.

And finally, the biggest thing that has made my life so much easier in this house has been intentionally arranging the house so that taking things out and putting them away is easy. Most importantly, not layering important items underneath and behind each other. Here's the thing--if I have a space for something in my house, I will put it there. If I have to move something else or rearrange anything, I just won't do it. Maybe I'm horrifically lazy, but realizing this about myself has kind of revolutionized my housekeeping. If I feel like I have to pack and unpack in order to get something done, I will probably leave it undone. Not because I don't want to do the job, but because I don't want to deal with the packing and unpacking. A few weeks ago, I realized I was putting off vacuuming the house (and had been for far too long) because the vacuum was in the back of the closet behind the laundry hamper and I would have to move the laundry hamper to get to it. How embarrassing is that? But it's true. And in the past, I've tried really hard to get over that and just move the dang laundry hamper already. And it will work, once or twice. But the issue is not that I'm not moving the hamper, it's that I'm not vacuuming the house. So this time, I rearranged the closet, moved the vacuum to the front, and pulled some stuff out that could move to a more remote closet. And guess what? I vacuum my house a lot more frequently now.

I'll probably never win any prizes for housekeeping, and I will probably always err on the too-messy side instead of the too-neat side. But hey, small victories, right?


  1. I love this. I'm always trying to figure out how to make the chores simpler, faster, easier. I'm good at weekly meal planning but I still end up with food that goes so bad. SO ANNOYING. My latest thing is discovering programmable appliance plugs, so I can set my crock pot to turn on at 4 am and then wham - hot, fresh oatmeal at 6 am with no cooking involved. Way easier than trying to fix breakfast with a baby and toddler!

    1. That's amazing! Next on my list is actually learning how to use a crockpot...