Everything I know about housekeeping I learned from what I tell my kids.
In other words, if I did everything I tell my kids to do, my house would be sparkling. My life would be in order. So why don't I listen to me?
I'm going to start. My new year's resolution is to follow my own instructions. Here are all the things we tell our kids. And here's how we could benefit a bit from our own wisdom.
We all have "toys" and clothes we haven't touched in years.
Our drawers are burgeoning; our closets are burgeoning. And we can't find anything.
If you're like us, you have no room to put the stuff Santa brought you because your closet is stuffed with leftovers of Christmas Pasts.
How many times have we barked that command at our teenagers? Why the heck can't they remember to put their socks in the sock drawer and their pajamas in the pajama drawer?
But have you looked under your bathroom sink lately? How about that back corner of the garage More likely than not, you'll find a motley assortment of odds and ends. And not much organization.
Now that you've downsized, it's time to regroup. Follow your advice about housekeeping and put like with like. Put all your bill-paying paraphernalia together near the computer.
Arrange all the cleaning supplies on one shelf. Put batteries with batteries; light bulbs with light bulbs and before you know it, not only do you know where stuff is but you know how much of it you have. Instant inventory.
Every day when my siblings and I came home from school, we were greeted at the door by my Grandma shrieking "Don't strew!"
"Don't strew" is Southern for don't just drop your books in the hall; put everything where it belongs. I hated the term as I was growing up, but I find myself greeting my own daughter and sons now with the same phrase.
Now I feel a lot of sympathy for dear departed Grandma because I know firsthand how frustrating it is to spend half a day cleaning and tidying a house just to have it demolished within five seconds of my kids coming through the door.
And if I'm to be completely honest, I must admit I'm as guilty as they are. It's just too tempting when you have an armful of groceries to drop your purse by the door; the mail on the kitchen counter; the coat on the couch.
And then it's extremely difficult to remember to go back later and pick that stuff up. And so it accumulates until it reaches critical mass and you spend half a day picking it up again.
So my advice to the world about housekeeping is: Don't strew. Put everything away within minutes of coming home. You can do it. Just visualize Grandma watching.
It's a rare child who likes to clean her room. In fact, she hates it so much that she puts it off.
And then it's such an overwhelming task that it takes threats of an armed invasion to get her started.
"Gosh, if you just did a little each day, it wouldn't be such a big deal," we fume. And yet, most of us put off cleaning till the weekend when we have "time."
Then we spend our precious Saturdays cleaning and laundering and raking and mopping and tidying and...
Actually, if we just took the time to clean a little each day, we would have playtime on the weekends with our families. Just a thought.
"Bobby, you left your socks on the bathroom floor again!"
"Jessie put your glass in the dishwasher. Don't just leave it on the counter!"
"And who spilled the milk and left a puddle?"
Nag. Nag. Nag. Don't you hate yourself? Well, maybe you should listen.
Who left the vacuum in the hallway? (Yeah, we know you were coming "right back.") And who didn't sweep up the patio again after gardening? (Oh yeah. You thought you might do a little more later on. Might as well clean up once, right?)
Next time you procrastinate, pretend your kid's doing the deed. And then turn that nag machine on about housekeeping yourself.
My daughter is a perpetual fashion machine. No activity (including theater classes) can be initiated without at least three changes of clothing beforehand.
If the shirt matches, the pants are too short. If the skirt is just right, the sweater is the wrong shade.
The next thing you know, she's running out the door to catch her ride, leaving a pile of clothes on her bed. (or worse, in her laundry basket if she's feeling a bit tidy that day.)
And then the evening culminates with a long lecture (from you of course) about taking care of her clothes and how tossing them in a pile renders them unwearable for next time.
Cut to your walk-in closet. What's that on your chair? A sweater? And under the chair? Your shoes? Yes, you were in a hurry this morning, weren't you?
Oh, what's that on top of your laundry hamper? Your new slacks! If you hang your clothes up promptly, many good things happen:
1. The white cat doesn't nap on your new black cashmere sweater.
2. Your pants don't wrinkle.
3. You can take the high moral ground with your kids about housekeeping.
This is actually my husband's signature phrase. It's used in times like this: We are all in the car, pulling out of the driveway. Lyndsay screams, "I forgot my earrings!" and races back upstairs.
Years pass. No Lyndsay. We sigh. I get out of the car and go looking for her. I find her in her room rearranging her jewelry box. The problem with parenting a perfectionist is that she gets waylaid when she finds things out of place and totally forgets her original errand.
And my point is? We all need to focus more; that's all.
I will walk into the kitchen to get a glass of water, notice that the paper towel dispenser is empty, go to the garage for more, drag the garbage out to the sidewalk, bring in the mail and open it.
Then I notice something wrong on my bank statement and get my purse to look at my checkbook. I clean out my purse and find a fingernail file and...
The result is a string of unfinished tasks throughout the house. Everything I did (or started to do) needed to be done. But I needed to focus on one task at a time. Otherwise, I suffer what I call the Ricochet Effect. I bet you do it, too. It's the adult variation of the Dilly Dally.
Have you ever listened to yourself talk to your kids about housekeeping? Aren't you amazed by what you say? Aren't you embarrassed by the "mean" tone you use sometimes?
If our kids talked to us that way, they would be hamburger helper. Sometimes being a mom means that your kids are the only ones lower in the pecking order and your only safe target.
For just a day, pretend like your child is your neighbor's child and treat him with the respect and kindness you would use on a non-family child. You might be surprised by the response you get. Sometimes we're just too close.
And while you're at it, practice the Golden Rule on everyone in your life. And listen to yourself sometimes, about housekeeping and beyond. You've got great advice, you know. And not only about housekeeping!