Cleaning House

As a family, we are heavily dependent on our systems.  I am not organized by nature and can barely find my own glasses when I wake up in the morning, so without good systems in place, this busy household of 9 people would fall apart very quickly.  An organized pantry means I can see in a second if we are almost out of peanut butter.  If the swim towel bin in the laundry room is empty I know that towels must be washed and dried before morning practice.  The children can get their own snacks organized because the snack bin is stocked with pretzels and snap-lock containers.

So, system in place, we have maintained function for 4 weeks with a brand new baby and constant summer activity.  That said, I am also seeing that entropy — the natural tendency of all things to breakdown — applies to the family as well as the forest.  Our clean systems have gradually rotted, and chaos is close at hand.

When the kids put away the groceries, each jar of peanut butter winds up on a different shelf.  The towels may or may not make it out of the car and into the washer when we all return, exhausted, from a late night swim meet.  The papers and prescriptions that I have been piling on my kitchen desk are lost in a sea of 64 cent stamps, single knitting needles and dry erase markers.

And I, too, am falling apart.  When getting out the door is stressful, I tend to yell.  When getting a meal on the table is difficult, I tend to yell.  When I can’t find my glasses?  I get dizzy, then yell.

Possibly the best part of having a 7th child (other than the child himself, of course, who is wonderful), is the opportunity to make use of what you have learned and try to get it (closer to) right this time around.  Often in life we don’t have this chance, and it is also one of the things I love about putting together the third set of Ikea shelves — you finally know how to do it, without even reading the instructions.

So, as I feel my tone of voice getting ornery and my neck getting tight, I know what I have to do, clean house.

This morning I took about an hour to begin to put our systems back into place.  I purged and straightened my desk and the pantry.  These were just two small areas, and there are several other places in our house that could use an hour, or more, but this fine beginning will bear fruit this week as I am a little bit calmer.  I can’t give a whole day to this (though if it rains this week, I will put on movies and go on a cleaning rampage!).  However, I think I can carve out 15 minutes each morning to hit some of the other areas, the stack of books on top of my printer (how, why?), the bin of maternity clothes that is doubling as a hamper in my closet, the growing pile of mismatched socks in the laundry room, I know that we will be better for it.

Even if you are not in survival mode, we are now half way through the summer, and you may find that with all the time spent out of doors, your systems and routines need tweaking, or that you have neglected hot spots which are adding stress to your life.  Please join me in spending just a little bit of time cleaning house this week, and come back to the comments to let me know what you did.  I could use the companionship and the inspiration.  With a little bit of attention now, we can cruise through August and really enjoy ourselves and then be refreshed and excited when back to school time rolls around!


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  • AMDG

    Hi 🙂 Thank you so much for your post. I am also someone that needs to have my surroundings organized to keep me on track and to keep things in our home moving smoothly. It is so nice to know that someone else is dealing with a similar issue this week! Our finished basement does not get used very often. Unfortunately, that has meant that when I clean/ organize other parts of the house, I often put things I have weeded out downstairs to be dealt with “later”; however, “later” seems to have slipped away from me. Now, my mother-in-law is arriving on Sunday and will be staying in this space ; therefore, I have A LOT of work to do 🙂 I will be praying for you as I tackle this project.

  • Kathy

    Thanks for the time appropriate post. Like AMDG, I will join you. My nephew is coming next week and even if he weren’t visiting, my housed needs to be cleaned and our systems need to be tweaked or created. Thanks for the companionship.

  • maryalice

    I took 5 minutes to go through the tupperware, finally tossing things that have no tops or bottoms, only to realize that we have very few intact sets — off to amazon to order some. One more annoying space dealt with today. I also removed the stack of books from the printer and shelved them. Progress!

  • Bethany “B-mama”

    I just tackled the wasteland of laundry that had accumulated in the upstairs hallway. How nice to now walk by on my way to my bedroom and breathe deeply because it’s no longer there. Thank you, MA! I will update as I conquer more…

  • Jane

    Last week, several rooms in our apartment flooded. No major damage done, thank God, but multiple areas needed to be cleaned out, including our pantry and our one over-full storage closet. Though frustrating, it ended up being a gift. We’ve gotten rid of so much unnecessary stuff. My favorite was the pantry. We’ve only been in this place two years, but I can’t believe how much I was able to toss or donate, knowing that we just won’t eat that. It is so clean in there now– I can actually look inside our pantry and see what needs to go on the grocery list! I’m trying to keep the motivation going and continue to go through our home and clean little areas like this. Yesterday I tackled a huge stack of papers that needed sorting and filing. I had literally been putting this off for months, thinking it would take me far too long, but I finished in less than 20 minutes. Your post was just the encouragement I need to keep going. Thanks!

  • Jane, that is such a great perspective — When our basement flooded, it was so stressful at the time, but now I am so thankful that we had the chance to get rid of so much junk — and a year later, I can’t believe how much junk has accumulated again. Maybe we should make a labor day tradition of getting a dumpster and just emptying our basement into it 🙂 Where does the stuff come from?

  • ABM

    I am going to try to go through one small zone of the house per day (e.g. linen closet, bathroom, toy chest, etc) and purge/organize. I remember the Building Cathedrals challenge of a few years ago to get rid of or find a better home for 10 items per day and am keeping that goal in mind.

  • Juris Mater

    I am trying to incorporate daily purging into my end-of-the-day cleanup. If I fall behind, having a cleaning lady come every 3 weeks gives me a reason to purge and organize again–she cleans so much better when the house is clear and things are in a place. I think that this can’t just be a seasonal thing, though, with so many people in the household, it has to happen as part of a daily/weekly maintenance routine.

    We’ve talked about this before, but I treat most kid items that constantly accumulate (cheap toys, crafts, artwork, etc) as perishables–they have a shelf life, we play with them for a couple days, then I toss them without a second thought. I read somewhere a long time ago that every square inch of space in our homes is very valuable for the flourishing of our family, and anything filling that space needs to account for itself regularly. This has just fueled my clutter-hating tendencies : )

  • I think that incorporating a purge into the nightly clean up is a great idea. One of the big reasons that we have fallen behind is that NOTHING gets done around here after the kids are in bed, I just collapse! For right now, first thing in the morning is my only chance, and it is alien to me to ignore the kids, throw on “Blues Clues” and do housework to start the day, but I am realizing that 20 minutes spent there buys us sanity for the rest of the day.
    I also agree about the cleaning lady. Ours tends to shove clutter into a drawer so that she can clean/vacuum, and I love how our house looks and feels when the surfaces are clear, but I do have to deal with those stuffed drawers at some point — better for all of us to clear the surfaces before she arrives!

  • MA, great post! In anticipation of company arriving last weekend, I finally went through the stack of school work and art projects on top of the desk, and most of it went straight to the wastepaper basket. Completing that project felt so good that I finally straightened up our drawer of “kid plates/cups/bowls,” and also went through the Tupperware drawer. We must all be on the same wavelength! Like so many of you said, each of these projects took less than 15 minutes, but I have been putting them off for months!