Cleaning the house has been a constant battle around here, as you'd might expect. Jane and I have struggled mightily against our tendency to be "binge cleaners" that only make the house presentable before company comes, or when it gets so bad that we can't actually walk through most rooms.
Recently we've managed to get close to a maintenance level around here, and with Fin's lessening needs to walk around dumping everything she can find onto the floor we're in a pretty good place.
Nevertheless, we've been looking for tips and hints to manage a house with six slobs and thirty thousand Legos.
Now, understanding that, I've been trying really hard in the last few months to like the ParentHacks blog. It is an interesting site, fluctuating wildly between useful tips and discussions, and amazingly oblivious "hints" from the $800 stroller, disposable-everything, kids as excuse for wretched-excess crowd. Most of the posts are redeemed by the discussions in the comments.
Thursday, ParentHacks had a somewhat innocuous post about cleaning habits that ended with a link to this RealSimple article. Being a smartass, and knowing how RealSimple sets Jane off, I immediately emailed her the link. Once she was convinced that I was kidding by sending it to her she send me the following email she sent to her friends
Subject: Real Stupid
Date: March 3, 2006 5:34:12 PM EST
To: My bonehead husband
Bob sent me this link to the Real Simple website, with the words "Not particularly helpful, but I thought I'd pass it along anyway..." Let me start by saying I detest Real Simple, a magazine written for singe women and Martha Moms with Pottery Barn kids, who have scads of extra cash that they can use to buy things to solve their imaginary problems. I know everyone else on the planet loves Real Simple... but...
These room-by-room to-do lists will help you get the work done quickly so you can put your feet up sooner rather than later.
Kitchen, 4 1/2 minutes daily
Always start with the sink. "Keep it empty and shining," says Marla Cilley, author of Sink Reflections (Bantam, $15) and creator of www.FlyLady.net, a housekeeping website. A sparkling sink becomes your kitchen's benchmark for hygiene and tidiness, inspiring you to load the dishwasher immediately and keep counters, refrigerator doors, and the stove top spick-and-span, too.
# Wipe down the sink after doing the dishes or loading the dishwasher (30 seconds).
# Wipe down the stove top (one minute).
# Wipe down the counters (one minute).
# Sweep, Swiffer, or vacuum the floor (two minutes).
Okay, we can skip the rant about FlyLady being a cult. That's a given. But I love the way a clean sink will "inspire" me. These people need higher goals in life.
#Ooops! Forgot load dishwasher or do dishes. Let's add a good 10 minutes for that, just for the evening meal. If you eat more than than one meal in your home (no power lunches here!) add another 5 minutes.
#Oh wait a minute. Remember when the toddler climbed up on the desk and found the permanent markers? And started decorating everything in sight? Yeah, well, while you were chasing her down and doing a quick assessment and yelling at the older kids for leaving markers out, your gourmet dinner burned. Add 5 more minutes to scrub a quarter inch of carbon off your favorite skillet.
#Now, before you "Swiffer" (nice product placement) you need get the big stuff off the floor. Add 4 minutes for picking up toys and tossing them in pile and screaming "Come get your stuff or I am throwing it away!"
#Okay, in the middle of "Swiffering" you find the spot on the floor where your five year old dropped his PB&J. The jelly is now mostly petrified. Add 3 minutes to scrub that up.
#Oh, those toys on the floor? That's nothing compared to the crap they sneak onto the counters. Add three minutes to scrape off the stickers that your three year old so nicely applied. Add two minutes to calm her down afterward, since you ruined her stickers.
#I tell ya, these Real Simple people really know what life is like. Since they forgot to add "Empty dishwasher or put away dishes" we can only assume that never needs to be done! Hooray! But we should probably add the three and a half hours that will be needed to call the handyman to come and open our now completely jammed dishwasher and do the repair work necessitated by over-stuffing it. And whether you have a dishwasher or not, be sure to add in all the time you will need for shopping for new dishes. I suppose that is variable.
We haven't even opened the refrigerator. It's probably better that way.
Bathroom, 2 minutes daily
Make cleaning the basin as routine as washing your hands. But don't stop there. Get the most out of your premoistened wipe by using it to clean around the edges of the tub and then the toilet before tossing it.
# Wipe out the sink (30 seconds). Wipe the toilet seat and rim (15 seconds).
# Swoosh the toilet bowl with a brush (15 seconds).
# Wipe the mirror and faucet (15 seconds).
# Squeegee the shower door (30 seconds).
# Spray the entire shower and the curtain liner with shower mist after every use (15 seconds).
Yep, it makes perfect sense that a bathroom can be cleaned in just minutes a day! That's why the bathroom is the cleanest room in the house, the one you can't wait to get to!
#Let's not forget picking up all the stuff that gravitates to the bathroom. Dirty clothes, clean clothes (worn for three minutes, then discarded), Legos, pencils, dolls, play dishes, towels. Since most of this stuff is not yours, you have to scream and wait for the kids to come pick up and put away. Add 15 minutes. Well, of course, it is all about the cleaning! Who cares if your kids grow up to be selfish slobs who think the world owes them? Do it yourself! But still add 6 minutes.
#"Swoosh" the toilet bowl? Excuse me? You need to scrub that puppy; my toilet laughs at "swooshing". Depending on the age of the toilet, the quality of the water and the ages of the users, this can take up to 12 minutes. Shall we split the difference at six? Of course, I suppose that if you do this every single day it won't take as long. But that insane asylum is a lonely, lonely place, and those stainless steal toilets really show the fingerprints.
#An absolute must for any well-equipped home is pre-moistened wipes. Never mind that they didn't even exist a few years ago. If you can't add it to a landfill after just one use, it's no good! But really, scrubbing up the toothpaste that congeals every single day on your bathroom sink and counter takes a few more than 30 seconds. Minute and half, maybe? And now that pre-moistened wipe (and perhaps a few of its brothers) is all used up. You need a new one to wipe off your toilet seat. Why you are wiping off your toilet seat, I have no idea. If there is something on the toilet seat that needs to be cleaned up I am pretty sure it will take more than a 15 second wipe. If you live with boys, of any age, add three minutes for the toilet, even without the "swooshing". If you live with boys, of any age, you know what I mean.
#We aren't even going to talk about the mirror and the shower and the bathtub. I am too tired. The mirror has strange stuff on it, and maybe that pre-moistened wipe will get it, maybe it won't. The bathtub is full of toys, which are full of some scary black ick. Don't even want to mess with those. Close the shower door, close the shower curtain, don't worry about it.
#Of course, if you live with children, and those children are of a certain age, you can't get in the bathroom anyway. So two minutes, twenty minutes, it makes no difference.
Bedroom, 6 1/2 minutes daily
Make your bed right before or after your morning shower. A neat bed with inspire you to deal with other messes immediately. Although smoothing sheets and plumping pillows might not seen like a high priority as you're rushing to work, the payoff comes at the end of the day, when you slip back under the unruffled covers.
# Make the bed (two minutes).
# Fold or hang clothing and put away jewelry (four minutes).
# Straighten out the night-table surface (30 seconds).
A daily shower? Why didn't I think of that?? Maybe if I had time to take a shower every day I would care more about the black icky toys in the tub. But I get a shower maybe once a week. I can step around toys. I can close my eyes and pretend I am not in my yucky bathroom, but under a steaming hot waterfall on the Island of No Screaming Children. Okay, so understanding that this whole room is based on a faulty premise, we will move on.
#Making the bed shatters the illusion that you will be able to get back in it, just as soon as you get the oldest kid off to school, make everybody's lunch, feed the dog, clean up the breakfast bowls, start the laundry, whatever. So we are going to deduct two minutes here. My fantasies are worth two minutes. And besides, like the kitchen sink, if simply making my bed "inspires" me, I really need to get out more.
(Oh, I almost forgot. If you do make you bed, add back the two minutes, plus another 17 to perfectly arrange those 47 stupid throw pillows that serve no purpose other than being taken on and off the bed every day.)
#Put away jewelry? For four minutes? Huh? So we can deduct those four minutes.
# I have no idea where these clothes we are supposed to be hanging and folding are coming from. I was promised "a sparkling house in just 19 minutes a day". Do you see laundry in this list? There are no clothes to put away. It's just like those handy dandy pre-moistened wipes, use once and throw away! Imagine the time savings. We're down six out of six and half minutes on this room already!
#Now, of course we have to tackle that "night-table surface". Thirty seconds is all is will take to angle that romance novel just right, and make sure all your scented candles are arranged just so. Picking up the used tissues, sippy cups, half-eaten cookies, tea mugs, barrettes and hair bands, comic books, board books, baby socks, kids boots, and assorted small toys will take a little longer. Oops. Looks like we are right back at six and half minutes. Oh well.
#Almost forgot. Do you have a cat? Be sure to add three minutes for cleaning up the hairball he so graciously left right where you plant your feet to get out of bed.
Now, of course we know that the only people who have trouble keeping house are we poor, addlepated moms. So really, we should add kids' rooms on to this list. If you insist on being one of those granola types, you can say that kids are responsible for their own rooms, and therefore should do it themselves. Multiply each item above by approximately 10,000. OR you can be neat and clean and admired by all the other moms you know and do it yourself. So...
#Make bed. This will take longer than two minutes, since you have to find the bed, remove two weeks of dirty clothing from the bed, remove comic books from the bed, remove Legos from the bed, remove Barbies from the bed and remove various food wrappers of types that you had no idea were even in the house from the bed. Now you have to dig out the sheets from the crack between the wall and the bed. You have to dig through the closet to find the blankets. Shake out the comforter. Once you come to (having been overwhelmed by the smell) you can actually make the bed. Total time (not including blackout), eleven minutes.
#We have already established that putting away laundry and jewelry is not necessary, so we can skip that step.
#If you have younger children, you now have to pick up their toys. Allow at least two and half hours for this. If you have older children, you have to allow time for whatever incriminating evidence of any number of unsavory activities you will dig up and the shock that will follow. This is at least an hour, but could actually force you into your bed for weeks. Starting to rethink this clean house thing yet? A little less "inspired", maybe?
#Night-table surface? I'm into the gin, now.
Family Room, Living Room, Foyer, 6 minutes daily
Start with the sofa — as long as it's in disarray, your living room will never look tidy. Once you've fluffed the pillows and folded the throws, you're halfway home. If you pop in a CD while you dust, you should be able cover the whole room by the end of the third track.
# Pick up crumbs and dust bunnies with a handheld vacuum (one minute).
# Fluff the cushions and fold throws after use (two minutes).
# Wipe tabletops and spot-clean cabinets when you see fingerprints (one minute).
# Straighten coffee-table books and magazines. Throw out newspapers. Put away CDs and videos. (Two minutes.)
Step one: Go out and buy a handheld vacuum. What was I thinking!
# Pop in that CD! But make it classical. That way when you get to then end of the third track you've had between thirty minutes and hour to get your dusting, the most annoying of all chores, done. Oh, but wait, who's counting? They didn't add that three tracks worth of dusting into the total, which would have, at minimum, doubled it.
#Okay, I'll fold throws. But since I have to do it at least five times a day, add ten minutes.
#If I have to wipe and spot-clean every time I see fingerprints we better add some time. Like 8 minutes, minimum. And if we consider that fingerprints formed by snot, yogurt, chocolate, mud, dog food, spaghetti sauce and peanut butter need to be scrubbed, not wiped, off, we better add another six minutes for that.
#Straighten coffee-table books and magazines. Okay. That's after you spend 4 minutes digging them out from under the couch where the toddler stuffed them. Throw away newspapers. AMEN. Recycling is so unAmerican.
#When you are putting away those videos, add 18 minutes to find the case for the SpongeBob DVD, because I have the DVD RIGHT HERE IN MY HAND and DAMMIT THESE THINGS ARE EXPENSIVE and WHY WAS THIS ON THE FLOOR?? WHO GOT THIS OUT? GET IN HERE AND FIND THE CASE! Add another 5 minutes to put the videos that the baby dumped all over the place back in the correct boxes, or really any box.
#I can't help but notice that "vacuum" is not on the list. Shall we use that wonderful hand vac for the job? Add 45 minutes plus half hour appointment with chiropractor. And of course, even with a real vacuum, we can't do the job until we get everything off the floor. Let's make the kids do at least this, you think? Add 17 minutes, minus the inevitable whining. Of course they whine. You've never made them do anything else before!
So, let's sum up. Real Simple promises me a sparkling house in just 19 minutes a day. By my count we need to add 32 minutes to the kitchen, 16 minutes to the bathroom, 3 minutes to the bedroom, 131 minutes for each child's room (say, an average of two children's rooms?), and 73 minutes for the living room. Now we're up to a total of six hours and 45 minutes. As we've already discovered, this does not include laundry. It does not include any food preparation or grocery shopping. It doesn't include cleaning a dining room or an office. It does not include child care or maintenance. It doesn't even include that pretty much every single single thing that you do in those fabulous 19 minutes can and will be undone by your children in less than one of those fabulous minutes.
Yep. It's Real Simple, all right. I'm taking a nap.