Let’s talk about cleaning. I feel like a person who ought to be really good at cleaning, because I love household management and I love to organise. But I honestly don’t think my household cleaning has ever been anything stellar. It’s only recently that I’ve had a functional cleaning schedule, with the attitude that, if I can at least do a couple of things regularly, on one day a week, that will be the start of better habits. But recently I’ve been feeling inspired to do a bit more. In fact I’m trying a daily schedule for a while and I want to share how it goes.
Why I don’t clean
I love homemaking, and most of the related tasks are things that I enjoy or at least find satisfying. But the only type of cleaning that I really find very satisfying is the really serious cleaning – like spring cleaning – or focused cleaning/organising, like sitting down and reorganising a closet. But as for anything regular, like vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, or dusting, it almost never gives me much pleasure. And, beyond those things, I am lucky if anything else gets cleaned except in a feverish spring cleaning. The dust behind our radiators can get pretty thick before April comes again.
I can pinpoint a couple of reasons why regular cleaning doesn’t come easily to me.
- I like to do intensive (=messy) projects, and I’m not a naturally tidy person – not that I’m not organised, but when I’m involved in something I screen out distractions. When I’m cooking it’s often hit or miss whether I wipe up minor spills as they happen, because my project is so engrossing that no petty concerns such as cleaning can challenge my focus.
- I actually do enjoy the focused, intense cleaning projects, and am deep down afraid that if I keep everything clean all the time, I won’t have anything to do on that rainy Sunday when inspiration strikes and I desperately want to organise a drawer. Ooh, isn’t that interesting? A fear of cleanliness?
Why I do want to clean (more)
Okay, so I like to spring clean. And I can hasten my way through some weekly tasks to keep things at least sanitary. What’s the problem with that?
Well, objectively, maybe there is no problem. But I would say that there are two problems, for me:
- First, some parts of the house do get truly dirty. When I do spring clean, they’re filthy, and they’re filthy again long before I come to clean them again. There’s a lot that my weekly cleaning doesn’t touch. And though most of the time these spots are out of the way, once I notice the mould growing in the air vent, or actual wads of dust on an out-of-the-way extension plug, I just feel gross about those things
- Second, my spring cleaning is always more than I can handle at one stretch. The last two years, I’ve started spring cleaning on one of the first sunny Saturdays when I can open the windows, but invariably I end up grumpy, tired, and with still half the tasks left to do. Each thing I try to clean is a can of worms (figuratively…though once I found larvae lounging underneath a bin in the kitchen), always dirtier and more complicated than I expected. So spring drags on and my energy wanes, and some stuff never gets done.
I would summarise this situation simply by saying that my system, such as it is, doesn’t work. I don’t mean that it fails to live up to perfect standards, but it doesn’t even work for my standards.
Why I won’t ever have a perfect home
But that’s a good question – what’s the standard? I like to watch YouTube videos about cleaning and organising (laugh if you like), but I suppose that if you’re a person who makes videos about cleaning, you likely have high standards. If I tried to keep my house as clean as some other people do, I can tell you it would be a disaster.
Actually, I think the primary reason I’m not great at cleaning is that I like to do projects. It’s all the stuff you see on this blog: cooking, sewing, knitting, making bath and body products. All of these consume space and make a mess, and sometimes they need to be left out for a few days while they’re in progress. I’ve decided that I value these creative pursuits enough to let them prevent my home from being always immaculate.
So my goal isn’t a persistent state of tidiness, because I think perpetual tidiness is incompatible with most creative hobbies. Rather, I want to have a system that chugs along well enough that the important things stay clean and sanitary, and everything else will get tended to often enough not to become filthy, and so that nothing becomes figuratively stagnant, untouched and unseen for months on end.
This is a true trial – that is, I’m going to give this a try and see if it works for me. It might not. I simply want to be honest.
What I’ve done is to take a zone approach; this is something which I think was popularised a while ago on www.flylady.com. The idea is to divide your home into zones (roughly one room each), tackling one zone per week, in little bits per day. Essentially you are accomplishing the tasks of a spring or deep cleaning, but spread out in 15-minute segments over several weeks. I have five obvious zones in our flat, so I should be cleaning the whole flat, spring-cleaning style, over five weeks and then starting again – I think with a bigger house you’d have more zones and have something like a six- or eight-week cycle. And ideally, since you are giving everything a once-over every few months, it shouldn’t take as long in total as a normal spring cleaning takes.
Here are my zones:
- Hall and closet
- Living room
In fact I already had a list of spring cleaning tasks, organised by room. (Do yourself a favour – if you ever decide to spring clean, write down everything you do and use the list for reference the next time.) I used this list and distributed the tasks for each room over five days.
So, in the hallway, on Monday I am tidying up and sorting things out, in preparation for vacuuming on Tuesday, and dusting and wiping surfaces on Wednesday. For each zone I tried to group tasks logically, so for example ones that required a dusting cloth together on the same day.
So far each day’s set of tasks has taken me around 15-20 minutes. I think I can handle that at least for a trial period. So I’m going to give this a try and check back in about a month and share how it’s going!