A month or two ago, Real Simple published a guide on how to clean your bathroom in five minutes. It’s a handy little check-off list (in my head I read that as a Chekhov list, which is something else entirely). Now, I have some major problems with some parts of the list (namely, the use of five billion disposable wipes), but I am apparently someone who needs a definitive list on how to clean, never mind the fact that at this point in my life I should have bathroom cleaning down to a perfunctory task. I have to say that I’ve found this checklist to be incredibly helpful. I just ignore the disposable wipe part and substitute a dishcloth and homemade all-purpose cleaner instead. (I also skip their recommendation for putting Alka Seltzer tablets in the toilet and just clean it the way I always have.) What I like is that it tells me what order to do things in, and also reminds me that it’s a good idea to do more than just the toilet and sink (door molding! light switch! change the towels! FLOOR). I’ve got a list printed out for both bathrooms. (Granted, I’m still not cleaning the bathrooms as often as I should, but at least when I do, they get cleaned more thoroughly.)
As promised, here’s what I’ve been doing to try to get myself going down the road to Happy Julie Life Land. As part of living life more methodically, I came up with four things I wanted to do every day: exercise, write, clean the house (or some part of it) and a general category I’m calling “housekeeping” which basically means anything related to running the business of our lives, from budgets to house renovations to researching various entrepreneurial ideas Dave and I come up with.
This is my list. It might not work for you. It certainly won’t if you work outside your house every day. But I’m going to tell you all about it, because maybe something about my thought process will help you to figure out what you want to do every day (alternatively, it will make you think I am a loony nutbar who’s full of herself and needs to get her priorities in order).
There was a great article in this month’s issue of Body + Soul magazine about breaking habits, and that’s essentially what I’m doing here (though maybe not so much breaking bad habits as starting good ones). Listen, I’ve known for a long time that I’ve wanted to do these things, but it’s time for me to buck up and just do them. Part of breaking habits is setting the goal, and part of it is just doing the right thing, every day, until that becomes your habit. The whole article seemed really relevant to what I’m trying to do here, but this part in particular screamed at me:
Take it step-by-step. One metaphor that adequately portrays how habit works is this: Picture yourself taking a sled down an untouched, snowy hillside. When you climb back to the top, you have a choice: Go down the same path or start a new one. If you go down the same track, the ride is faster and easier, and after a while it’s tough to get out of. That, says [Lenora] Yuen, is a lot like habit.
To change the direction and shape of that path, you have to be patient enough to forge a new one, and use it enough times that doing so becomes faster, requiring less thought and effort.
Ok! So I’ve been doing this for about three weeks, and it is slowly making a difference. My first thought every day is, “What am I going to do for exercise today?” (ok, that’s my first thought after, “Ugh, when will we ever get enough sleep?”).
Here’s a little more about my list (you asked, right? you didn’t? well, here’s a little more anyway):
Three times I’ve been pregnant, and three times I’ve gotten back down to my fighting weight, but each time my body is different: softer, wider, pillowy. And it takes longer each time. But Zuzu is fifteen months old, and not only do I want to look better in clothes, I also want to just have that daily habit of exercising. Because I never have, and I know my life would be better if I did (plus it’s a good model for the kiddos). A few weeks ago I saw this Helena Rubenstein quote: “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones” and while she was talking mostly about cosmetics, I feel like this is true of exercising also. Someone all cheeky with the glow of exercise looks lovely. Someone pasty with the pallor of chips on the couch, not so much. The quote is fairly unfeminist when applied to makeup, but I really like it as a life lesson. Meaning: get out there and DO something, Julie! Don’t be a lump!
Now, when I say “clean,” I don’t mean doing dishes, or picking up daily clutter, making beds, or unloading the dishwasher. Those things have to happen every day. What I’m talking about is doing one extra deep cleaning thing. Because I was doing the dishes and picking up the clutter, and corners of my house are still appalling. It’s too overwhelming to do it all at once (plus: impossible), but if I do one thing a day, it works. Things on this list include: wiping down the baseboards in one room, mopping the floor in one room, cleaning the shower curtain, dusting, walking around with glass cleaner and a cloth and wiping away any obvious hand and nose prints. Also clearing clutter out of some area that has gone to seed, like my dresser or the mantel.
Like I said, this is a broad category that just means doing something to keep the business of our lives moving forward. Financial things fall into this category, as do house renovation things, and have-been-on-my-list-awhile things (like figuring out a way to attach the bike trailer to my bicycle even though we can’t find the connector bracket thingie). Anything in this category supports our family and moves us forward.
I really love this advice from DIY Planner: “The secret to writing every day is to write every day.” Exactly. If you really want to do it, find a way. Stay up a little later, get up early, hide in the bathroom, do what it takes. When I write every day, it’s like I’m exercising some little writer person in my brain, and then that little Bartleby is on high alert and keeps throwing out more little writerly sentences, more and more every day, and then I have notebooks scattered throughout the house so I make sure to write the things down when I think of them. And the writing every day just happens, then. But you really need to write every day in order to write every day. (Coming next week: more obvious advice! If you want to eat healthier, eat healthier! If you wish you read more books, then read more books!)
So there you go. What’s on your list?
I was a messy kid. Now I’m a frantically cleaning adult. Go read about it on Better Way Moms.
Sometimes, in marriage, you have the same argument over and over about a stupid little thing, and generally agree that you’re at an impasse. And then, suddenly, the problem is solved! That’s what happened here.
For ten years Dave and I have been arguing about all-purpose cleaner. He likes to use ones like Formula 409, that work very well but are made of toxic chemicals. I like to use ones by Seventh Generation that are all natural, but don’t work as well, plus cost a lot more. Really, we were both right (aren’t I diplomatic?); hence, the impasse.
Enter, Craft magazine! Issue #10 (their last printed issue, sadly), featured a story on The Purple Fig Cleaning Company, a company which helps you host your own all-natural cleaning products party. There’s a recipe for all-purpose cleaner in the article, and I was surprised to realize that I had all of the ingredients in the house (every single ingredient was in a completely different part of the house, and it never would have occurred to me to mix all these things together in a spray bottle).
I am here to tell you that this cleaner is better than any I’ve used, toxic or not, and smells fabulous and costs pennies and now we can check Marital Debate #12: Cleaner off of our list. Hurray!
1. Mix 1 Tbsp borax and 1 tsp baking soda in 2 cups warm water.
2. Add 1/2-3/4 tsp (3 ml) tea tree oil.
3. Add 1/2-3/4 tsp (3 ml) liquid Castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s).
4. Pour this mixture into a spray bottle.
Several people have asked me what I think of Gail Blanke’s new Throw Out 50 Things book. I actually read an article by Blanke in “Real Simple” about the benefits of getting rid of 50 things sometime in 2007, in the middle of my grand 365 Things Decluttering, so I wasn’t really surprised when her new book came out. Part of me does feel like, “But mine is 315 better!” but mostly I think that anything that helps me move the junk out is great.
I read an article by Blanke in “Body + Soul” on Sunday, and then went for a long run, and the article plus the run had me so inspired that I kept right on running upstairs (ok, I did stop to shower and change) with garbage bags in hand. All I could think about during my run were things in my closet and dresser that I wasn’t wearing. In about an hour, from an area about 4 square feet, I unloaded at least 60 things. Though, honestly, a lot of that was jewelry I was no longer wearing (lots of hippie stuff from high school — remember those anklets with bells on them, Sarah?). If I count all the jewelry as one “thing” then I probably got rid of 25 things. A bunch was also outgrown Zuzu clothes, but they’d been sitting in a pile in her closet, so I freed up a lot of space just by transferring that pile into the Goodwill bag.
The funny thing about “50 things” is that I can almost guarantee that 50 morphs into 100 into 200 before you even know it. As soon as you start decluttering, you feel buoyant and floating and as you watch the albatross fly away you start looking around your house for what else you can get rid of. The thing about clutter is that it weighs you down, physically and mentally. You know there are things you want to be doing with your life, and I’m willing to bet that dusting tchotchkes is not one of your life ambitions. Once you clear out the stuff, you suddenly have time to write that book, plant that garden, paint the dining room orange, or suddenly find out that you’re pregnant with a baby girl. Ok, that last one might only have happened to me, but I really do think that my massive decluttering was saying to the universe, “Ok, I made this space, what should I fill it with?” (answer: Zuzu).
If you’re anything like me, you can start almost anywhere in your house and find an area to clear. Stand somewhere in your house and look around. Do you see something you’ve been meaning to put in a different spot, or get rid of entirely? Do it! Do you see more? Get a bag, grab it all, move it out! (My next area to tackle is under the bathroom sink.)
Need more inspiration? Get Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston, a book which totally changed the way I look at Stuff. You can read an article in The Sentry and another in The Portland Press Herald about my own project. It’s impossible to be totally clutter free when you have kids; they bring in a crazy amount of stuff every day (the acorns, sticks, and rocks alone just about do me in). But you can seriously and constantly and regularly edit and get rid of all that crap that’s hiding in the closet of your house and therefore weighing on the closet of your mind (ok, I promise I’m going to stop being so new agey right this minute).
Let’s say you’re having a holiday party at your house. And let’s say that you’re stressing out a little bit about how much you’ve got to do in preparation for this party. And you just realized that people will be using your bathroom, and you live in an old house and bathrooms in old houses are essentially impossible to clean, really.
Here’s what you do: unscrew the light bulb and put a candle (or two) in there, maybe one on the back of the toilet and one at the sink. If you have kids or are worried about leaving a candle unattended, you can get one of those battery-operated tea lights and stick it in a pretty holder. Or I’ve always been kind of intrigued by these Candela lights. That way, when someone goes to the bathroom, they flip the switch, nothing happens, and they shrug and go about their business, never having to know that you have evil mildew growing in the corner of your bathtub.
One of the hardest things about parenting is the constant observation. My 30s are really all about me having essentially no idea who I am and trying to figure out who I am, trying to reconcile the 20s me with some imaginary future responsible adult me. Why this coincides with parenthood I have no idea. But I do think a journey of self discovery has got to be easier without a 2-year-old asking, “What, Mommy? What happened? Why did you slam on the brakes?” or “But why did you hit your toe on the chair leg?” or “Why are you trying on all your pants to see if any of them fit today?”
The other day Dave took the boys to the beach, so I took advantage of being almost alone to blitz clean the house (yes, that’s right, me time now means all I want to do is clean – sometimes the future adult responsible me comes to visit). A sweet 4-year-old girl from the roving neighborhood posse chose that time to want to play with Henry. When I told her he wasn’t home, she proceeded to stand on my front stoop and stare into my house. I continued on my cleaning flurry, but it certainly wasn’t helped by this little observer elf standing at my door, occasionally calling out my name as I ran by with a load of laundry (“No, honey, Henry’s not back yet, you’re standing right there on the stoop, don’t you think you’d see him if he walked in?”). I know she’s only 4 and doesn’t understand that this was my only time all week in my own head but for pete’s sake LEAVE ME ALONE. Of course I didn’t say any of this but just let it fester inside until she inexplicably decided to ring my doorbell and run away which caused me to do my best unintentional impression of an insane angry lady, running out the door and yelling, “Don’t do that! It’s not funny! You may think Ding Dong Dash is funny, but it’s not!” (Yes, I’m considering the possibility that I could do the impression of the angry lady because I am the angry lady.) But really, why can’t she go watch her own mother for a change?