Messies Vs Cleanies

tired housewife sweeping floor vintageUpdated!  With links!!  With strange typo removed and corrected (I think when I added a picture, some text got inserted in a weird place)!!!  With more exclamation marks!!!!

I think there are people who are messy because they are lazy, or tired, or slothful, or lack will power, definitely. Often these days that would be me.

Actually, when it comes to failures in the housecleaning department, I think there must be at least three types of people-
1. those who are lazy or lacking in will power or are simply overwhelmed by the mess- those who just have to recognize it’s more painful to put off until next week what could be done now and that some minimum stuff has to be done every day.  They usually need day to day steps to take to keep things from becoming overwhelming.

2. Those who let a clean house become an idol that interferes with relationships. The kind of person who nobody would dare call for a ride to the doctor because all your acquaintances know that you don’t mess with your schedule for anything- the sort of person who leaves everybody but other natural cleanies discouraged and never encouraged. Bet you didn’t know that some cleanies are also house-cleaning failures, didja?

3. And those who have zeal but not knowledge and make all the wrong choices.

There are also those nice, organized people who got that way by will power (our FYG), and there are nice organized people who got that way because that’s the way they are (Our JennyAnyDots).

The main way to tell the difference between somebody who comes by it naturally and somebody who doesn’t is this- when you ask them for advice and their advice skips any and all the steps and jumps right to the goal.  “Create a schedule and stick to it.”   “Keep your house ready for company…”  that is the advice of a natural cleanie.  That is the advice of somebody who does not know the difference between a goal and a process, who doesn’t know that your problem is that you don’t know *how* to keep your house ready for company all the time because the way you ‘get ready for company’ is not sustainable on a daily basis.

Cleanies are important people to know (and even more important to have in your family!).   I think it is really important to *watch* them, because you can learn a lot that way- you will learn all the little steps they do that they do not even know they do.   It’s also important for you to know that because these things come naturally to them, they cannot articulate the details or even break the process down into any steps to tell others.

I do struggle with a severe lack of energy and a surplus of pain which definitely drains my will power these days. But in my younger years it usually really wasn’t an issue of will- I worked harder than lots of other people, but I did not know *how.* I knew how to dust, vacuum, and scrub floors. I didn’t know how to maintain order or just handle basic maintenance-level clean. I was constantly deep-cleaning something, and making a huge mess in the process. To clean a closet I emptied everything out and then went through each thing- and if I found an item requiring batteries, I did not set it aside in a ‘check later’ box, I went and hunted up the batteries, and ended up emptying out the battery drawer and making a list of what was needed to restock it, and in the process found the glue had been misplaced and went to return it to the right spot and gluing a couple of items that had been put where the glue belonged so that they could be fixed when the glue turned up, and invariably would find something there that had to be taken care of and put somewhere else, which would require another mess to be made, and it just snowballed.
I would spend an entire day working like a dog, but I was trashing my house (‘the foolish woman tears down her own house’ comes to mind). The end result was an exhausted me, a late and inadequate dinner, the closet still emptied out into the living room, several other messes in other rooms, the routine daily tasks only half done- and nothing useful to show for it.

Sandra Felton tells the same thing in her book The New Messies Manual: The Procrastinator’s Guide to Good Housekeeping. She explains how she asked and asked for advice and never got anything useful until somebody told her to start in one corner of the room and work her way around it, setting things aside that had to be moved somewhere else or otherwise ‘handled,’ and just pick up where she left off next time. THAT advice was far more valuable and useful to me than ‘just will yourself.’ The harder I willed myself, the bigger the messes I made. My way of cleaning, there was no halfway- everything was spotlessly clean (a condition lasting ten minutes with kids) or everything was a disaster. Sandra Felton’s way there was an in-between state that was livable and functional. Until I read her book I had no idea how to do that, no organized person had ever accurately recognized my problem as actually cleaning too much, but cleaning all the dumbest things in the silliest ways (a few non-organized types recognized it, and they kindly pointed it out to me, but none of us knew how to fix it.

I  focused far too much time on inconsequential stuff- on one memorable occasion a friend volunteered my house for Ladies’ Bible study and then volunteered to help me clean up when she saw how upset I was. She came and cleaned my bathroom, tidied my hall, had the kitchen whipped into shape- and in all that time,  I had cleaned my living room windows and the window sills. They were immaculate, spotless, band-box new. I used a tooth-brush and got all the nooks and crannies so perfectly clean that you could do surgery on my windows or window sills. I still recall her nonplussed face when she finished her ‘side’ of the house and walked in the living room to see how I was doing and realized I was still cleaning a perfectly clean windowsill 3 hours later, while the entire rest of the living room was a disaster!! It was not a matter of willpower- I was working so hard on that window! But what a waste of my time. I just had no idea how to prioritize. To me, clean was band-box clean, everywhere, in all nooks and crannies, no matter how small and out of the way. I really thought other people were cleaning this way, I just was doing it badly.

This is no longer my problem at all- we have some level of grime just about everywhere now, but back then another friend who struggled just as much as I did told me once that she noticed that if you looked below the chaos and clutter at our houses, the floors, sinks, and toilets (and windowsills) at our houses were much cleaner than they were at other people’s seemingly spotless homes- only most people were so stunned by the chaos, they couldn’t see that.

Sandra Felton pointed out for me that most Messies are also perfectionists at heart.

We can definitely learn from the born organized, those who come by it naturally. It’s just that if you are totally missing that something innate that allows you to clean a room without casualties, but instead your internal lack of cleaning common sense causes you to make a room worse rather than better when you clean it, you have to learn from the cleanies differently. You will get the most valuable information from them by watching and observing. You won’t learn much by asking them questions unless you also are actually more inclined to organization as a natural bent, because they have internalized cleaning so they don’t even know all the important little things they do.

And that’s one of the important things that I had to learn- is this a person who can teach me by telling me something, or is this somebody I should watch more than I ask her questions? Is this a person who knows that there are a multitude of steps between “how do I keep a clean house?” and “Just keep a clean house?” I also had to learn not to take it personally if it isn’t a person who knows there are steps, because sometimes, their simplistic advice can come across as insulting or condescending.

Another important thing is to recognize that our preferences are just not standards. The Fly lady (her book is Sink Reflections) has a thing about the Kitchen sink and shoes in the house. That’s her thing. Lots of people who fail her program are, IMO, people who just don’t feel the same way about shoes and kitchen sinks. They need to find the other thing that matters most to them.

For some people, it’s a made bed. I have gone through periods where I made the bed religiously every day because that’s what everybody said I should do and I wanted so badly to do the right thing, and….. I got nothing from it. I’m still not getting it on the bed. Personally, I do not even think it feels better to get into a bed that’s been made all day. I *like* the feel of sheets that have been open to the air all day. I strongly prefer the way an unmade bed feels over the way the sheets feel on a bed that’s been stuffily closed all day. It *is* nicer to look at if the quilts are turned back all the way during the day- but I totally prefer the feel of open air sheets over made beds.

You know what does make me feel good? A newly rearranged room, and bare floors that are barefoot clean. I dislike rugs, but I totally love the feel of a floor that is smooth and sparkling clean and that I can walk on in my barefeet all day and they will be just as clean at the end of the day as when I started. I have gone through periods where I mopped my kitchen floor every night before bed (which at that time was 2 a.m.) just so I could stand on it and wriggle my toes. Oh, I loved that feeling.   Unless I hire a maid, I’m afraid that so long as we live in the country in a house with 3,000 plus square feet of bare floor, that is a feeling I will never get it back.=( I think I want a Rumba.
Anyway, since I am refreshed and blessed by putting my bare feet on a clean floor the fly lady’s shoe rule is a punishment, not a motivation to follow her program (for me), and I don’t walk on my bed, so making it is just… meh.

So find the thing that motivates you, and  develop a conscience about keeping *something* clean in your home. And once you’ve developed that conscience about something, move on and add something else to it, and something else, and something else. That first thing that refreshes you and delights you when it is done is just *not* going to be the same thing for everybody. Neither is the second, third, or fourth.  There is nothing inherently noble and unique that makes a made bed, a spotless sink, shiny windows, perfect toilets,  or a barefoot clean floor innately superior to anything else in the housecleaning department (except, obviously, barefoot clean floors rock).


Here are the other things I’ve heard over years that were a huge help to me:

  • The Messies manual advice that you start in one corner and work your way around the room, don’t run off to do ten other things, and pick up where you left off. I needed to completely squelch my hither, thither, and yon, caffeinated squirrel with the attention span of a lobotomized butterfly tendencies.
  • Don’t put it down, put it away.
  • No flat surfaces near the entry points of rooms (I am not the worst offender here, and I won’t say who is, but since it isn’t a child, I find my house easier to keep tidy if there are no flat surfaces to put things on- OR if the flat surfaces are covered in annoying knick knacks).
  • Proximity- Splurge and get a toilet brush and separate cleaners for each bathroom and the kitchen. If you have to hunt down the cleaning supplies, you’re less like to use them regularly. Put a broom and dust-pan on each floor. Put the iron and ironing board where you are most likely to use them (in my case, this is in my bathroom, NOT my laundry room)
  • Prevention- put contact paper on the wall behind the trash-can. Choose a smaller laundry basket so you cannot let laundry build up to much. Put the oil bottles on plastic lids in your cabinet. Don’t own things that have to be dusted with q-tips. Don’t allow eating all over the house.
  • The one piece of advice the Fly Lady has that did work for me is the reminder that housework done imperfectlvintage housewife at tabley still  blesses your family. Messies tend to be perfectionists and find it paralyzing to clean imperfectly. ( I have also been known to have my kids pin a sheet up in the laundry room to hide the clean washer, dryer, and shelf of tidy cleaning supplies from guests who were filing in a line that went through the laundry room and into the kitchen. My husband told me I was nuts- did I want them to think we don’t do laundry here? No. I didn’t want them to think about laundry _at all_. )
  • Set the timer and work for fifteen minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes.
  • It’s okay to watch a movie while folding laundry.
  • Simplify- pare down the stuff, toys, clothes, everything (I stink at this)
  • Learn what works for you and don’t let others tell you this is wrong- When the stuff gets overwhelming- I find it a huge help to, for instance, clear everything off my desk and it in a box and then look at and put away one thing at a time. However, my oldest cannot function that way, it drives her nuts. I don’t understand that at all.
  • It’s okay to throw out unmatched socks- it’s not only okay, it’s imperative. Do this at least once a year, probably more is better.
  • The crockpot is your friend, ally, and faithful servant.
  • Forget about the shoes, but otherwise, do get dressed in the morning.*
  • Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good enough.

Some people require the discipline of a regular schedule. Some of us find a schedule not only stifling, but also counterproductive, because when we miss a few things on the schedule, it throws us entirely offtrack and it might be years before we recover.

Instead of a schedule, I find a rhythm works better for me.

The rhythm of our days was a lot more syncopated when we had five under 9 and 3 of them were in diapers, or when the youngest two were in full Berserker mode, but I’ve paid my dues, so now my routine is so relaxed that sometimes it’s in a vegetative state.

These are some resources that helped me figure out that rhythm:

book shelf border smallBooks: 

A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul. I reviewed it here.

Managers Of Their Homes: A Practical Guide To Daily Scheduling For Christian Home-School Families
I actually discarded far more than I used from this book, but the main idea I gleaned from them was so invaluable to me, that I think it is only fair to give them credit for it (it was their color coded schedule with a different color for each family member- it helped me a lot with school scheduling).

Escape from the Kitchen: this helped me figure out how to organize my kitchen so that it made the most sense for the way we use the kitchen.

Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life; This helped me fight back my own personal weaknesses in the character department, although I am a long, long way from over-coming them.

Large Family Logistics: The Art and Science of Managing the Large Family– the Four Moms blogged through this book a while back. You may find those posts useful. This book is best, I think for younger moms, even if they don’t yet have a large family. Honestly, having two or three under 3 is much, much, much harder than having 5 under nine.
Online Resources:

Reading and editing Benedict’s Rule of Order for myself really helped me a lot.

Here’s a sample schedule from a few years back.

Because there is no perfect schedule, the schedule is always Plan B.

More online resources for getting organized here.


*P.S,. This is why you get dressed in the morning no matter what.  This very morning, August 20, 2013, in spite of having written this good advice yesterday, I got up at 7:30 and did not get dressed, because I wanted to move the books from one tiny, tiny shelf (maybe 20 books) to a cabinet- the two pieces of furniture are so close to each other, I could do this from a footstool.  The job should have taken five minutes, tops, so I didn’t think it was important to get dressed first.  But you know what I said about my squirrel with ADHD and a lobotomy tendencies?  One job led to four others Iincluding hanging a poster- don’t ask- and putting together a Knex toy- do not EVEN ask- and, gack, even cleaning a window sill- do not even THINK about asking.  I attempted to complete them all simultaneously, and at 11:30 I finished.  I even had help.  All I can say is that at least I did not use a toothbrush on my windowsill and it isn’t spotless, just not cobwebby and deep in dust.

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  1. Vi
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    – A Messie who so very much wants to be a cleanie. 😉

  2. Posted August 20, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I had to laugh when I saw the title. I am naturally (or perhaps my mother was and I learned a great deal from her) a cleanie; and I’m a mostly reformed perfectionist. but I love to teach, and I’ve struggled with this at times. In fact, it was Flylady that gave me the push I needed and the basics I need to get moving with my own home. Yes, she’s got some pretty firm things that she preaches; but even she will be quick to say that you’ve got to figure out your own priorities. I learned the 15 min rule from her (you can do anything for 15 min, except whine!), the ‘good enough’ principle, and idea of routines. It was flylady that launched me into reading more about homekeeping.

    In fact, I started a series about homekeeping resources on my blog, but it approaches the whole idea from a more academic standpoint (that is me!).

    And you are so right that its hard teach this stuff if it comes naturally. So true.

  3. Fatcat
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    The main things I took away from Flylady were how you need to make it a habit/routine and you can do anything for 15 minutes. Most of the time, my home can be company ready in 15 minutes with all 5 of us working on it. 😛 but in busy times, we drop our good habits and everything goes to pot, which is where it is right now.

    When I was doing my version of the flylady system regularly, it worked well and didn’t take that much time, but I’m very habit resistant, so the habit doesn’t stick unless I tie it to something I care about. For example, sometimes I tell the kids they don’t have to do anything all day if mom hasn’t done her routine in the morning before a certain time. This pretty much guarantees that I will do it because that means that they don’t have to do their school work and their education is important to me.

  4. Posted August 20, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Thank you for finally explaining my husband to me. We’ll have a cleaning day (because I am a cleanie, but I also struggle with energy issues and we just have to catch up every now and then), and I’ll have the whole house done while he is, just as you say, going over the windows with a toothbrush. Sigh. Priorities, dude. My family is coming over tomorrow and the kids have trashed their bathroom and you’re cleaning behind the dryer?? 😉

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 20, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      I am sorry, but I am giggling. That is *so* me. Sometimes my living room is a disaster area, but underneath my couch, it is very clean.

      • Amity
        Posted August 20, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Ha! I’m a mixture of well-organized and hopelessly overwhelmed, and I used to reorganize the books in a crisis clean. Or I’d spend half an hour dithering – carrying things from one part of the kitchen to another part, trying to *get ready* to clean, while my husband would clean both bathrooms and the living room, and then send me away to read to the kids while he cleaned the kitchen. Back then, crisis cleaning was the only kind we did. Then you pointed me to Flylady (by saying that her shiny sink didn’t do anything for you but helped some people), and I learned about daily routines. Now I quite often have clean surfaces in my house, and I can clean the kitchen fast, by myself. I love having a made bed – when I see untidy surfaces I get grouchy – but I rarely clean the sink and refuse to wear shoes indoors, because they seriously interfere with cuddling time with the kids.

      • Posted August 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Oh, and my windows? Always dirty. I’m too busy trying to keep the house livable. So I’m glad I have a perfectionist in the house to wash the walls from time to time. 😀

  5. Tamara
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    One teeny typo alert.

    The important thing you learned from Fly Lady currently reads as: ” housework done imperfectly still vintage housewife at table lesses your family.”

    My brain was trying to read it as “lessens your family”…and I KNEW that wasn’t right! 🙂

  6. Diana
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    My goodness – I was laughing through this entire post. So, so, so true!

    I’m a combination “born organized” and perfectionist like you – yes indeed, those windowsills are going to be CLEAN!!

    Thanks for those tips – I use many of them myself, including the “forget Flylady’s shoes” mantra! I drove myself nuts with that one for years, but the truth is that I hate shoes and cannot work if I can’t feel the floor (a dancer’s phrase!).

    What struck me most about this post was not the content, though, but how much it applies to a completely different area of life – PARENTING. I was giggling the whole way through as I applied this to parenting. There are some people (not me, unfortunately) who are “born parents” – and who one can watch for instruction, but good luck trying to get any concrete process-advice out of them. They just say something like, “Make rules, enforce them, and discipline your kids, and there you are!” Oh, my goodness. Those of us who are parenting “messies” truly need the process, step-by-step-by-step.

    “And that’s one of the important things that I had to learn- is this a person who can teach me by telling me something, or is this somebody I should watch more than I ask her questions? Is this a person who knows that there are a multitude of steps between “how do I keep a clean house?” and “Just keep a clean house?” I also had to learn not to take it personally if it isn’t a person who knows there are steps.”

    Housekeeping – yes. Parenting – yes.

    Thank you so much for your blog. I always learn something, I always laugh, and you always make such awesome points in such a clear and useful way. You have a gift! Keep writing!

  7. Carol
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I must have missed something along the way. Who is the Fly Lady?

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      You know what? I am going to go through this post and add some links. I thought everybody had heard of the Flylady. She’s online and quite the housecleaning guru.

      • Carol
        Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! I am checking out her site now and it looks very helpful.

  8. Rebecca P
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    This could not have come on a better day. A day when I walked downstairs and thought, “This house is a disaster. How am I ever going to tackle it, take care of my 3 little children, and doing all the cooking I need to do?” I love the thought that cleaning imperfectly is okay. I aim for, on good days, just *tidy*. But somewhere along the line our home spiraled out of control and things are so far out of their places that I’ve forgotten where the places are! I am going to start in a corner and work my way around. Thanks for this.

  9. jules
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny. All the updates and links are there if you click on the actual title to the post and go there to read. If you read from the home page, it looks like it did when you first posted it.

    I learned alot from FlyLady. I don’t use her anymore, but I do the clean sink (clean kitchen) and the swish and swipe in the bathroom. I guess I’m a reformed messie, but an learned cleanie. I tend to put things back where they belong, and keep things put away. I struggle with paper clutter (OH MY!!! the piles!!!). I CANNOT put things in a box to sort later. 3 years later, I have boxes of stuff to sort. My way of cleaning for company is making sure the bathroom is clean, the rugs are shaken, and I used to run the dustbuster around the edges to pick up the dog bunnies. I have hardwood, so clean bare floors are the best for me as well. After the first day, I wear socks so the dirt won’t stick to my feet. lol

    This was great! Thanks!

  10. Marijo
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    You are my hero!

  11. Katie Jo
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this!! I have been trying to figure out what’s wrong with me and why housework and having/keeping a moderately clean house is so difficult, aside from the laziness and procrastination aspect that I am certainly guilty of. I am going to get my husband to read this, he cleans in much the same way as you whereas I fall in between the two. Thank you for the encouragement and the useful advice for this messy.

    I love going shoeless, unfortunately I found that my feet are happier and I can be more productive when I wear supportive and comfy shoes. That and sweeping the floor tends to be low on priorities. Having my dishes washed before bedtime, I have found, is one of those important tasks that help the next morning go so much more smoothly.

  12. HeatherHH
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Way back (oh maybe 8-10 years ago), I tried looking over Fly Lady because so many raved about her and I am a Messie that wants to be a Cleanie. And her 3 rock-solid principles did me in. At the time at least, she basically said you had to get dressed for the day including shoes so that you’d be more productive and work like you would at a job and that you should keep that kitchen sink polished above all else because you’d feel so happy in the morning to see a shiny sink. Um, no. That does next to nothing for me. And few things rub me the wrong way more than someone who states as a fact that their preferences are the way everyone should do it and you’ll be glad you just listened to them. So, Fly Lady went by the way side really quickly for me.

    And I don’t get the making beds thing either. I tried for a while to do it because I felt I “should,” but I don’t bother anymore now that all our bedrooms are upstairs and we are really only up there to go to bed.

    Honestly my biggest help now is that my older children (12, 10, 8) are now more help, so when there’s a lot that needs done, I have a lot of helpers. I tend to procrastine, get overwhelmed, and then procrastinate even more. It’s easier to deal with now that there are more of us to make a dent in it.

  13. abba12
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I am avery organized person, but, am very easily overwhelmed. Once we get to overwhelming point, its like i shut down, i dont do ANYTHING well. My whole day is effected by the messy house and yet i seem incapable of doing anything about it.

    I dont know what to do. Right now my husband helps a lot, but that is hardly an ideal solution.

  14. Rebekah
    Posted August 21, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Gotta say, I’ve ever done flylady, and I am mostly a cleanie, but I think more people should understand thes differences. I remeber being in a conversation with several women who were complaining that when their husbands cleaned the dishes they forgot to clean he sink out when finished. I was appalled because they attributed this to laziness and stupidity,, saying evryone KNOWS that one must clean the sink when finished. I kimd of reprimanded them, remembering how long it took my mother to drill into our heads the strps to getting a kitchen cean when young. It took much longer to teach my messie sister than me, cleanie They were both perfectionist types and did no comprehend differences in training and personality and priorities..
    I also think this is a great reminder to us cleanies to not become discouraged when training our children, and to take into account how we teach them, lest we give up in dispair aas my mom( a very strict cleanie) did with my sister.

    PS I do like a clean sink but often have to let it go for more important things, like reading to my kids. I also hate shoes in the house, as shoes
    Are generally not good for clean floors, good posture and foot health.. At the most I’d only consider flip flops ok.

    • Rebekah
      Posted August 21, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Sorry about the typos, my reader is driving me crazy!

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 21, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      We do wear shoes in the house- but they are house shoes, only worn inside, never out. One exception is on a once a month cooking day, when I will wear supportive tennis shoes.

      I like your point about not becoming discouraged when teaching our children. This goes well with another point Diana made here in the comments- she said this could apply to parenting, too- for some people, it just came naturally, and their advice missed steps and pointed to goals. She’s right. And that made me think that it applies to other areas as well, we probably all have something that comes so naturally to us that we just have internalized all the the little steps without even noticing them.

  15. Stephanie
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    About making the beds….it’s super easy here! We just have one fitted sheet and the duvet. So, in the morning, it’s pajamas under pillows, pillows flat at the head of the bed, and duvet folded halfway down the bed to let the sheet show. Easy! (I have blue sheets and white duvets, so it looks nice, too!)

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