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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