In all our married life Patrick and I have not had a cleaner to help with cleaning and maintaining our home. That seems like quite a proclamation and perhaps even a bit boring – who cares, right? The majority of people don’t have cleaners. The truth is I wasn’t part of that majority growing up, we always had a housekeeper. Of course my sister and I helped a lot and were expected to keep our rooms tidy and clean up after ourselves. Now Patrick and I share all those tasks. While I’m physically at home with Rafa (though really I work remotely), it would be easy for me to take over the upkeep of the house. This isn’t so. It’s a situation Patrick and I have strong views about – I am at home to raise our child, and in addition to this, I work professionally from home too. It just was not reasonable to think I could do all the cleaning simply because I was in our home for most of the day.
Here are some ways we ease the burden on ourselves and each other:
Rafa’s learning to tidy up after himself. It is more work teaching Rafa how to tidy up after himself than just doing it ourselves, but I have my fingers crossed that this will save us in the long run. He currently takes his plate or bowl to the kitchen when he’s done (he usually just reaches over and pushes them onto the counter). He’s learning to take books back to the bookshelf and return items to the general location they belong (shoes by the door, his sleeping bag in his room). And he can put rubbish in the bin. He’s actually pretty good at this. And wiping – everything.
Clear surfaces, always, always. Clear surfaces in our home is what kept me sane during those first days and weeks after having Rafa. I had seen photos of new parents where the dining table was covered with things, usually baby related items and it just gave me anxiety. So much clutter. It was during this period that I realised clear surfaces meant half the battle was won. If we only had half an hour to clean we’d tackle surfaces (this includes the floor).
Five minutes now, or longer later. Do you realise how long five minutes actually is? Even two minutes is a long time. Waiting for the kettle or the microwave, that’s usually time we’re faffing around. We use this time to wash up what’s in the sink, or put dishes away. I can also clean the microwave, or stove top in this time. The bed can be made in this time. The toilet can be scrubbed and and bathroom sinks wiped down. We ask ourselves, five minutes to do something a few times a week, or let it pile up and take much longer later? Give us the five minutes any day. It might help to have a list of chores or things to do that take five minutes or less, so while you’re waiting for the kettle you know exactly what you can attend to.
Division of labor. Do what you love doing. Rafa loves wiping so he’s assigned to wiping the table – all the other surfaces get wiped in the process. Patrick loves washing dishes and doing laundry. I love meal planning, cooking and doing the grocery shop. We try not to meddle with each others processes too much – as difficult as it may be. If you think you can do it better, well then by all means take over doing the task. What about the tasks that no one likes doing? Those are the ones we share and try to get done straight away and consistently (see above). Cleaning the oven is no fun, but it’s something that can be done in literally three x five minute bursts. Spray the oven. Get on with life for an hour. Wipe the oven. Do whatever else needs doing. And then wash and clean the trays if you want. Done every week, or two weeks saves you the agony and muscle power of doing it once a month. The things we don’t like doing are the things we know we need to do frequently. They become more tolerable if they aren’t too hard to get gone (cleaning a fairly clean oven once a week versus cleaning an oven that hasn’t been cleaned in over a month).
Don’t let it in! Cull the junk instead of letting it into your home. I recycle unwanted items from our mailbox at the mailbox (anything to recycle is walked across the street to the recycling station). If we are purchasing something – shoes, books, boxed items, we ask to have the item without the packaging. And things that wander into the home but we know we aren’t going to keep get sorted into our donation bags straight away. The easiest way to keep our home tidy and clean is by limited and being intentional about what we let in.
Pay attention to what you clean with. This is more about tools than processes. I find I’m happier to clean and tidy if I like the tools I’m using to do it. A beautiful feather duster. A simple, non-plastic dust pan and brush. And cleaning products that are safe to use (for us and the environment). I’ve tried homemade products, but find myself opting for store bought, natural products. We’re currently using the Airbiotics all-purpose cleaner. It’s a probiotic cleaner, which doesn’t kill the good bacteria in our homes, but helps strengthen and support them. If you live in New Zealand, you can currently try an Airbiotics sample pack (which is what we’ve been using) for free, details on their website. Because Rafa does all the wiping, he’s currently using the cleaner (I looked into the ingredients before giving it to him – the products are also hypoallergenic, safe for family and pets, allergy free, safe for skin, alcohol free and non-toxic). I think if you like the tools and products you have to clean with, you’ll enjoy the mundane act of cleaning much more.
These are key things I feel we have established that makes an activity like cleaning (so integral but often mind numbing) a part of our normal daily routine. Cleaning then doesn’t become this dreadful activity we have to sacrifice a weekend to get done. It becomes part of how we live.