So you think you ought to clean today: A systematic approach, part I

Guestpost by Allison on Jun 8th

Allison wrote a post for all of us who need to learn to clean house. Today, she'll talk about the skills you need to learn. Tomorrow, look for more specific "it worked for me"-style tips. -Cat

Before we begin: I write this as if you, by yourself, are responsible for cleaning your whole domicile. The issue of how to split chores fairly (and what "split chores fairly" even means) is outside the scope of my advice-giving skills, because there are simply too many variables to consider: your relationship with the person/people you're splitting chores with, everyone's personal skills and preferences, time spent outside the home, etc.

Day 203: How to scrub

Photo by madmolecule. Used under Creative Commons license.

Cleaning is not a talent — it's a skill. A skill you can acquire. I am not a "naturally" clean person. I didn't grow up expected to do a lot of chores, and definitely not on a schedule (I grew up being told, "Today we're cleaning," not "On Wednesdays it's your job to take out the trash"), and I didn't grow up in a house where everything was spic-and-span. I taught myself, as an adult, how to be neat and how to clean, and I learned that I liked my house better when it was clean.

When people say "cleaning," I find they often mean one of two things: tidying up (i.e. putting things away), or actually cleaning things. Some people prefer one or the other — they feel that one is more important, or they're naturally better at one. I think of them as steps one and two — no point in cleaning if your stuff's not put away, and once you've put it all away, why not actually clean everything?

My absolute number one tip for making cleaning easier is: have a place for everything. When you want to put stuff away, every single thing should have a place to land. There are two ways to accomplish this:

  1. Put things away when you're done using them.
  2. Have less stuff.

Look, I know. If you have even a small amount of disposable income in the first world, having too much stuff is a very easy problem to have. I struggle with it. My boyfriend and I moved in together in November. We had both been living by ourselves before that. We both had full apartments. The process of combining and downsizing is ongoing. And frustrating. And depressing. But it's worth it — not just because it means I have a cleaner house, but I spend less money — part of "have less stuff" isn't just getting rid of some of your possessions, but not bringing new stuff in. I can find things I want to put my hands on, and the stuff I have really means something to me.

I like to use William Morris' guidepost for thinking about your possessions: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

Putting stuff away as soon as you're done using it is tricky for a lot of us. It's something you have to make a habit. I know when I get home, actually putting my shoes away, instead of just kicking them off by the door, FEELS like a tremendous challenge — but it's not. And it's less of a challenge than parting the sea of shoes to get OUT the door next time. (Note: depending on the number of spoons you have, putting stuff away right away may actually constitute a tremendous challenge. Apply this to your life as it makes sense for you.)

But it's a skill, a habit. Cleaning is not a magical talent that either you possess or you don't. It takes time to develop. Decide on a level of cleanliness you personally want — something that balances what you'd like your house to look like vs. the amount of time you're willing to invest in maintaining that — and go with it. And change it as you need — as you have more or less time, or more or less desire to keep your home at a certain level. There is no magical right amount of time to clean. (OK, the WRONG amount is where your home becomes unsafe, but you know, that leaves a lot of right amounts.)

Okay, good start, guys! This is a lot to take in from a blog post, so we'll keep moving in tomorrow's post: So you think you ought to clean today: Part II, in which we'll cover stuff like, Okay, but, like, what about when I NEED to clean but I'm just too damn TIRED?!

About Allison

Allison is a librarian in Texas. When she's not crafting or decorating, she likes Longhorn football, traveling, and taking her television way too seriously.