Sometimes it really boggles my mind that I am somebody's mother and therefore am culturally expected to nag members of my household to keep our living spaces clean.
I am not a naturally tidy person. I hate cleaning and I'm bad at it. I am the WORST at putting stuff away; if things are put away I'm afraid I will forget they exist.
And I also try really hard to maintain as green a household as I can without inconveniencing myself. This means no paper towels and no Kleenex (unless someone actually has a cold), no paper napkins, and a very limited amount of ammonia or bleach-based commercial cleaning products.
That tidbit of information seems random, but it's an important part of my housecleaning situation. Also, much to my annoyance, when I've tried commercial cleaning products in desperation for specific cleaning conundrums I've found that they work GREAT.
In my many, many years of independent apartment living, I never really developed a regular housecleaning regime. Do people really do this? Do you actually have a Cleaning Day?
My natural tidying instincts are like those of a scruffy 8 year old boy who cleans like nobody is watching. I'll wipe crumbs off a table with my bare hands because I'm too lazy to go get a proper cloth. And I'll absentmindedly spill the crumbs on the floor and call the dog over to lick them up.
I regularly throw dirty laundry down my basement stairs and leave it there in a pile until I actually do laundry again. I thought this was pretty normal behavior until I did it in front of the guy I hired to paint my kitchen and he thought it was hilarious and yelled "I saw that! I'm telling Mom!"
But, you guys! I'M Mom! I'M the one who is supposed to frown upon throwing laundry down the stairs!
I know I'm kind of the worst but I have the best of intentions, I really do! I ASPIRE to be a tidy, organized person. I read Min Lee's amazing organizing series, including this one, which compelled me to file my T-shirts -- an act of organization that I have actually been able to maintain for 6 months!
I've been trying to get better for many years now and, though my house isn't squeaky clean, like, Grandma-clean, it's manageable. It certainly doesn't look nearly like the shithole that was my first college apartment. You might say this is because of my natural maturation as a human being, but it's really due to learning from trial and error how to realistically keep my mess contained despite my natural ineptitude as a house-cleaner.
Of course, I've also gotten better due to a pretty important necessity: my son is crawling all over the place and I don't want him to be a) covered in dust, b) eating dust c) eating any other disgusting little particles of lint or dog hair. I am also still working on it because when my son is old enough to talk back (you know, tomorrow), I don't want to give him too much ammunition.
I mean, I'm very comfortable with my position as an authority figure and I know I'm the boss, but I don't think I can seriously expect him to keep his room immaculate without bitching about it if my own room looks like it barfed a Gap fitting room. That's just not fair, right?
So here are a few tips for keeping your house reasonably clean if you're lazy, bad at cleaning, and don't want to use a lot of toxic crap.
1) Invest in the right tools.
Full disclosure: My admiration for the wonderful Zero Waste Lady has greatly influenced my selection of tools. Indeed, she endorses the use of just about all of these on her website. For me, the right tools include:
- washable microfiber duster/mop and extra mop head
This thing is pretty great. If I'm in the mood for some serious cleaning, I'll use one mop head to sweep the whole floor and then wet the other one to mop. If only one of them is clean I will sweep the whole floor and just wash the mop pad right away, then do a quick damp mopping.
- another floor washable floor duster with extra dusting pad
Good to have. This one is only for dry sweeping, but I like it. I aim to keep one of these dust-broom sweeper things on each floor of my house because I'm too lazy to carry them up and down my steep stairs with their low ceilings. Bonus: if it's clean, the extra mop head can double as a fun baby toy!
I got this one fairly recently because none of my other tools were effective at getting the visible dust of my horizontal blinds. It's also great for quickly cleaning the dust on either side of the carpet runner on our stairs. And it's super fun to use and baby laughs hysterically while watching me dust!
I use these mostly instead of sponges. They clean pretty well with only water and go straight in the washing machine. And they come in pretty colors, so I try (in vain) to convince myself that looking at the happy pink or purpleness of the cloths is incentive to clean.
- canvas boxes to help manage clutter
I have a set of these in plain ivory that I got at Ikea about 10 years ago. If we have a scary pile of mail that hasn't been dealt with and company is coming, the mail goes in the box, the box goes in the closet. The old me would've just thrown the scary pile of mail under my bed. The future me will actually deal with mail before it ends up in a scary pile!
- Baking soda, vinegar, castille soap
Baking soda for stinky laundry and scrubbing anything, vinegar and water for wiping stuff down, castile soap for whatever you would use soap for.
- Cordless Vac (that doesn't have a filter to replace)
Because I hate dustpans and I despise vacuum cleaners. I use this ridiculous thing for our area rugs and the crumbs that the dustsweepers don't pick up near my cabinets.
2) Try to entertain at least every 2 weeks.
This is obvious, but it works. Company inspires to me clean like a normal person, as opposed to my usual method of cleaning only when it looks so disgusting I can't take it anymore. And obviously, when I do it regularly, there's less to do! And, you know, I get to see people and have conversations and stuff!
3) Find a cleaning style that works for you and embrace it.
My cleaning style has evolved from Just Plain Lazy to what I've come to refer to as Lazy Opportunism. In the old days if I saw a dust bunny against a baseboard, I would maybe pick it up and dispose of that one dust bunny with my bare hand. You know, because I was too lazy to actually pick up a broom or whatever and clean it up properly. Nowadays, if I see one dust bunny against a baseboard I go ahead and clean the whole damn floor. Because I'm SO LAZY that once I actually pick up the duster, I want to get it over with so that I don't have to pick up the duster again.
4) Forgive your weaknesses as long as you're managing to get things done.
I do all the laundry for our household. But I wasn't kidding when I said I'm bad at putting stuff away! This means that clean laundry gets piled on our bed to be sorted and put away on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. and on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the clean laundry gets piled back into the hamper so we can get into the bed. Because I'm bad at putting stuff away! You know what, though? We always have clean socks and underwear.
Despite this insane dance of clean laundry I do every single week, I'm on top of the situation. I might be the mom who throws dirty dishtowels down the stairs, but I’m also the mom who knows where stuff is. Baby always has clean jammies and a clean sleep sack if it's cold. I still try to brainstorm for a better solution, but in the meantime, we’re doing OK.
6) Try to hire professionals at least once a year
When I moved to a house in the suburbs a year and a half ago I learned a lot about grown-up stuff and what it costs: hiring people to paint, having your stairs carpeted, renovating a kitchen, tending to a sprinkler system. And hiring a maid service. The ONE THING that was cheaper than what I expected was the maid service. I've only done it a few times because I can't really afford to do it regularly (and despite my hatred of cleaning, I do feel that it's my responsibility). But hiring professionals is certainly a helpful strategy for the really unappealing heavy-cleaning stuff like windows.
So, tell me, moms, lazy people, or slobs: How do you keep your houses clean? Do you have a Cleaning Day? Is anybody actually like the mom in every TV commercial for cleaning products?