A day of housework and productivity: a non-sequitur

IMG_0240At least for me. In my world, housework is like traveling to a destination I never reach.

With the nice, fall weather we’ve been having, I threw my energy into some large outdoor chores. A huge sense of accomplishment was achieved. (Yes, I realize that is passive voice. I did it for effect.)

But when I ventured back indoors, I was shocked to discover that the house did not stay neat and tidy without me. The laundry room alone looked like it could qualify for superfund status. So I took a day “off” to get my house back in shape.

Which was a mistake. I can’t clean up my house in a day. Or even a week. Although in my work life I can focus on a puzzling problem, or stay on task for hours to meet a deadline, I cannot do this in my house. I am constantly distracted and wholly ineffective.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

  1. I start to tidy up the bedrooms and realize that it’s time to change the bedding.
  2. I strip the beds, and reason that since cold weather is on the way, I should take the opportunity to put on the heated mattress covers.
  3. While I’m swapping the mattress covers, I decide to vacuum the mattresses, which requires me to haul a vacuum up a flight of stairs.
  4. And, of course, I have to wash the mattress covers I removed which requires hauling them all down a flight of stairs.
  5. I figure as long as I am washing the mattress covers, I should wash the comforters.

And so on. I end up with room after room of bedding in varying degrees of cleanliness on every surface. And then it’s 3:00 and my children start to arrive from school. If my house isn’t picked up by the time those others get home, I can forget it.

Here’s another example:

  1. Halfway through cleaning the kitchen, I realize I don’t have anything planned for dinner.
  2. I glance in the refrigerator and notice there are several items that are, ahem, a little past the due date.
  3. I clear the refrigerator of less-desirable items which makes it evident I need to wipe the shelves.
  4. I wipe the shelves, restow everything, and realize there is nothing in the refrigerator suitable for dinner.
  5. I check the freezer and notice there are several items that I can no longer identify.
  6. I clear the freezer, which makes it evident there is nothing in there for dinner either.
  7. I go to the store.

And really, I never get my kitchen tidied up. Ever. There is too much stuff that goes on in there, like homework and eating, also sometimes cooking.

Clearly, this is not where my skill lies. My ability to see beyond the problem at hand, to follow a thread and see where it takes me, helps me in my professional life. But it’s not worth a moldy kidney bean the rest of the time.

Who knew work could be such a refuge.

#3: I have only one child but…

desertToday’s installment of Search Terms of the Sad and Desperate, where I offer advice to visitors whose search terms hit my blog: “I have only one child but laundry and housework never end.

Stop right there, all you parents of multiple children! Do not mock the poor soul who posed this thought! Instead, think back to how overwhelming it was to have that first child, back before you let your standards slide to unthinkably low levels.

Take it from me – I am the Queen of Relaxed Standards, as evidenced by the fact that one of the search terms used to hit my blog is, in fact, “relaxing your standards”. The only way to cope with housework is to accept that it will never be done, you will never like it, and even if you can find someone else to do it for you, they will not do it the way you would do it. Standards are based, at some level, on averages, right? Someone has to be below average.

Still, I wonder about the motivation of this reader. Are they contemplating a second child, but feel as if they are staring into an abyss of laundry and dishes? Are they questioning their ability to cope? Are they measuring themselves against someone else’s nearly impossible example?

Laundry and housework never end. It is one of the immutable laws of nature. There is a poetic beauty to that first shirt deposited into the empty hamper. That lone dish in the sink. The dust motes in your newly-vacuumed living room.

Embrace housework and laundry, oh sad person, they reaffirm our existence. They remind us that we are here to live another day, dirty another pair of socks, track grass clippings into the house, spill a bottle of nail polish on the furniture. These events, these items, are the very stuff of life.

Yeah, right. Even I can’t drop my standards that far. Just get out that dust cloth and get to it.

Read the series:

Anxiety dreams involving my kids 

How do I talk to my surly teen? 

 

A disclaimer: While it perhaps shouldn’t need saying, let me remind you that I have no credentials, training or certifications of any kind that would qualify me to mete out advice to anyone. This is a humor blog. If you don’t find it funny, well, that’s another issue.

H is for Housework

work-at-homeAbout half the time when you mention to someone that you work at home, they say something like, “It must be wonderful to be able to get some housework done.”

By which, they probably mean laundry, the great burden of every parent, whether you work out of the home or not.

And yes, it is nice to be able to take a break from the desk, and cycle the laundry in and out of the washer and dryer leaving yourself with vast stacks of the stuff to fold after you’ve put in a day of work. But more often than not, I find the housework to be a giant distraction.

I don’t work well in disordered space, which means I spend at least part of every day picking up the messes of others so I can focus. Breakfast dishes, toys, dirt they’ve dragged in on their shoes. And the laundry – it really never ends. Shirts, shorts, jeans, socks, gear and outerwear produced by an active family of five who between us participate in at least seven different athletic activities.

I could do nothing but laundry all day and night and there would still be unspeakable items lying around. It is a recipe for crabbiness. Oops, gotta run, the dryer’s buzzing…

This post is part of the April Blogging from A to Z Challenge. See who else is Blogging from A to Z

Read the series

Read the work-at-home personnel manual

Immutable laws of housework

Grocery listWe all know there are certain natural laws you cannot defy – gravity, for instance, alas. The laws of housework are no exception. You can try, but it’s likely to leave you sobbing in a pile of crumbs and dirty socks.

There may be others, but here are those I know.

Immutable Laws of Housework

  • As soon as you finish cleaning the kitchen, someone will come in to make a sandwich.
  • For every item of laundry you wash, there will be an equal and opposite piece of dirty clothing deposited on the floor of the utility room.
  • The one item of laundry your child needs for the day will be the one you didn’t wash.
  • The amount of time you have to run an errand is directly proportional to how much gas is in your tank.
  • The crucial item on your grocery list will be the one you forget.
  • Your actual grocery bill will be greater than or equal to 125% of the cost of the items on your list.
  • A damp towel at rest will stay at rest until someone claims it, which is never.
  • No more than 80% of any given family will like what you’re serving for dinner.
  • The younger you are, the more cleaning product you will consume on a given household task, and the amount of cleaning product you consume is inversely proportional to how clean you get the actual surface.

Of course, housework is the ultimate Sisyphean task, only the mountain is laundry and the rock is the one you want to knock against your head repeatedly until you no longer see the dirty dishes in the sink.

And since I can’t avoid it, I’m picking up a new mantra: “Housework is a great way to start the week. And end the week. And fill those days in the middle, too.”

OK, what did I miss?

Productivity is in the eye of the beholder

On the days we clean, we follow an operational process – sort of. I have a list of all the tasks we need to complete and because I believe a little competition is healthy, my children sign up for them on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Feel like sleeping in today? Be prepared to scrub toilets. Didn’t hear me the first time I asked? Cat boxes for you. You snooze, you lose.

It’s a pretty long list but not as long as my pre-children days when I was apt to spend a Saturday morning cleaning out the inside of the fireplace or dusting the furnace (I know, I know). No time for those tasks anymore. My standards are considerably lower than they used to be.

Lest I leave you with the impression I am actually organized, I must confess that we do deviate from the list – for example, on the Saturday our mercurial dishwasher decided it wasn’t going to cooperate. The door kept popping open in mid-cycle and then guess what? It doesn’t run. After I’d closed and restarted it about twenty times, I assigned my youngest to sit on a stool in front of the dishwasher until the cycle ended. A productive use of time? It was that day.

We’re not cleaning today. Instead I’m enjoying the blissful silence of an empty house. But later, just for fun, I might dust the furnace.

Any great suggestions for accomplishing those mundane weekly tasks?

 

Oh, laundry – it didn’t have to be this way

In my heart, laundry, I feel like we could have had a better relationship, you and I. Perhaps if you’d waited for me in the orderly fashion I desired – whites with whites, delicates with IMG_0472delicates – we could have found a way to coexist. Or if you’d made even the slightest effort to stay folded in the drawers instead of ending up in a wrinkled, tangled mess. But you’ve made no attempt whatsoever to make my life easier. If there is to be any future for us, laundry, you must not, anymore:

  • Hide under beds, at the bottom of closets, in gym bags, and under car seats. Even though I know you are there it is agony to seek you out, over and over again.
  • Show up in the laundry basket when I know you are clean, in fact, just washed. Oh why, laundry, do you punish me in this way?
  • Exceed many times over what is practical for the number of people in this household. I see them each day, wearing the same clothes they not only slept in, but wore the day before – how is it possible that you multiply so? Is it just to taunt me?
  • Appear before me in such a disgraceful state – soiled, wrinkled, smelly, stained with God knows what. It tears me apart, laundry, it really does.

I know, laundry, that I could improve, too. I know I start out with the best intentions, laundering you in a practical, reasonable way – carefully sorting and calibrating the right water temperature. But I admit that after a day with you, I often find myself throwing you into the washer at random without any regard to your care label, not caring if you shrink or pill. And I’m sorry, truly, but at some point I hit the limit of what I can endure.

So how shall we go forward, laundry? Is it to stay this way between us always? Or can we change, coexist peacefully, get along even for just a day? Tell me – what is it to be? I just heard the buzzer on the dryer so the time for truth is now.