This is the third and final post answering the question, “How do you keep your house so clean?”
This first principle I consider far more important than the other two combined. No matter how much storage I have or how efficiently it is organized, the real key to keeping my house clean is that I
And you thought the other two posts were painfully obvious! I know, I know. It’s about as exciting as finding out someone’s key to losing weight is that they “consume fewer calories than they burn” — though no less true and efficacious. Even when everything has a place, unless you’re putting it back where it goes the majority of the time, it’s real home is on your floor.
I went to visit a friend’s house once to see the new formal dining room she had opened up off the foyer. This was a life-long dream of hers, and it turned out gorgeous. She was so proud to show off her new dining room table. The next time I came over, every square inch of that table was covered by mail, papers, loose change, and other bits and pieces of clutter. It stayed that way from then on. Presumably, all this stuff had a place and was in said place on that first day when she revealed her dining room. But your hat’s home is wherever it hangs.
I’m not great at getting the laundry folded and replaced. I know I could get better if I just applied the principles I use to keep the dishes under control. Ah, yes. The dishes.
My biggest pet peeve in life–even bigger than people who mindlessly adopt all their spouse’s opinions–is dishes on the counter or in the sink. I eradicate this problem in my house by enforcing the following rules.
a. Soaking is BS.
When I was growing up, I knew the soaking charade well. If I didn’t want to wash something, I filled it with water and put it in the sink to “soak”. Of course, I was really hoping someone else, name of Mom, would get to it before I did. And most of the time, someone else had to plunge their hands into tepid, greasy, disgusting water to fish out the dish and clean it.
In truth, there are only a few times a year that a dish actually needs to soak. Normally, things are easiest to clean the minute you’re done cooking before food has cooled, hardened and congealed. Sure, if you let the oatmeal turn to superglue, you’re going to have to soak, but that does not mean that soaking is unavoidable.
Kent and all the nannies that have ever worked for me will tell you that if you want to see me hit the roof, all you have to do is fill a pan with water and leave it in the sink.
b. Everyone loads their dish when they’re done.
I consider it an incontrovertible truth that the difference in the effort it takes to load is a dish rather than just put it in the sink or on the counter is negligible. If you’re near the dishwasher and you’re putting down a dish, you may as well put it in the frigging dishwasher!
One of the proudest days of my life was the day Fluffy started loading her own dishes. How sad does that make me? I never talked to her about it or showed her how. She just saw that this was the way the ship ran and started complying. Another proud day was when she similarly started washing her hand-wash dishes also without a word of instruction from me. I asked Fluff whether Daddy or a babysitter had showed her how to do these things, and she said no one had showed her. If one of you actually taught her how, please never tell me.
c. First one to open the clean dishwasher unloads it.
This is the hardest part. We all know how the trouble begins. You obediently take your dish to the dishwasher to load it, but no! The dishes are clean. Oh well. You had the best of intentions. You’ll put your dirty dish on the counter for now. You’ll load it when the dishwasher’s empty–or whatever. You could unload the dishwasher right now, but it’s not technically your job, and women’s lib (or men’s lib) and all. Besides you’ve got stuff to do, and um…yeah. You’ll just put this rrright here.
It’s a slippery slope from there to the situation where you barely use your cupboards. You take clean dishes from the dishwasher and pile dirty ones on the counter until you run out of dishes.
There is a more excellent way. If you are the lucky person who takes the first dirty dish to the clean dishwasher and opens it, Congratulations! You are the one who gets to unload it. But don’t worry:
Unloading the dishes is no big deal. It only takes 3 minutes.
Two and a half if I hurry. Of course I timed it, duh! Realistically, you will have the time to unload the clean dishes almost every time you discover them. If you had to go to the bathroom, you’d find the time for that. This doesn’t take that much longer.
In a household of 2 potential dish-unloaders, it’s pretty easy for me to tell by the jam smeared knife left on the counter that Kent has tried to break this rule. RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!
Actually, Kent is now very good about this. I do wonder whether he doesn’t quickly wash and dry a dish and put it in the cupboard now and then when he finds the dishwasher clean, but since the point of the rules is to keep the counters clean, I guess I could countenance that. Unless I caught him in the act. Oh, that would be bad. That would be very, very bad.
d. Never, never, never give in.
I remember my mom instituting rules about not eating in the living room. I also remember hearing these declarations and thinking, “Yeah, right.” How long would it last? Sooner or later–usually sooner, one of us would start testing the electric fence for weaknesses, or mom herself would slip up and bring a little something in. “Yay! Anything goes! Ninety percent of our food will now be consumed on the good couches again as it should be!”
Maybe you won’t have to be as strict about the rules as I am, but I find if I let anything slide or if I slip up myself at all, the reaction from everyone is exactly same. The slightest contradiction of the rules or lenience is interpreted as absolute abnegation of the whole system.
I can hear you thinking a couple of things, and I’d like to address them.
“I will never let her see the inside of my house again.” I, Heather Craw, do solemnly swear that I do not worry about anybody’s dishes or house but my own. I am not even thinking about the state of your house. I will happily put my dish in your sink if you tell me to. I recognize that I am the weird one who somewhat irrationally considers soaking an insult to the head housekeeper’s intelligence. I recognize that mine is not the only way or even the best way. It is merely my way. As I have said before, if you can be happy letting your house go, you have both my blessing and my envy!
“Get a life.” I hear ya, I do. I have been known to go way, way overboard on putting things away. During those frantic first few months after the twins were born when I was subconsciously convinced that if I could just keep my house clean, the boys would not be able to destroy my life and erase my last shred of personal identity (my heart is racing faster just remembering), I would make my bed four times a day. Yeah. Seriously. After every nursing session, I tucked up the covers and replaced all 8 pillows. “Tsk, tsk,” you say. Don’t judge! Most people find a way to peacefully coexist with the gritty shellac that builds up on high chairs. Other moms need to scrub down two high chairs 3 times a day. Live, and let live.