I had a turning point when it came to learning to keep my messy home tidy. It was one of those light bulb moments that affected my entire life going forward. People can TELL you things until the cows come home, but sometimes you need someone to SHOW you the difference.
The Year Everything Changed for Me
I had an unusual childhood. For whatever reason, we didn’t have the usual family relationships or even close family friends. It was mostly just my Mom and I and while my Mom was awesome and loved me completely, she wasn’t very domestic to say the least. So, I didn’t learn the typical cooking and cleaning lessons that most girls learn from their grandmas, aunts, or mothers. We lived on TV dinners and had a pretty messy house 24 X 7.
Growing up in a messy house seemed perfectly normal to me when I was a kid because I had very little basis for comparison, but when I was older and started seeing over people’s homes, I realized the difference and became to be embarrassed by our home.
So by the time I had gotten married and started my own family, I had no clue. No clue how to cook a decent meal for my kids, no clue how to keep our messy home tidy. It was messy all the time, laundry and dishes stacking up, kids toys everywhere. Yes, I was working full-time as all the women in my family had done, but I didn’t have the skills or the strategies I needed or even a big desire to do anything about it. It seemed completely normal to me and I had major house shame if anyone came over.
See my post on the Shame of a Messy House.
But then something changed. When my youngest was about 2, we spent a week with my husband’s very sweet aunt. I was about 40 and it completely changed my outlook on life and about cleaning. I don’t think she noticed it, but I started watching her so closely and it just turned on the lights. It was the secret I’d always wanted to learn – how women manage to keep a house looking great all.the.time! #gamechanger
A Few Simple Habits to Keep a Messy Home Tidy
They lived in a simple, small home on a farm in Oklahoma. Money wasn’t plentiful, so it wasn’t jammed full of STUFF like my mother’s home, where every surface was covered with books, crafts, clothes, papers, and whatever. But on the other hand, it wasn’t cold and antiseptic like I’d always imagined a neat house to be. It was calm, peaceful and very loving. I didn’t have to worry about messing things up or not having things look picture perfect. Picture the farmhouse from the Wizard of Oz – it was about like that.
Lesson #1 – Having less stuff means a lot less mess. Like my mother, I’m an impulse shopper. Just yesterday, I went to WalMart with a friend for 5 minutes and came out with $60 worth of stuff I absolutely didn’t need! I’m getting better with it, but I always have to guard against those impulse purchases. You might have that problem also. I know a lot of women substitute shopping for entertainment when they are bored or frustrated or lonely. It does give you a temporary boost, but then you end up with less money and more stuff to manage.
Check out my post on 6 Toxic Money Behaviors
Another thing I noticed about the aunt was that she never particularly cleaned. In our house, cleaning was an all-day ORDEAL. We did very little in the evenings because my Mom had been at work all day and wanted to relax. So Saturdays and Sundays were the only days when any cleaning happened. All the dishes – once a week. All the laundry – once a week. Clean up your bedroom – once a week. It wasn’t fun and it never stayed clean for more than a day or so.
Lesson #2 – Tidy up as you go. Again, this was a revelation to me. All throughout the day, the aunt would just calmly, peacefully put things in their proper place. There was never any yelling or attitude, but she would just absent-mindedly pick up a pair of shoes that were sitting out, or hang up a sweater that had been left on a chair.
If the kids were playing with some toys, she would just gently relocate them to the play corner and let them carry on playing. And after a few days, I just naturally started picking my things up because I knew it would please her. It was so EASY. Just another easy way to keep a messy home tidy.
Another thing she would do was to do the same things day after day. Wash and fold small loads of laundry every day rather than the marathon weekly laundry sessions I was used to. She didn’t have a dishwasher, so she would quickly clear the table and wash up the few dishes after every meal. Just sort of a natural daily cycle. It kind of set a natural rhythm to every day. That was new as I’ve never been one for any type of daily habits. It’s been one of my biggest struggles in life and with my messy home.
Lesson #3. Set up some simple daily routines and stick with them. If you get in a few simple habits, that really only take a few minutes, you’ll eliminate a whole lot of the drudgery of regular housekeeping. Making your bed – 1 minute. Folding a load of laundry – 3-5 minutes. Empty the dishwasher – 3 minutes. Wipe down the counters and table – 3 minutes. It’s not even worth thinking about quick little chores like these.
It might take some doing, but if you can get your kids or spouse into a few good habits every day, you might be able to bypass a lot of the power struggles and fighting that goes on in your house over housework. Taking out the trash – 2 minutes. Picking up bookbags or toys – 5-10 minutes (if you do it every day). Setting the table for dinner – 2 minutes. And these are such easy habits to get into and it’s a wonderful gift to give your children to demonstrate those daily routines for them.
See my post – Chores at My House Aren’t Fair and I’m OK with that.
When we came home from our trip, I started quietly implementing the lessons that I’d learned. Things didn’t happen overnight, but gradually, things CHANGED because I’d learned how to clean a messy house and keep a messy home tidy. I stopped buying frozen dinners, chicken nuggets and fish sticks for every meal and cooked more often. I decluttered tons of stuff and started building in some simple daily cleaning routines. Even with a busy toddler and a full-time job, I was starting to manage my messy home and my life in a better way.
Jedi Mind Trick Parenting
One of the last lessons she taught me was about parenting. My youngest son was quite the tiny terror, especially at age 2. He was a very busy and active little guy and was always getting into everything. He was strong-willed and had an insatiable curiosity like most kids that age. So I cautioned her to put away her few little breakables before he wrecked them.
I was so surprised when she said, no, I don’t think we need to. And sure enough, when he immediately reached for them, she said calmly – no, you can look, but don’t touch. He looked a little surprised, but sat back for a minute. Then he tried again, but this time watching her to see what was going to happen. Nope, can’t touch, she confirmed and he nodded. Then he ignored them the whole time we were there. Little stinker!
He had torn up every single thing in our house, but she let him know she expected him to behave better and he DID. It was like a Jedi mind trick and I never quite mastered it, but it was impressive! Kids live up (or down) to our expectations – every time.