Friday, January 20, 2012

Idealistic vs. Realistic

I promise I am not planning to talk every day.  I just have a few things that have been in my head for awhile, it turns out I'm excited to talk about them. Jenny Anne is usually right and I don't have any trouble admitting it. Also, I really like talking and once I start it's tough to stop.  Remember, this is not for you, it's for posterity:)

Idealistic vs Realistic. This is the heart of what I believe about housekeeping (and homemaking and parenting and pretty much everything).  It's my little sound bite that I use with myself when I'm trying to figure out how to keep a lid on stuff and it isn't working. It's really about telling the truth more than anything else, which we all know is harder than it sounds. If you are realistically doing a fabulous job over at your house and you have no complaints about how your system is working, you should go away. Superwoman should be saving the world not reading my blog and I don't like to hang out with liars. They can't have my coffee. So here's what I used to do. I used to look at the pile of mail on my desk and say to myself "you need to go through that and put it away".  If I did it immediately it was no big deal.  Couple stuff for the trash, couple stuff for the filing drawer, a few things for the bills slot and boom. Done. (By the way "couple stuff" is for reals.  My husband made that happen and I love him for it.).  Unfortunately, when I remembered the mail on my desk I was doing something else right then like making peanut butter and jelly or talking on the phone, or peeing with the door open so that the kids wouldn't beat on it and cry.  Anyway, it wouldn't happen or the trash part would happen but the little stack of "to be filed" was added to another one and put next to four Playmobile guys, a bobby pin, 3 batteries (I still don't know if they are old or new), Barbie's mismatched shoes that need to go upstairs to the girls room and some receipts out of Jacob's wallet. You know the drill. We have all determined to do better about staying on top of it.  We have all been to the websites and read the books that promise to help us "stay organized" and show us how to break our overwhelming job into little bite sized pieces that if we can just stick with it will result in order and Peace on Earth and the Joy of The Lord.

Let me back up.  I am not a very good housekeeper.  Remember fun, fun, fun? How can I have fun, fun, fun if I'm cleaning?  Also, I am set up to be pretty resentful when it won't stay that way because I was basically pretty resentful that I had to do it in the first place. It's isn't fun. Or social.  Enter having four kids and you just have to wonder what we were thinking. Anyway, what I care about is being tidy and organized. If the room is pretty and the surfaces are tidy and stuff is nicely put into little places I can live a long time knowing there are dust bunnies behind the tv cabinet that I can't really see. Heck, I can live a long time with literal coffee splatters on my kitchen floor and the beginnings of a ring in my toilet.  Gross, right? I mean, of course I'd rather those things not happen--I'd love to have it all--but it turns out when the rubber hits the road those are not my non-negotiables. What I really can't live with is chaotic piles of crap in the corners of the room and little gatherings of random stuff on counters and basic disorder. My eyes start to twitch and I have to find my happy place (which I'm convinced is in Italy, but I've never been so I can't be sure). So somewhere along the way I decided that in order to keep the level of tidiness that I sort of need in order to be a reasonable human being I had to admit that I wasn't realistically going to put all the mail away every day even though I ideally would like to. The only way really to not have the mail all over my desk is to have a home for "mail that isn't sorted yet".  Sounds familiar, right? So some of us get letter trays and stuff it into that and the mail thing isn't such a big deal for a minute.

The thing is, this happens all over the house. The little toys that go in another room are likely to never make it there and stay in a pile on the bottom of the stairs. The clothes I took off last night before bed are supposed to get put away as I take them off.  It seems so simple, but somehow they end up on top of the dresser and they start to pile up. What we've done is continued to set up our houses so that they run really well as long as we hold up our end of the bargain.  The system works great as long as we stay on the treadmill of life and keep running. We periodically get fatigued and slow down or fall off and we get too far behind. The place is out of control. Then we have to put everything on hold and spend a whole day (or week) putting crap away and trying to start fresh.  Inevitably this is also toilet bowl cleaning day and dust bunny day so it's the worst day in the history of mankind.

What we're doing is setting up a system that runs on perfection and then putting ourselves behind the wheel.  No one among us would pretend to be perfect, but I'll be damned if we don't expect ourselves to try.  It's really silly if you think about it.  Why don't we just set up a system that allows for imperfection? I admit that I won't put the mail away, so I get a big ol' letter tray (or an entire three pocket hanging file system because it turns out I really won't put the mail away) and throw the mail into it.

When I need to or want to or feel very home-maker-y, I can go through it and clean it out. When it's convenient for me. In the meantime I know where the mail is and it's NOT ON MY DESK!

Also, there is this:
 and this:
 and this:

 I am not going to spend literally all day walking from one side of the house to the other picking up toys and putting them away where they go any more.  I just can't do it one more day and keep my sanity, so I put a couple cute baskets under the coffee table  and one by the stairs and all toys that end up in my pretty little living room and ruin the peaceful space in my head get thrown into those.  Eventually I will put that stuff away--when it's convenient for me--but in the meantime, it's NOT ON MY FLOOR!

So anyway this idea of admitting to myself that I wasn't really going to do it the way I wanted to and giving myself permission to be honest about it was kind of born in a small way. I started to insert bins and hang hooks so that there were tidy little places for my piles. (I mentioned that I love talking about bins, shelves and hooks and I wasn't kidding). This way when it was cleaning day, I could clean without having to also make decisions about where to put stuff.  Cleaning day is for busting out chemicals, it should not also be burdened with decision-making. I mean think about that.  How much time do you spend on cleaning day just trying to figure out where to put stuff?  So meanwhile I have not become a better housekeeper, I have not earned any jewels for my crown in Heaven and I have certainly not become poster child for Proverbs 21.  I have, however, in a few minutes, managed to clear the clutter that makes me want to shoot myself, off of the surfaces and into neatly confined and predictable little places of what I like to call controlled chaos. Plan for what is realistic not for what is idealistic. When you find a situation that is making you crazy, instead of trying to figure out how to do better and how to prevent this breakdown in the system (it can't be the system's fault, the system is perfect!), admit that this situation exists because it is realistically what happens here. How can I set up the system to accommodate this human frailty? Instead of feeling like crap and flogging myself--or more likely flogging my husband and children--I try to remember that the system is supposed to work for me, not the other way around. Bins, shelves and hooks.

Next time I'll tell you how this whole idea applied to my laundry and saved my life--I ran out of room for talking already.  It happens really fast. Many people respond to my laundry system with patronizing smiles, bewilderment, skepticism and even disdain.  I get it, but again these people might not want to hang out here (the thing about my coffee and saving the world).  This conversation is for people who are ready to admit that their laundry is taking over their house and their life and are tired of looking at in well-intended baskets on the floor, shoving it over in order to sit or sleep or walk, and tired of it being in the top 5 or even 2 on the list of recurring nightmares. "Know who you are and be that"--Robin Williams said that in a movie once (Good Will Hunting? I can't remember any more). It's my favorite saying ever.  As it turns out this is easier said than done.  It's simple, but it is not easy. I really think, however, that it's worth it to spend some time figuring it out. I think the key to housekeeping is the same one we use to unlock other stuff like relationships and murder trials.  Tell the truth.


  1. Love this. I can completely relate to all of this - but would never have been able to put it in words as entertaining. Thanks for putting it out there. Cheers!

  2. This was even better the second time...I started to panic when I got to the last paragraph because I wanted you to keep talking. Turns out I like you. I am waiting with bated breath for the Laundry Installment.

  3. Great writing, Ramah! You kicked my butt at Bloomsday and now you threaten my writing skills…I demand a rematch this May!