Housekeeping advice from from a beginner

I’ve been married for ten years now, to a truly wonderful man, my husband Mike.  Mike grew up in a completely different environment from me.  He grew up in a clean house.  Even today, if I visit my in-laws’ home, it really strikes me how very clean it is and also how clutter-free.  Since we live far away, my MIL has plenty of time to go through and deep-clean the house before we show up.  But the thing of it is, according to Mike, it is normally that clean.  Mike has no expectation that I alone will be responsible for the housework.  He cleans a lot and I am grateful.  I’m the one with the problem.  I grew up in a filthy home.  We always had roaches.  Things only got cleaned when a) we paid someone to come in and clean or b) when we’d spend an entire weekend on a cleaning spree.  It’s not that I believed that it was normal for adults to leave half-full coffee mugs all over the bathroom counters until they grew mold.  But the absence of such dramatic evidence of something being wrong is what keeps me complacent.  So for years my wonderful spouse did more than his share of the housework, complainingly, because he needed it done and I just didn’t see it.  I just didn’t get it.  We have no roaches.  Our tables are not 1.5 feet deep with newspapers/magazines/junk mail.   I often express my gratitude to Mike for showing me the way of at least keeping the house clean enough to not have bugs. But we still had problems.

We had dust everywhere.  We rarely dust.  I mean Mike rarely dusts.  I almost never do.  It’s not that I can’t see dust, I just think I’ll do something about it this weekend.  And then I do something else this weekend.  For about the last 526 weekends.  But wait, there’s more.  Mike hates clutter.  I  have a much higher tolerance for clutter and messiness than he does.  And I often don’t know what to do about it. Things would come into the house and I wouldn’t know where to put them and they’d just end up on a table or on the floor until I found a place for them, needed them or, quite often, forgot there was this item out of place.  I bought knick-knacks.  I would see something I liked in the store and it would come home with me, even if it did not logically go with anything else in the house.  Then there was the mail.  We got lots of it, and it would just sit around.  It drove Mike crazy.  It made him very unhappy indeed.  He felt like he couldn’t relax in his own home.  I felt bad about it.  I would try to make things better, but it mostly just followed the pattern of my childhood, getting cleaned up periodically in a frenzy and then getting dirty or cluttered again before I would do anything about it.  I slowly got better about bringing home knick-knacks, slowly started putting things away when I’d gone shopping,.  We had no system.  Eventually, every horizontal surface in our home would be covered with things that clearly did not belong there, but often did not clearly belong anywhere else either.

What perpetuated our problems was our upbringing.  We played the blame game.  I would feel upset that Mike put stuff on my dresser, because I really wantedit to be clear.  I would blame him for not taking care of his share of the mail.  He would blame me for not putting stuff away that he felt I should.  But it wasn’t only us blaming one another for things.  There was self-blame going on as well, at least on my part.  Why don’t I dust?  Why can’t I keep my tables clear for more than 24 hours?  What’s wrong with me that I allow my bathroom sinks to get disgusting before I even think about cleaning them?

Then, I started reading about home organization, and I had a big epiphany: We didn’t clean because we had our home set up in a way that made it difficult to do the work that we wanted done.  It didn’t get done because it was hard to do, not because we’re a couple of idiots!  When we both stopped playing the blame game, we could look at what we had and what was really wrong and find ways to make our setup better so that our chores would be easier to do and thus get done in a more timely fashion.  And do you know what?  We began rearranging (and purging) and organizing and it did not require that we store the vacuum cleaner, the shredder and the file cabinet in our formal dining room.

The biggest lesson I learned from this was that playing the blame game is really counter-productive.  We literally wasted years of our life together living with a problem because we were convinced that the solution was for someone to change and hoping it wouldn’t be us.  When you abandon blame and admit you both own a problem, you can solve it together.  It isn’t rocket science.  But you have to start by knowing that it isn’t anybody’s fault either.

We decided on a filing system for our incoming mail that took into account what we’re actually receiving in the mail.  I realized that I never dust because I don’t like having to move all my little tchotchkes to dust around them.  I liked my stuff, but I realized that I was feeling oppressed by it.  I sometimes have a hard time throwing things away and even now, if I feel like I wasted my money, that really bothers me.  This time I decided these things have been with me ten or more years.  I’ve gotten enough use out of them.  I still like them and it was hard, but they went to Goodwill.  Now, my house looks better and I’m happy with that.  I don’t want my possessions to possess me.  Oh, and that table that I couldn’t keep clear more than 48 hours?  At most it has, like, two old magazines on it.  If we need to do a before-company sweep, it’s a piece of cake!  I know where my records are!  I dusted my dresser!  There are no random papers on it!  My husband is happier!

When I finish the great home-organization project, I will write more.  In the meanwhile, has anyone got any ideas for reminding yourself to keep up with everything?  Preferably without posting a large chore chart where everyone who comes over can see it?

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