Confessions of a recovering slob

by Jen Rouse
The Short Years

Or… reason #1,240 why parenting is making me a better person.

I am not a neat and tidy person.

Shoes? I like to kick ’em off when I come in the door. Or when I’m sitting at the couch or working at my desk. I end up with little shoe piles all over the house.

Same with papers. Mail? Pick it up, sort through it, set it down on the table. Need to use table for dinner. Move piles of mail to the bookshelf or the coffee table or the kitchen counter or whatever other flat surface looks like it needs a pile of clutter.

Books? Stack them up wherever you find them. Laundry? Will find its way to the closet eventually.

There are just so many other things in the world that I’d rather be doing than cleaning. Pretty much *any* other thing, as a matter of fact.

I functioned reasonably well with my untidy ways as a single person, or as a person sharing a home with just one husband (note that I said reasonably well, not REALLY well–there have been plenty of times I’ve found myself soaring around the house in a panic, looking for a lost shoe, or bill that needs to be paid, or other crucial item that I’ve misplaced).

But now there are five of us in the house, and only one person in our entire family has any inclination to ever keep things neat on her own. (Lucy, bless her heart, truly enjoys having a place for everything and everything in its place. Whenever I’m trying to clean up, I offer to “let” her assist me, and then she swoons to Eric when he comes home, “Mama let me organize the desk today, Daddy!” Best. Day. Ever. for her.) But the rest of us, were we left to our own devices, tend to function more like the balls in a pinball machine, careening wildly around our own little world of flashing lights and bouncing pieces and chaos.

Which doesn’t work so well in a family of five. The clutter multiplies, breeds, and spreads, and the house because dysfunctional so fast it’s almost frightening.

And so…I’m finding myself forced to get my act together. Not because I’ve learned to like cleaning any better. But because I do like the way my home looks when it is clean. And because my world is not sustainable when  every surface is covered in sweatshirts, newspapers, rain boots and crayons.

It’s just not really a choice anymore. Having all these kids means I HAVE to clean things up.

(Please note: if you have been in my home lately or plan to be there in the future, please do not take this post as an indication that you should actually expect my home to be clean when you see it. Merely take it as an indication that I am *trying* to make it that way…and that it’s most likely better than it would have otherwise been).

Here’s what I’m doing:

Having the kids pick up the living room every single day, usually right before we’re getting ready to set the table and eat dinner (since the table’s going to need to be cleared so we can eat at it anyway). They do not like this. They always react in dismay. “We have to clean up the whole living room?” they moan, as if I’ve just told them to scrub Buckingham Palace with a toothbrush. And I heartlessly tell them that yes, they do have to clean the entire living room, and then we do it. If at least the living room, which is what people see when they walk in the door, gets tidied pretty regularly, it doesn’t get too bad.

Being merciless about papers. This is really a hard one for me. I always think I need to keep things because I *might* need them. Coupons I might use if I might get to the store this week. Magazines I *might* want to finish reading. So I’m trying to just let go. Unless I know, for sure, that I will definitely use that coupon? Toss it. A cleaner house is worth more than $1 off Pull-Ups. I’m already heartless about my kids’ crafts. And papers I really do need to keep? I have a couple of different file boxes, one in the kitchen and one in the office. They have different sections and categories, so that I can at least attempt to have organized bundles of papers, vs. big messy bundles of papers. I use them for papers that I feel I *must* hang on to (bills to be paid, receipts I think I need, important notes from school, etc.) It would probably be better if I had just one file box in one location, but hey–it’s a work in progress. They are, at least, a place to *contain* papers, rather than just having them in stacks around the house.

Getting three things done before I leave the house in the morning: Making all the beds (the girls’ make theirs, I do Eric’s and mine); making sure the dining table and kitchen counters are cleaned of dishes (this might mean the dishes are all in the sink, but at least they are contained to one spot, not scattered all over the place); and wiping off the bathroom sink and counter (so it’s not littered with hair ties and my makeup bag, and there are no globs of toothpaste waiting in the sink).

On the days that I actually manage to do these three things, plus the tidy-the-living room-in-the-evening routine, it means that at least the public areas of my house look somewhat presentable. It’s not Martha Stewart, by any means. But it’s something. (Those of you with clean homes are probably laughing at me, that these basic things are my minimum standards.)

The laundry still gets away from me. I cannot seem to manage to find a good routine for actually putting it AWAY once it’s washed, dried and folded. And the kids’ bedroom (and Eric and I’s bedroom, let’s be honest) are frequently messy. And the playroom? It’s usually best to just close the door and walk away.

What can I say? My name is Jennifer, and I’m a recovering mess-a-holic.

Admitting you have a problem is half the battle, right?

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