May 17, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
Among the many things that I've let slide in this last busy stretch is our family's laundry. How badly did I let it slide? As badly as humanly possible. I could not have done a worse job of keeping up with it. How long did it take me to "reboot" back to everything-clean-and-put-away? About twenty minutes.
When making housekeeping "systems", I used to think in terms of when things are functioning well–which is most of the time. A while ago, though, I realized how important it is to also think in terms of setting up systems that can't fail. Enter the Impossible To Dirty House.
We've been getting rid of possessions and shrinking our space for quite some time now–and I can't tell you how nice it is to spend way more time with my kids and way less time cleaning and putting things away. We've had more success in some areas than others, of course. We still own enough spices that we could mix them with water and create an entire little spice-mud hut in the back yard. It would have a thatched roof made of discarded cables from various electronics that I won't throw out in case I figure out what they belong to. One box is labelled "1999" (as in 1999 is the last time one of the cables in that box was useful. I picture myself at some date in the future explaining why they are worth keeping… to a flying robot).
One shining success, though, is what we've done with our clothes. We only own about two or three full sized loads of laundrys' worth of clothes. In our mini-washer, this is four loads.
I did this so that I could fit all the "main" clothes in the bathroom vanity (We have a GIANT bathroom vanity. I can only imagine that the original builder of that bathroom actually didn't have an outer layer of skin, and needed to paint one on fresh each morning). I was filled with a vision of removing warm clothes from the dryer and quickly putting items away as I folded them. I reasoned that it would take me only three minutes a day to keep up with the laundry. This worked well–fantastically–for a few months.
But it turns out that sometimes even three minutes is too many minutes. In the last couple of weeks, I didn't even have that. I still kept putting things through the washer and dryer–because our dirty laundry hamper only holds one load. Also, with only a couple of loads of clothes in the house it's "no wash no dress" after a few days. I'm not long on the Martha Steward Homemaker Discipline, but I am sentimentally attached to getting dressed in the morning–and I think it gives my kids a jump on things in public school to be dressed as well.
Every morning for two weeks I heard the shriek from upstairs of "MOMMMMM! THERE ARE NO CLOTHES!!!". Then I would shriek back "JUST GET DRESSED OUT OF THE HAMPER!!!" Then they would shriek "WHERE'S THE HAMPER?" and I would shriek "IN THE GUEST ROOM!!!" and Gary would think about his research and about how mice learn to remember where things are in mazes in 48 hours. Family… mice… family… mice… I do not like his research. It makes us look bad by comparison.
So, yesterday, I went in to fold two weeks' worth of laundry, and guess what? There were only a couple of loads' worth. This shouldn't have been such a shock to me–since that is all the clothes we own–but it got me thinking. In the area of laundry, I have an Impossible to Dirty House. What a freeing thought! I can/should/usually-will be diligent about staying ahead of the laundry, but if I don't, it can't creep up on me. No discipline required from me.
It got me thinking of all the extras we have–extra pairs of scissors because we're never putting the main set away, more dishes than we really need, or even extra square footage in our homes where we can pile clutter. So many of these extras appear to be freedom, but in fact what they really are is a lack of healthy limits. They allow us to get ourselves "in deeper" than we should–they pile up a backlog of tasks for us like credit card debt. For me, having an abundance of storage space and deciding not to use it is like having a credit card with a 30,000 limit and relying on "discipline" not to spend it. Or like baking a batch of cookies and eating one or two.
In the last few months, I've seen my house with new eyes. I look for ways to create limits, and transfer my focus to what really matters to me. My priority is a comfortable, safe, cozy place to build relationships–and it's amazing when that is your first job how many tasks don't make it on to your list!