Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coming clean at chez clutterpunk

Housework is a strange beast, isn't it? Pay it too much attention, give it too much value and it can cause resentment, stifle creativity (no Darling, those crayons are just for show), and be a breeding-ground for obsessive behaviour. Pay it not enough, and it can wreak havok in the home(um, honey, did you throw out my Passport again?)
I think I've lived at both extremes. Mostly, I've lived at one end (the messy one) and envied the other. But, as with many areas of my life, I'm now seeking the Middle Way. As I said when I started blogging, I'm trying to get rid of the bad clutter in my life, and celebrate the 'good clutter'.
So I thought I'd revisit this idea today, and write down my Cleaning Ritual. This is kind of a pep talk-to-Self, because this morning I came close to feeling overwhelmed and panicked at the thought of trying to clean my (currently chaotic) flat. And then I remembered to stop being a perfectionist, and voila, there is now a haven of beauty amidst the squalor - a clean bathroom.

How to Clean, clutterpunk-style:

1. Don an Apron

This bright, smock-style apron has been the best op-shop find ever. The colours are very happifying. Putting it on makes me feel cheerful and slightly silly, which is the best way to feel when doing housework. And of course, it's extremely practical. But mostly just silly.

2. Work while the kids are AWAKE.

There is precious-little kid-free time for me, so I'm not going to squander it on the housework! This has been a liberating decision for me. Some of you are probably thinking 'well, duh!' and others may be thinking 'What?! Do a non-child-centred activity?!' Yes, it can be a slow and frustrating process to try to clean while the boys are roaming around. But it's good for us all. They learn to entertain themselves. I learn to do a 'good-enough' job in short time-spans. Alternatively, they 'help' with the cleaning, which means it becomes an activity in its own right, teaching its own valuable lessons. And I learn to be patient with small 'helpers'.

3. Adopt the ONE ROOM rule
Very simple. I'm only allowed to think about cleaning ONE ROOM at a time. This self-imposed rule has changed me. It's so important to work in manageable chunks, to set realistic goals. The perfectionist in me wants to clean it all, brilliantly, right now. The reaction to such a ridiculous goal is inevitably procrastination, avoidance and feelings of failure. If ONE ROOM has been cleaned and there is time for more, then I'm allowed to think about it. But one is better than none.

4. Use the Tub Method

My first task after choosing ONE ROOM is to march into it with a big laundry tub. I then weed out everything that doesn't belong in that room, place it in the laundry tub - and take the laundry tub elsewhere, to be dealt with later.

This is where my method breaks down, and we usually have at least one laundry tub full of random items that floats from room to room, either because I don't get around to putting it away, or I'm still not sure where the 'stuff' should live yet. On the bright side, it keeps the surface mess down, and we know where to rummage if we've lost something.

5. Bicarb + Vinegar + Washcloths = Bliss

Sadly I'm only a relatively recent convert to these products. I tried once before and wasn't convinced, it all felt too hard, but since trying again almost a year ago, I'm sold. I could wax lyrical about them all day. Why? Here's a quick run-down:

  • Effective - I've found cleaning soap scum a doddle
  • People-safe - No big deal if the kiddies swallow them, which helps with point 2. I'm also doing a better job cleaning because I can jump in and scrub away without burning my skin or inhaling scary fumes.
  • Earth-friendly - less chemical weirdies, less packaging, non-polluting, blah blah.
  • Simple and Economical - yes, really, we do not need 18 different types of Wham-Bam-Whatever, just one lot of products for everything.
  • Weight-loss - oh, I wish. But a bit more elbow-grease can be required, and thus I do consider scrubbing the bath or oven a bit of exercise these days!

As for using washcloths... good texture for scrubbing, absorbent, hardy, endlessly washable and reusable. 'Nuff said.

6. Meditate-while-u-wait.

This one might sound a bit weird. Oh well. Because really, a repetitious and mindless task like cleaning is the perfect opportunity to do some reflecting. (I'm defining meditation here as reflection/contemplation rather than emptying the mind). If I don't choose something to think about while I clean, my mind likes to go into default mode, which often involves grumbly, resentful thoughts about cleaning, or anxious thoughts about all the things I should or could be doing. Instead, I find that thinking deliberately about a craft project, or praying for people I know, or (gasp!) concentrating on the task at hand, is very soothing and a much better use of my time.

So, that's me. I've come clean. Got anything I should add to the mix? Before I head off to clean something, that is...

PS I'm having formatting fights with Blogger. Apologies for ugly layout.


  1. I converted to bi-carb and vinegar at christmas. I use nothing else! I was scaed to clean the oven in my old place because of nasty chemicals and lack of ventilation. Bi-carb was a breeze! And on soap-scum...there is definitely no going back!
    As for cleaning in itself, I write a list on the days I know I have a block of free-time (a little too often when one is unemployed). I list each room and tick it off when it is done. If I don't tick it off, I choose to forget about it...:)

  2. I do admit when i get into cleaning mode, my family do notice the difference! But that does not stifle my creativity because it takes second place to my craft. When i am in the middle of the project i am oblivious to the chaos around me, then when that project gets done i do some house work and when i have it in tip top condition i give myself permission to play. I must admit though i have not always had this luxury. It is only now because my youngest is in his 20s.

  3. Not sure if you know the tip about using two washclothes together for bicarb and probably do but just in case you don't, it's really effective in the shower and saves trying to sprinkle bicarb vertically. Sprinkly bicarb on one washcloth then place a washcloth dipped in vinegar over the top.....lovely fizzing = clean cleaning!!

  4. You are my Obi-Wan... and I am your Luke.

  5. Cleaning the oven with bi-carb and vinegar?! That's a new idea for me (as is cleaning the oven, full stop;-)). Maybe that can be my next challenge...!

  6. Go the cleaning!!! You will feel sooo much better once its done. I need to to some hard core scrubbing around here!

  7. I totally love your apron. Think of the wonderful bag I could make out of it. Just kidding. LOL I think of everything in terms of bags these days. I am learning to love vinegar too, especially now I have whit in the house not just cider. Cider vinegar has such a strong smell I was wary of using it (makes a wonderfully refreshing drink - just a small amount in the bottom of the glass and open the cold tap up and watch the bubbles. Mmmm!) We have just had a dog with kennel cough and I have soaked all of his little mucus spots on the carpet with vinegar and love knowing that the germs are killed. Apparently, it is also better on mould than bleach as it really kills not just fades the problem. And it is a great antiseptic for cuts, sores, etc and especially for bad pimples. I think that's enough for now. Hugs Cherrie

  8. ah cleaning. i dont have littlies but i like the thought of doing it when they are awake, time to ones self is always limited even without them. i try to get something in on a week night if not much is planned as weekend time to me is precious but i always end up with a list of things to do either way. sometimes the list becomes overwhelming so when this happens i priorities it into: must get done, great if there is time and can wait for another day. this releives the pressure of having to get it all done at once, which i guess for me is a bit like your one room at a time. im one task at a time : )

    love the apron!

    go bi carb and vinegar!
    thanks for the tip jetta's nest : )

  9. I love the silly-happy apron!

    And good on you for cleaning with the kids around - maybe I should try that too (or just cleaning full-stop)!

    My hint for getting something done that you don't like doing. Set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes and go your hardest - then you're allowed to stop when the timer goes off. Have a cuppa, some chocolate, check your emails and then try again for another 15 minutes. Works really well when spring cleaning. Also had a friend say that you should throw things out in lots of 9 is good fengshui - so run around the house, collecting 9 things and put them straight in the rubbish or recycling or into the car to go to the op shop.

    Love your stuff!

  10. Love that apron!
    I think about cleaning, but it all just gets far too overwhelming so I just ignore it for as long as possible.
    I have used your one room tip though, and that seems to help me as well.

  11. I'm with Dillpickle on the oven theory thing and thrilled to hear that housework is HAPPIFYING once one has donned the correct smock-style apron (does that lovely, silly thing go on like a netball bib perchance?).

  12. It all sounds like a great plan but I have to be honest and confess that I am at work fulltime and it's my husband that's at home with our daughter and therefore does the majority of the cleaning. I still clean of course, and in a strange way I kind of do the organising cleaning, the sorting, the arranging etc... whilst hubby does the scrubbing type of cleans.

  13. It is a great plan - it even makes sense, more to the point... but... I think I still need to FIND that middle way ;) I ask people over for lunch/dinner/whatever because it makes me clean, otherwise it just doesn't happen. I do band aids mostly... you know, not one room at a time but one thing!! I can totally relate to your swing between perfectionism and anarchy! It just seems like anarchy is winning more and more around here these days...! Another great post, Gina - thanks for this. K

  14. This post makes me laugh (and you'll know why!!). Ah, if only we had had that apron all those years ago... Would you believe I've finally replaced Clark Vent with a real vacuum cleaner? It has actually made me inspired to keep the house a little cleaner. It's quite satisfying, emptying the dust out of the bucket and seeing how much has come out of the floorboards.

    And wow, 13 comments so far on this post... I aspire to that kind of readership! Good work G. x

  15. What a pretty apron. I hate cleaning so a nice apron is a good idea! I do like your systematic and realistic approach.

    I love bicarb and vingar too. I was a convert as soon as I discovered that it would take tomato-y red spaghetti stains out of high chair trays!!

  16. Wonderful post. Makes me want to go clean...well, maybe not quite yet. I haven't jumped on the au-natural wagon yet. I'm like you, it all seems to hard. I have dumped baking soda and vinegar down the sink drain and loved how it bubbled up and cleaned all the gunk out. Maybe I should give it a go. I need to get a shaker like you have to the soda. Looks very handy. Thanks for sharing. :)

  17. One of the funniest posts I have read in a long time. I love that there is a ritual to your cleaning. I am also a person that leaves the house crazy messy and then feels overwhelmed that there is too much to do. Washing especially! I think I need to get myself one of those aprons.

  18. I might just go and clean ONE ROOM after reading that. Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. I'm thinking now whether or not I have rituals when it comes to cleaning. I guess I do. I do have certain times in a day when I do the 'housework'. Mostly that's in the morning, first. I am so becoming my mom...
    I can still hear her say to me: ".. but when you do the cleaning first, then you'll be able to do whatever you want to do after that a lot more relaxed than when you do it in a cluttered room". I always procrastinated, just like you said, it was too big. But now I'm an adult. I'm a mom. I'm MY mom *shock* And I have to bring a bit of order around me to be able to have a clean mind. When there is chaos around me, there is chaos in my head. And the other way around by the way. I think you can see, by the how messy my house is, how I feel. Typical. :-) So yes, I do have rituals. A lot like yours, actually. And I too am learning to be a little bit less perfectionistic. A little bit. We'll see how far I come :-D

  20. Such good advice. I at least need to stick to the clean one room at a time thing. Or at least one room a day would work, I just feel completely disorganised and I hate it.

  21. My Mum converted me to bi-carb/vinegar many years ago. She cleaned houses and offices for a living, and preferred the above cleaners to the store bought ones. Looking back now, she was way ahead of her time :)

    I also use the tub and one room at a time method, much easier to see where you've been, and where you need to go ;)

    So happy to have found your blog =D

  22. Jumped over here when I saw your blog name was clutterpunk. : ) Then saw this post and felt right at home! Love the apron and understand the happyfying that goes on when you don it. And I too do the random-bits pick-up and then often let it sit for too long because the stuff doesn't really have a home... Oh well. Thanks for hte inspiration this morning. (And by the way, love the crafty posts I read too - very fun!) Off to go find my kitchen counters now. ; )


“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
~Albert Einstein