Last year, in 2015, I made a resolution to make my bed everyday. I figured it was something 30 year olds do, so I should comply. I also committed to improving my penmanship (check – love my handwriting now!) and painting my nails regularly (lasted 3 weeks, turns out I hated having manicured nails). But back to the bed. It took a couple weeks for the habit of getting out of bed every morning and immediately making the bed to set in, but once it did? I loved it. It’s not like I parade people through my bedroom all that often, but somehow it seemed that more often than not, I ended up taking guests upstairs to show them something and our bed was a disaster. Making my bed daily changed that – I’d happily waltz people upstairs to show them my Kon Mari’d closet or what we were planning for our upcoming renovation for our disaster of a master bathroom (afters are here if you missed them – our master bathroom remodel made this my favorite room in the house) if the topic came up.
I’ve never been a crazy messy person, but I could definitely be tidier. But this Fall, I felt like I had no control over our home’s cleanliness. I’d put things away and they’d be right back out. I’d clean the floors and Nell would spill milk everywhere at dinner that night. Right as we were starting our renovation in October, it felt even more out of control than before. And that’s partially because it was – when your house is in renovation mode, it’s hard to feel settled. I was also just emerging from the 1st trimester which kept me nauseous or exhausted most of my days. But excuses aside, our house felt chaotic and unclean. I thought it was just me, but B looked at me one night and said, “What do you think hiring someone to do a good, deep clean of our house as soon as the bathroom is done?” I said, “What do you think about reworking the budget so we can have a house cleaner once or twice a month?” We both thought it was a great idea. I started collecting names from our neighborhood Facebook page every time someone recommended their housekeeper, figuring that come January 2016, I’d be pregnant enough to justify the expense of a house cleaner. We’d had a house cleaner before – when I went back to work after Nell was born, we hired a housekeeper to clean once a month. And can I be honest? I kind of hated it. I hated feeling like I needed to be out of my home, or out of her way, for a full morning once a month. I loved how clean my house was when she left, but I didn’t like just sitting in my house while someone cleaned around us. It just didn’t feel right to me. So, when Thomas started preschool, I let our house cleaner go in the name of the budget – but really, I just needed an out. So I had a slight hesitation about hiring a house cleaner again.
But a funny thing happened. In mid-December, our bathroom was done enough that we could move back into it. It was beautiful. I didn’t want to put anything on the counters. I removed my shampoo and soap from the shower after every shower. I wiped down the shower doors and counters daily. And the bathroom stayed tidy. Not just clean – the toilet scrubbing, floor mopping, shower and bath tub sudsing that happens once a week isn’t really that big a deal. It takes me maybe 30 minutes to clean all 3 bathrooms in our house once a week. That’s not a lot of time. It’s the tidying that made the biggest difference: Not leaving my glasses on the counters when I put my contacts in every morning, putting my hairdryer away as soon as I’m done with it.
It dawned on me as I spent the month of December putting things away in the bathroom as soon as I used them (a novel idea, I know) that if a surface is cluttered, the room overwhelms me and feels unclean. It also dawned on me that I’m good at taking on new routines in small doses. When I committed to making our bed, I did it, because it was a small thing and not overwhelming. When I KonMari’d my closet last May, I kept it up. With our bathroom shiny and new, I committed to keeping it that way, and I was doing a darn good job of it. The issue, I realized was not the physical cleanliness of our home – I actually do a good job of physically cleaning our home – it was the lack of tidiness. What I wanted in a house cleaner was a magical way to keep my entire house tidy. And a twice monthly housekeeper wasn’t the answer to that problem. Our kitchen is the biggest culprit when it comes to my house feeling “untidy” – it’s so open to the rest of the house that the counters are an easy drop-spot for books, papers, backpacks, etc. But, because it’s open, it’s also where everyone ends up. My dear friend has a spotless house in general, but her kitchen is always immaculate and she keeps her counters clear at all times. Every time I walk into her house I feel so at ease, but somehow I couldn’t replicate that feeling in my own home. When people drop by, my kitchen is the room I feel the most need to apologize for – even though I don’t believe in apologizing for the way you live, the fact that it bothered me meant that I needed to solve the problem. I reflected and realized that if I tackled the kitchen, the whole house would feel tidier.
So on New Year’s Eve 2015, while B and the kids were out shopping for my birthday, I tackled the kitchen. I took everything off the counters, scrubbed them within an inch of their lives, and replaced only the necessities. I moved our onions and potatoes off the counter and to a cupboard drawer in the bay window. I moved our mixer to the cabinets, because if I only bake once or twice a month, there’s no reason for it to be out all the time. I pared down to the bare minimum on the counters – without things taking up visual space, it automatically seemed cleaner to me. I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the entire kitchen floor with hot water and vinegar. And then I made a promise to myself: The kitchen will stay this clean. It’s my 2016 goal.
And do you know what? I’ve kept it clean. And not just clean, tidy. Granted, we’re only 3 weeks into the year, but my kitchen has stayed clean and tidy. Instead of leaving the breakfast dishes in the sink until I get back from school drop-off, I put them in the dishwasher immediately. If the dishwasher is clean? I empty it so I can reload it ASAP. I wipe down the counters at least twice a day, sometimes after every meal. And it’s easy – because there’s very little on them. I gave Thomas a designated spot in the office for his school work to sit when he’s not working on it so that it doesn’t sit on my kitchen counters. As I cook dinner, I rinse things and put them away. After dinner, I do a quick wipe-down of the counters, quickly swiffer the floors and run the dishwasher. My house feels clean. And with that feeling of cleanliness comes such a sense of ease. And joy.
I realized last week that I had conquered the kitchen, so maybe I could take on more than one room a year. I mean, devoting all of 2015 to making my bed was good and I still jump out of bed every morning and make my bed even though it’s no longer 2015. But if I take on one tidy-ing chore a year until it becomes so ingrained in me that it’s natural, I’d have an all-the-time tidy house by the time my kids are out of school. In which case, most of the mess will go with them and what was the point of all this anyhow? So that’s my resolution for 2016: gradually become a tidier person. Room by room. Kitchen in January, our home office in February. I’ll keep you all posted. Now, I know this is nothing revolutionary: Put things away (where they belong) as soon as you’re done with them. But breaking it up into little pieces, giving myself permission to really handle one area at a time until it’s natural has changed my house. My kitchen sparks joy in my heart all day every day – so at this rate, I think it’s going to be a very joyful 2016.