In Progress: Home Comforts, Part 1 (Why am I Reading This Book?!)

Feb 17, 2017

One of my reading goals this year is to read Cheryl Mendelson's 900-page tome on housekeeping. It's long. It's intense. It's not for the faint of heart (which may or may not describe me--I haven't decided yet).

Rather than give one over-arching review of it at the end of the year (because I fully anticipate it taking me the entire year to finish), I thought I'd do little monthly reports--mini-reviews, if you will. I'll share the tidbits I've found helpful (or not helpful, as the case might be) and how I'm applying what I'm learning. Hopefully, this will keep me accountable as well so that I actually chip away at it every month rather than saving it all for the end of the year (which would surely be akin to torture).

I think the first real emotion I felt soon after starting this book was depression. Not exactly the emotion I was hoping for, but there it was. The second chapter was about establishing a routine, which I'm definitely in favor of, but as I looked at her daily, weekly, monthly, and annual cleaning lists, I felt like a miserable failure.

To clarify the daily routine, Cheryl Mendelson said, "A daily routine restores the household to a level of basic order twice each day: once before work or after breakfast, and once before bed."

It was at that point that I wanted to raise my hand and ask, "And, um, what about the ten hours in between? How do you suggest I deal with the spilled milk and the crumbs from fifty snacks and the dirt and/or snow tracked in and the 500-pieces from two mixed-up puzzles and the paper scraps from an over-zealous, scissor-wielding two-year-old and the jam painted on the window and the large couch cushion and blanket fort and the four abandoned board games and the piles of books and the flooded bathroom because the (same) two-year-old decided to get himself a drink of water and the three discarded outfits and . . . and . . .????? What if by the time bedtime rolls around, I've already cleaned up so many interim messes that I'm too tired to "restore order" for supposedly only the "second" time?"

Honestly, at this point in my life, it sounds rather heavenly to straighten up in the morning, close the front door, and return in the evening with the house looking exactly the same. But as it is, if my house looks even close to the same at 5:00pm as it did at 8:00am, it's because I've done nothing but clean all day.

But it wasn't just the daily routine that depressed me. It was learning about all of the things I should be doing every week in order to establish the bare minimum of "health, safety, and comfort" for my family and realizing that I fall far, far short.

(Quick poll: How often do you wash your family's sheets? I'm genuinely curious because apparently, we aren't washing ours frequently enough.)

And thus it was that not even two chapters into the book, Mike forbade me from reading any more of it: "This is not helpful. Why are you even reading it?"

So I had a little heart-to-heart with myself and asked that very question: "Why am I reading this book?"

And it turns out, it wasn't for the routines or lists or to achieve the perpetually clean house. It was more narrow, more focused, than that. I wanted a simple how-to on all the little tasks that go into keeping a clean house: scouring a sink or doing laundry or cleaning a toilet. I do all of those things, of course, but was I doing them the "right" way . . . or was there even a right way? Those were the answers I was looking for, and they're coming, but the book had to begin with the over-arching objective before breaking it down into its smaller components.

So I didn't listen to Mike. Instead, I took a deep breath, relaxed, and realized a house with four young kids in it looks markedly different from a home with two working adults. I'm not trying to make excuses for myself (well, maybe a little . . . ), but standards are different. They have to be, unless 1) cleaning is your passion/hobby so you don't mind doing the same work a dozen times over in one day (I know people who fall into that category) or 2) cleaning is not your passion, but you're okay with feeling perpetual despair and frenzied anxiety all the time because your house is never as clean as you want it to be (there are days when I definitely feel like this). Personally, I'm not okay with either of those options.

Don't get me wrong, I am infinitely happier in a clean, uncluttered home, but I also have other interests and responsibilities outside of cleaning, so I have to find a balance that works for me, my kids, and Mike. And I think that balance is different from Cheryl Mendelson's.

But I decided to continue with the book because, while the big picture looks overwhelming and daunting, focusing on one thing at a time doesn't sound too bad. If she expounds on the fine art of cleaning a toilet, for example, I can read and learn and maybe tweak and hone my own toilet-brushing skills, and that sounds totally doable.

And no matter how Mike feels about the book, we're already seeing some positive changes from it. I decided we really should be more organized about our Saturday cleaning. Usually it's something that gets dragged out over the course of the whole day with us handing out jobs to our kids and listening to them whine and complain for hours and hours. I knew that if we all focused on the task at hand and split up the load, we could be done in a couple of hours and be left with a clean house (for at least five minutes). We actually did use Cheryl Mendelson's weekly cleaning checklist to give some structure, and we've been altering it as needed. It feels so good to work together as a family in such a concentrated way, and I'm glad my kids are learning the joy and satisfaction that comes from hard work.

The next chapter in the book focuses on food (as in menu planning, grocery shopping, meal preparation, etc.), which honestly doesn't interest me that much, so we'll see if I have much to talk about next month.

Have any of you read this book? If so, what were the most helpful bits you gleaned from it? And whether you've read it or not, how do you maintain your sanity and a clean house at the same time? (And don't forget the clean sheets question!)

16 comments:

  1. I read it years ago. And then my mother-in-law gave me a copy. *cough*

    I kind of enjoy the encyclopedia type aspect of it and some of the cleaning explanations but you are exactly right about the different life. I don't think Cheryl Mendelson even knows a homeschooling family of eight. ;)

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    1. Haha, yes, I don't think she'd be able to fathom what that would be like! Really, some things are so different about the two situations, she would just need to write an entirely new book if she actually wanted to address big families. I think she'd be shocked when she saw how much laundry alone eight people can generate, in addition to everything else!

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  2. I love this review so much. I've been very interested in your thoughts since you posted your goals for the year. When I read books like this I feel like I must be the last person in the world who stays at home with young kids and no daycare arrangement. Thanks for keeping it real: life with young kids at home who mess things up but don't clean (at least not efficiently and not without a lot of hand holding) is just a different experience.

    This book helped me adopt the "Monday marketing" idea, and we try to clean the house on Friday after school gets out early.

    I like the idea of following her checklists for daily/weekly/monthly/etc cleaning, but in reality I've found I mentally multiply (or divide?) her frequency by a factor of 2-3. Weekly tasks are every other week. Monthly tasks become quarterly. Cleaning is not my hobby and when it takes 1-2 hours a day just to tidy the latest round of toys and clean up spilled food from the most recent meal, I just can't keep up with her schedule.

    I am possibly the worst sheet washer in the world. Sometimes it doesn't happen unless someone pukes/wets the bed.

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    1. I like the way you've handled her checklists. That seems so much more practical. (And I'm sure my life would improve considerably if I adopted her "Monday marketing" plan. As it is, we seem to be running to the store multiple times a week to pick up little things we need.)

      And yes, an accident is usually what prompts me to wash my kids' sheets as well. Sometimes that means they get washed with amazing regularity and other times, they can go weeks without me thinking about it.

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  3. Yay for your monthly mini-review idea! Be sure to make them as detailed as possible, so I can just read your posts and skip the book. :)

    So I LOVE a deep cleaned home, but I don't enjoy cleaning at all (I do enjoy tidying, but that is a different, please don't ask me the last time I cleaned my toilets...). And while I agree that kids make EVERYTHING about housekeeping so much harder, even when it was just the two of us I was still terrible at keeping a clean home. Honestly, the only time I've been able to maintain my sanity AND a clean home was when I had a nanny who also cleaned. Since I've been home and all the cleaning has been on me, things have deteriorated rapidly. And I only have a two bedroom apartment to keep up! (Honestly, I have such conflicted thoughts about outsourcing housecleaning, because on one hand, I like having control and knowing things are cleaned right and involving my family to teach them to work, but on the other hand... outsourcing means IT ACTUALLY GETS DONE! Without me having to do anything! In other words, HEAVENLY!)

    And on the sheets question, theoretically my "routine" is to wash all sheets the first Monday of each month. In reality? ... Less often (except for when we make a go at nighttime potty-training, in which case it's daily, at least for my son's bed). I dob't even want to know what Mendelson recommends.

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    1. I totally agree with you on hiring someone to clean! I remember visiting my in-laws when they lived in Chile, and they had a woman who cleaned their home every week. It was just kind of expected that if you made a reasonable living (not necessarily wealthy, but at least middle class) that you'd hire someone to clean your house, and I kind of wish we had that same expectation here. But at the same time, I see the value in kids learning to work, and I want that for my family. But maybe we could pay someone to clean every other week (or once a month) to give us a good reset. :-)

      Mendelson recommends washing sheets one or TWO times per WEEK...and she is not taking a potty-training toddler into consideration--two times a week is for a normal person who knows how to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. :-) I know a lot of people who try to wash sheets once a week (I'm not one of them), but I've never heard twice a week. Honestly, that seems excessive.

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  4. My mother always washed the sheets every week and flipped the mattresses too. I guess you know that in our household some things had to go and we didn't wash sheets very often. Even though I did try telling everyone to wash their sheets once a month, that never went far because no one remembered.

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    1. That still kind of blows my mind, but Gramazetta is amazing. Cheryl Mendelson would be proud of her.

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  5. Oh man, this definitely does not make me want to read this (and that's ok). I think most books on housekeeping and organization lean on a childless premise. Children are unpredictable and messy and spin through your home like little tornados that can't be addressed sweepingly, even in 900 pages. I'll look forward to any insights gained on toilet scrubbing in your next mini reviews. ;)

    My next thought after reading your review was that I could spend the hours it would take me to read this on doing something that would make enough money to get my house cleaned several times. :P I think I'll stick to that plan.

    There was a solid year and a half where I was doing FLY Lady really consistently and our sheets were getting washed every week. Now it's every few weeks, except for Betty's which get washed several times a week. Betty's get washed most often, then ours (because I sleep on them and love fresh sheets), then Clara's, because... bunkbed.

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    1. Ha! You crack me up. I'm not at all surprised that your brain went the business route. :-)

      I've done FLY lady before too, but I mainly remember shining my kitchen sink every night, not washing my sheets, so maybe I didn't adopt that part very well. My sheets definitely get washed more than my kids (unless there are nighttime accidents, of course) for the same reasons as you: I like clean sheets and my bed is much easier to remake than my kids'.

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  6. I read the book BK (before kids) and I never had any intention of living up to her ideals, so I didn't have the same struggle with it. Turns out I'm comfortable living in what Mendelson would probably consider squalor. But I did like the individual bits on cleaning things.

    I still aim at weekly sheet changes, but it it doesn't happen I don't worry about it. (It didn't happen last week). Bunk beds were more monthly, but kids who don't wet the bed probably don't need as frequent changes because they don't sweat as much or as stinkily. (Teenagers are a different story.)

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    1. Ha, yes, I'd be interested to know Mendelson's definition of "squalor" because we're probably there, too! :-)

      Oh teenagers...I hadn't even thought of that.

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    2. Changing teenager's sheets is easy, though. You say "Change your sheets" and it happens!

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  7. This doesn't answer the question you asked, but has been a significant game changer for me in this arena. We moved about 3 years ago and for many reasons decided to buy a smaller house. Our previous home (not large, just an average house) took me 6-8 hours to clean from top to bottom if I needed it all to be clean at the same time. This house takes TWO hours! It's so freeing to me. My kids and I can handle daily/weekly maintenance very well without it taking over our free time. Having more limited space makes us vigilant about collecting too much junk. Less stuff means less work, which means more time for relationships, fun, personal projects-- things I value more than stuff. I wouldn't have guessed my definition of my "dream house" would have so much to do with the personal costs of maintaining it. Long live the tiny house:)!

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  8. Growing up, we washed sheets every other week, and that is the schedule I followed until I had kids and every good habit I had went down the drain in exhaustion. I still think that is what I aim for, although sometimes it gets stretched out longer. If I think too closely on the matter, I probably should change them once a week. However, that seems crazy often when I think about our current laundry situation--adding sheets every week to our already full laundry schedule?! I wouldn't get anything done. And I to do it twice a week! Crazy. I would be more inclined to keep to a cleaning schedule if 1) I had help and 2) the other members of the family weren't actively destroying/undoing everything I did almost the minute I did it. I can see it slightly improving when both kids are at school so at least it has a few hours before the chaos of family life. I think I need to check this book out, just out of curiosity. Although, I am worried it is just going to add to the mom guilt that I already feel.

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  9. I think you did well to persist if the book was making you feel like a failure. Kudos to you that you could take what you needed and leave behind what you don't, to be able to accept where you are and that your lifestyle is uniquely you is a huge step, remember it took me awhile to get there. xx

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