Rewriting the rules your mother taught you: We all know what happened as two-career couples became the norm over the last several decades: Scores of new duties came rushing onto our to-do lists like a tsunami. In old days families had one adult who went into the world to make money and another who managed the home front. Today, most families would collapse without two incomes.
With that as a backdrop, consider this interesting bit of research from the Soap and Detergent Association: 62 percent of women say they clean their homes pretty much the same way their mothers did. For goodness sake, corporations took a wrecking ball to the rules of business, but we’re using the same old 1950S rules to manage our homes? No wonder we’re overwhelmed. No wonder we’re all going crazy. It’s time to rewrite the rules your mother taught you for housecleaning. Nothing less than your sanity is at stake.
One of the hardest things to set aside will be perfectionism. Why? Because we are inundated with images from movies,television, and magazines depicting homes with clutter-free, glimmering countertops-places where upholstery and dog hair never meet, where dust bunnies are extinct. Such homes are not achievable in the real world. Even when we work hard at housecleaning, we feel guilty that we’re not meeting unreachable goals. Let’s wipe the slate clean and substitute a new set of priorities that meets the needs of modern families-a change that will restore your mental health.
GOAL 1: KEEP A SAFE AND HEALTHY HOME If you have to choose between killing germs and dusting your Hummels@, kill the germs. How to Cheat at Cleaning shows you how you can easily sanitize in all the right places.
GOAL 2: BE ABLE TO FIND YOUR POSSESSIONS WHEN YOU NEED THEM If your system’s functional, it’s fine. For those of you still in search of a semblance of order, this book provides scores of easy de-cluttering techniques.
GOAL 3: KEEP THE KIND OF HOME YOU ARE HAPPY WITH You are the one who has to be pleased with your surroundings, not your mother or your next-door neighbor.
New goals require new pathways for reaching them and a new mind-set. Rather than perpetually marching toward perfection, we need real-world approaches-corner-cutting, time-saving, minimal-effort techniques for cleaning. Yes, we need ways of cheating.
The new rules for doing this are divided into two categories: mind-set, to get you properly focused, and procedures, to make sure you expend no more time or energy than absolutely necessary. These general principles will serve as valuable background as you proceed to all the specific corner-cutting advice in the coming articles.
Just what is it you spend so much time cleaning? Your material possessions. By redefining your whole approach to ownership, you can seriously reduce the time and effort you devote to cleaning. Here are some rules to put you into the cheat-at-cleaning frame of mind.
BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO THROW THINGS OUT Some of us actually have trouble throwing stuff away even when it’s worn out, beyond repair, and has no conceivable value to anyone. I contend you should dispose of possessions that are in good repair, too, if you haven’t used them within the last year. This goes for clothing, appliances, kitchenware, and more. Few of us have the extra physical and mental capacity to manage these unproductive items that clutter our homes.
BE WILLING TO SPEND MONEY IN EXCHANGE FOR CONVENIENCE Tolerance for spending varies from one individual to another, but remember that convenience items virtually allow you to “buy” time-often for a surprisingly small cost. Keep in mind also that any cleaning challenge is an invitation-I say outright permission-to buy cool gear.
ACQUIRE THE RIGHT STUFF, LITTLE BY LITTLE Your wardrobe is probably rife with clothes that stain easily, wrinkle readily, or require special care, such as hand washing and dry cleaning. Cumulatively, these clothes are an enormous hidden burden in your life. But no one expects you to toss them all out today. Just make sure that you replace worn-out clothes with stain- and wrinkle-resistant ones-items you can pull out of the dryer, hang, and wear without further care. This Materials On a Program (MOP) philosophy applies to virtually everything you own-not only clothing but also furniture, flooring, vehicles, appliances, building materials, and more. When it’s time to buy something new, make easy care and easy cleaning priorities in your decision .
DON’T BUY THINGS THAT CAUSE YOU ANXIETY Do you have a car that’s so pricey you feel compelled to wash and wax it every weekend? Furniture that’s so fine you use it only for special occasions? A suit that’s so delicate you’re on tenterhooks every time you wear it? These possessions are Anxiety-Inducing Luxuries (AILments), and your own ego is making your life miserable. Gravitate toward modest, easy-care, functional possessions, even when you can afford the high-ticket stuff.
Now let’s look at the rules of the game for cutting corners when you take that scrub brush in hand and actually attack some grime.
NARROW YOUR FOCUS With a schedule like yours, there’s no time to clean the house from top to bottom. You’ll get an appreciable amount of work done, however, if you attack mini cleaning projects throughout the week, 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there. This means taking a laser approach. You may not be able to clean the entire bathroom before you leave for work, but you can squirt cleaner on the tub and sponge it out.
BECOME A STORAGE NUT Make the best use of the storage in your home, and create new storage where none existed before. That’s a key strategy to the easy elimination of clutter. This means mastering closets, shelving, boxes, bins, hooks, hangers, and more. Investment in storage gear pays off handsomely. See Chapter 3 for an in-depth discussion of clutter.
MAKE YOUR GEAR EASY TO GRAB The Accessibility Theorem goes like this: A cleaning task will be accomplished on a frequency that is inversely proportional to the distance between the object to be cleaned and the materials necessary to clean it. Translation: When it’s hard to get to your cleaning tools, less cleaning gets done. At a minimum, keep a fully stocked cleaning station on each floor of the house.
ENGAGE THE BRAIN BEFORE CLEANING This is called the Thinking Wins Out (TWO) philosophy. Sure, it’s tempting to let your mind wander while you’re slogging through a cleaning chore. But the task will go more quickly and easily if you’re ever alert for opportunities to cut corners: Set your plastic cutting board in the dishwasher rather than hand washing it; after brushing your teeth, touch up the mirror and several fixtures with one cleaning wipe; open your mail over a trash can and let all the junk fall into it. For every little labor-saving move you make, award yourself TWO points on your mental scoreboard.
BE WILLING TO REPLACE OLD GRUNGY ITEMS WITH FRESH NEW ONES Things like door mats, stovetop drip pans, shower curtains, and cookie sheets, for instance, are never really going to come clean. My advice is to run them into the ground, then replace them when they hit their inevitable irredeemably ragtag state.
A final note: I have no intention of becoming your new proverbial mother, looking over your shoulder as you clean. You’re in charge. If you’re not comfortable with instituting any particular piece of advice in this article, no problem-just slide on to the next item. Your mental health is more important than being a slave to someone else’s ideas.
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