Help me make a happy house
July 22, 2009 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to be a domestic goddess AND have a full-time job? If so, how?

It is my heart's desire to be a frugal yet excellent housekeeper and cook. However, I have a demanding full-time job and a 45-minute (one way) commute so I don't have a whole lot of extra time to devote to accomplishing all that goes into keeping a peaceful, clean, comfortable, organized, efficient home. I am married and thankfully my husband does help with the chores and the lawn. I just can't seem to get a system established for some reason. We don't have children yet, but do plan to in the future, so I'd like to get my routine together before then (and yes, I know a kid will throw things out of whack, but at least I'll have some practice under my belt). To put this all in a nutshell, I would like to be able to succeed in keeping things clean and organized, doing laundry/ironing, planning meals (possibly including gardening), and creating (and staying within) a budget, and other stuff with enough time left over for visiting with family, pursuing leisure activities, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

I'm interesting in hearing your suggestions on blogs/websites/forums I can visit for ideas, inspiration, and motivation to assist me in achieving (and maintaining) this goal. Also helpful would be great books or magazines on the subjects pertaining to the art of homekeeping. Or tips and tools you may have personally used.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. I have looked at FlyLady, but I don't think it's really my style - a little too "momish" for me at this point in my life.
posted by cloudsandstars to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Real Simple is fantastic. Every month it has countless tips on organization, keeping a lovely, well-decorated home, taking care of children, etc. while remaining refreshingly modern and often witty.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 7:18 PM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Since you're both employed, how about spreading some of that largesse around and hiring a weekly cleaning team?
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:18 PM on July 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

You have a limited number of hours in the day. You can choose to devote 8 to sleep, 8 to "domestic goddessing," and 8 to your job, but that will leave you exhausted and flopped-out, with no time for anything fun, and honestly eight hours per day for work/commute is probably unrealistically low.

You are simply humanly incapable of working a full-time job AND being a homemaker unless you are super-organized and judging from your post only, you are not, and becoming super-organized is pretty much impossible for people who are used to more unstructured time. Lean more heavily on your husband, hire help with your extra income from having two full-time jobs (I assume, if your husband doesn't work full-time he should be the one taking care of the house), and think carefully about how childcare will work once you have children.

My mother, who only worked part-time when I was growing up, did not have the time and energy to work, sleep, take care of the kids, take care of the house, cook, and do all the other things that the "double burden" entails, so my father had to shoulder a lot of the burden of housekeeping and some, relatively few, of the things were delegated to third parties, like housekeepers, daycare centers, those who make ready-cooked meals, etc.
posted by Electrius at 7:22 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some people may be wary of this, but I love my timer-based dishwasher & washing machine. I can load it up when I wake up, set it to run however may hours later, and I don't need to worry about it interfering with me taking a shower, or having the washing sit damp in the laundry all day (I set it to be finished up right before I get home, and pop it in the dryer). Also, having a set morning routine -cleaning the bathroom before work M/W/F, setting the laundry up & vacuuming T/Th, helps a lot as well. Putting things away when I am done with them helps, I just wish I could get my husband to do the same. I try to do more cleaning before work, so that I come home to a clean house, and can do other things at night.
posted by kellyblah at 7:24 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Commuting, working, ironing, gardening, cooking, and hobbies... and later kids? Frankly, that sounds unrealistic to me. I mean, it's doable, but it won't be fun. My parents both worked full-time with a house, garden, 30 minute commute, and 2 kids, and while they did manage to do all the domestic stuff on your list- my dad did lots of cleaning and cooking- still, they had no hobbies to speak of, had little time to themselves, and were tired and stressed a lot. The stuff got done, but not in a serene way, and I do not recall my mom ever sitting relaxedly on the couch, at all, for my whole entire childhood. She was always bustling; and even as a kid it felt unfair to me.

I'd outsource some of those jobs. A cleaning lady who does laundry & ironing would be what I'd probably seek. Or at least get a cleaner to come in every month or so to really scrub stuff down, so in between you just have to keep things sort of tidy. The half-day every couple weeks that you'd spend scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen floor? That's time better spent visiting your relatives while someone else cleans!

One thing that works well is to do your grocery shopping in bulk, and get a deep freezer, so you can always cook more than you need and keep the leftovers. I'd aim to cook at least double quantities of whatever you make, and freeze the rest (invest in good freezer containers, figure out a system to keep the freezer organized, and label the food well).

Finally, Get Rich Slowly is a good blog for frugal living tips.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:33 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hire someone. Seriously. And give up on ironing. Dry cleaning.

Also, don't know how you live but if you do make messes, stop. You should never have to pick anything up or straighten anything up. Ever. If you have something in your hand, it can go where it belongs, or where it needs to go to be cleaned (like the sink or the landry basket.) Having a "system" for not making messes will get you a long way.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:34 PM on July 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I checked out FlyLady and was a little too oppressed by the momishness as well. But that site did clarify one insight for me though, which I keep having to have redrilled into my head as I'm a natural-born lazy mofo --- Do little bits while you're doing other stuff, when you're doing other stuff. Like, if you're cooking dinner, wash as many pots and cutting boards and so forth as you can while water's boiling or things are heating in the oven. When you're in the bathroom in the morning anyway, have a couple wet wipes and those leave-on shower sprays handy; take two minutes and wipe down the faucet and the mirror and spray the shower while you're waiting for your lotion to soak in or what have you. When you're standing by the door in the morning, checking your pockets/purse to make sure you have all your stuff, look over the room and straighten up a bit before you step out the door. The forehead-smacking moment that I keep repeatedly having is the realization that some small task that takes 30 seconds to do daily will take a half an hour of concentrated effort if you put it off for two weeks. And it's better and easier and more long lasting to incorporate new steps into existing routines than to try and start them from scratch. So if there's some gross thing that you keep putting off, try and figure out a way to incorporate a mini-version of it into something you already do. I'm trying to get better at this stuff, and I think I'm doing a bit better, but it's slow.

The part where I still suck is forcing myself to sit down for a designated hour and power through weekly tasks --- emptying all the barrells, moping the floor, paying bills, dusting, etc. But I'll get there someday.
posted by Diablevert at 7:46 PM on July 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

pseudostrabismus wrote: Finally, Get Rich Slowly is a good blog for frugal living tips.


While I'm grateful for the shout-out, I would never recommend my site as a place for learning to be a domestic goddess. That said, if I could convince my wife to write a blog, she could very well write on this topic...

But maybe Unclutter can help?
posted by jdroth at 7:53 PM on July 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

Establishing a system has been my challenge as well (and I'm not trying to be a domestic goddess, just keep on top of things). Here's some things that have worked for me:

- Schedule tasks: I always clean the bathroom on Saturday. Because I do it consistently, it only takes about 15 minutes to do. Also, the one thing I picked up from FlyLady was the idea to clean your sink out every night. It's much nicer to wake up to a clean kitchen than one with last night's dishes in the sink. (I agree with the "Mom" vibe of that site, BTW.)

- Freezer cooking: this has been huge. I make big batches of marinara sauce, meatballs, stroganoff, stew, etc. on the weekends and freeze it into portions that work for 2 people. I spend a few hours while I'm doing other things around the house, so it's not a burden. It's great to be able to just make a homecooked meal when you come home from work. I am trying to get to a point where we can eat out of the freezer 2-3x/week.

Looking forward to other tips.
posted by sfkiddo at 7:53 PM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Is your house or apartment too big? I can keep my 3-room 1-bath apartment really clean and pretty organized despite my fulltime job (though I don't have a 1.5 hour a day commute, and that helps). I think the size of a homestead has the single most significant impact on how much it takes to keep it clean and organized.

Another question: Do you have too much stuff? Too many clothes = too much laundry. Too many dishes = too many dirty dishes pile up before you're forced to wash again. Too many tchotkes = too much dusting and arranging. Too many magazine and newspaper subscriptions = too much clutter. Too much shopping = too much food and goods in the cupboards.

A third question: If there are two of you, do you agree on standards and work equally to keep a lid on things?

AS far as systems, you don't need much, in my experience. A few minutes a day makes the whole place stay sane. The key point is to put things away before they constitute a mess. Once a week I clean the bathroom thoroughly - wipe down, mop floors, dispose of trash, wash rugs and towels. Once a week I clean the kitchen thoroughly. Neither task really takes more than an hour. Change the sheets and sweep the bedroom once a week. Sweep the living room once a week.

Pick up and put away stuff daily. Sometimes I leave glasses and magazines out at the end of the night, but then I try to pick 'em up the next day rather than make more mess on top of that.

Carry dishes back to the kitchen when you're done with them. Rinse and put them into the dishwasher, or stack them and do one big wash/dry after dinner. Put dishes away from the drainer or dishwasher while waiting for stuff to cook.

Do laundry as you can - get home from work, put a load in the washer. An hour later, switch it to the dryer. An hour later, fold and bring it upstairs and put away. I try to do 2 loads a week, and on weeknights, so I don't waste half a weekend day on laundry, my most hated task. It gets done in the little spaces on weeknights, one step at a time. I don't really iron unless it's dire - if you pull stuff out of the dryer while it's still warm, it doesn't usually wrinkle badly. If you have a lot of stuff that really honestly needs ironing, or if you need/want a super crisp look to your shirts, consider the other options: stop buying that kind of thing, or outsource those items to a dry-cleaner who can press them for you, or only iron what you're going to wear the week ahead, and do it all in one go on a weeknight.

If you have a life at all, things are going to get away from you every now and then when you have a busy week. That's OK! Every few months or so, as the seasons change, you can devote a weekend day or a couple consecutive nights to really deep cleaning. That's when you wipe out the fridge, go through accumulated stuff and discard/donate it, file all the old correspondence, etc. Every couple of years, if you haven't moved house, it's probably time for a major cleanout where you get rid of stuff you really don't care about any more. Stuff is a big time stealer. Don't overstock your bathroom cabinets or your cleaning supplies with things you 'might need' or things you last used three years ago. Keep only the things you actively use around your house.

Do weekly meal planning so you don't overshop, and know what you're going to cook most nights for dinner. That makes the evening go a lot smoother, as you don't waste time on last-minute store runs, or staring into the fridge trying to think of ideas. Clean as you cook. Cook in bulk so you can get a couple of meals, or meals and lunches, out of a single cooking event. I basically plan meals by choosing a couple of major proteins for the week (say, chicken breasts and shrimp) and spread those out. Then I fill in the other meals with meatless items (beans, quiche, pizzas, pastas).

Have a small trash can and take out the trash as soon as it's full. Don't have multiple trash cans around the house - it just lets you fill and fill and end up with a large chore to empty a lot of trash.

Use baskets and containers. I have a lot of reading material around, which looks messy - except that I stack it in magazine-sized baskets, which looks neat and orderly. Seriously, it's a small thing, but it makes a big psychological difference - it says "I'm in control of the stuff, it's not in control of me." If company comes you can easily whisk the baskets out of sight and have a neutral space back.
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on July 22, 2009 [14 favorites]

cloudsandstars: my husband does help with the chores and the lawn.

I may be wrong here, but this was a red flag for me. The assumption with "helping" is that domestic tasks are your responsibility and he's being nice enough to assist with something that isn't his responsibility. A husband "helping" with chores is like men who "babysit" for their own children. This smacks of the traditional gender roles that became the social norm in an era where the majority of middle class women did not work outside the home. It's not a sustainable model in the majority of households these days, even though it's pretty common:

But as soon as men and women form a union, women tend to spend more time on housework – an average of 15 hours a week – whereas men react in the opposite direction, falling to 5 hours a week.

If he's not assuming responsibility for (and doing) 50% of the housework, he's not "helping" enough. Make a list of all of the things that need to be done in a week - grocery shopping, dinner, laundry, hoovering, tidying, fridge cleaning, rubbish, lawn mowing, mopping, bathroom cleaning, sheet changing - and calculate the amount of time each tasks takes.

Add it up. Divide the hours by two. Take turns to pick tasks off the list and make sure you end up with an even number of hours. You may not end up with everything being done exactly the way you would do it, but that's the price you pay for not having to do it any more.

If you do hire a housekeeper (which is the best thing we ever did) you can cross some big ones, like mopping, hoovering and bathrooms off your list. You are literally buying back your time for things you enjoy more, like reading and gardening.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:03 PM on July 22, 2009 [12 favorites]

I have a toddler, a PhD in progress, a full time job, a dressmaking hobby, friends, family and all the rest of it and I'm well into a second pregnancy. I keep it all together by outsourcing everything I possibly can - I have groceries delivered, we take the car to a carwash, and we have cleaners. If I could find someone to launder/iron for us, I would do that too.

I used to do all (or most) of the above plus my husband and I would spend one of the weekend days cleaning and washing, and let me tell you, if you can afford to have a choice, life is way too short for that. I would rather spend the time with my family or doing my own thing. I save the domestic goddessing for cooking, having people around for dinner occasionally, lighting candles, burning oils and other frouffy nonsense. Not a week goes by that we don't comment on how cool it is that we don't have to scrub the shower or clean the toilet.

In the interim (and VERY importantly) everyone in my home pulls their weight. In a sense it's not a matter of being a domestic goddess as much as everyone tidying up after themselves, making their own beds, throwing a load of laundry in when needed, and everyone doing the dishes together. Doing absolutely everything when you share a home with others is really not your job, and there is not prize for balancing absolutely everything alone. It'll probably wear off eventually, but the toddler in the clan gets SUCH a kick out of helping set the table, making his own bed, and putting his toys away. I'm not their servant.
posted by lottie at 8:18 PM on July 22, 2009 [7 favorites]

Okay, I think the commenters here are being helpful in coming up with ways to stay on top of necessary household chores, but the way I read your question, it's more like you're asking how to do all the things a full-time homemaker does -- be an efficient, frugal manager and excellent cook with an always-immaculate home -- and also work full-time.

I think you can't.

I mean, you spend 10.5 hours out of the house every day, right, if you have an hour-and-a-half commute? That's a long freaking time.

Cut yourself a break. Pick one of the following: excellent cook, immaculate home, devoted gardener. Hell, pick gardener; hire someone to clean; and your husband can be the excellent cook. Done and done!

And in some ways, I think relaxing about this stuff is as good a preparation for kids as getting super-organized. Let it get out of hand, like Miko suggests, if you're having a busy week, and realize that it's okay. Busy busy mothers who are too obsessed with the house and garden to notice the small people in it do not make great child-rearing models. I'm very thankful that my mom wasn't ashamed of spending an afternoon talking and playing with us, and then serving franks-n-beans on a hastily cleared kitchen table. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that "joyful" and "immaculate" are never applied to the same home.
posted by palliser at 8:20 PM on July 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

Oooh! Also, a crock pot is the bees knees. For cold days, there is nothing better than walking in the door after a day at work or whatever and the smell of slow-cooked whatever filling your home.

Can't. recommend. enough.
posted by lottie at 8:38 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

slightly perturbed by those who think that this is only a possibility if you pay for outside help.

First thing, you don't need to be a domestic goddess to have the things you want, the house doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to be clean. My house looks fine, and I don't spend more than 10 minutes a day probably. True I spend more time at the weekend, because I vacuum, but no more than 30 minutes.

I would give Flylady another go, but with the weeding out of the crap. The key things are, putting things away at the end of the day, wiping kitchen counter tops and doing dishes (I'd kill for a dishwasher, but can't afford that luxury right now), if you do them every night don't take that long. When I'm working during the week, I tend not to cook, but I like to cook at weekends as a hobby, so always have stuff freezed which takes no time to reheat and saves on the washing up. The bathroom you do whilst you are in there (I have a v small bathroom so I just spray things quickly and wipe straight away), and everything else, well, it's already clean! I just go around with a duster.

I live alone and earn very little so I have to do this myself, but the way I do it doesn't take long at all. Admittedly I live in a very small one person house, but I can't see that a house that's a little bigger would take significantly longer, and flylady has good tips for dealing with specific rooms every week (again, means you have to waste time reading crap). As for planning meals and budgeting, that's the kind of stuff I do at night with the tv on or some music playing. YOu only have to do the budget once, and then make sure you keep to it by recording your expenses (I now do this on my iphone as I was rubbish at remembering to write what I spent in a notebook), and there's some great help in books and on the internet about menu planning. Personally one of my favourite things to do is go through cookbooks and read recipes and plan what I'm going to make.

I do have time for several hobbies - knitting (socially as well) computering, music, going to gigs etc. And let me assure you that I in my natural state i am disorganised as hell. But because of this I am generally super-organised. If you need help on this end of htings I recommend reading Getting Things Done which can definitely be applied to home life as well as business.

Disclaimer - I don't really garden. CAn't help you there. My landlord comes over every six weeks and does it, but it's a very low maintenance garden. If I had a lawn, I would find the money to pay a kid to come and mow it. And I don't iron. I recommend breaking out of that habit, it's completely unnecessary if you dry your laundry correctly, except for shirts, which I don't wear. My sister's husband irons his own shirt every morning before work, and my dad used to do the same. Perhaps this could be one of the chores your husband "helps" with?!
posted by nunoidia at 12:14 AM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

1. Train you, your partner and any future kids that if they make a mess they clean it straight up. Finished reading? Put away the book. Spill something on the counter while cooking? Wipe it up right now. Taking off dirty socks? Straight in the laundry basket with them. Made dirty footprints because you forgot to take your muddy shoes off? Clean them up before they dry.

2. If you go into a room for any reason, ever, tidy something up. If you leave the room, take something with you that needs to go somewhere else. When I go from the kitchen to upstairs, I take some rubbish with me, and leave it at the bottom of the stairs, because that's closer to the front door.

3. Give yourself permission to only do a tiny piece of housework at a time. You're late for work and don't have time to clean the bathroom? Just wipe down the sink.

4. Get a freezer. Buy fresh ingredients for whatever you like to cook and freeze them in meal sized portions. Meat, fish, veg (chop it first), chillies, anchovies... I freeze prawns on baking sheets and then chip them off into a bag, then they aren't all frozen in a big lump. Lemon slices / wedges, sliced bread, anything. Cookie dough if you are into cookie baking. I buy bacon, and use clingfilm to package every two slices together.

5. Learn what to do with things like noodles, cous cous, and bulghur wheat, which keep forever and are almost instant to cook.

6. Find a cash and carry, learn what you can get cheaper there by buying in bulk.

7. Get a tub and grow some fresh herbs in it.
posted by emilyw at 2:16 AM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm living that life, that commute, with the baby, too, and a dog and cat. (Litter box!!!!) We are quite tidy, except for the floors, which we're pretty lazy about.

The secret is that Mr. Llama doesn't 'help'--he does half the work. The other thing that helps is we have some labor that's divided specifically (I pull the garbage out of the garbage can and replace the bag, he gets it from the house to the garage.) and lots that the first person who can get to it, does it. That means if I can't get the dishes into the dishwasher in the AM (I leave after he does) he does it when he gets home. If I run the dishwasher in the AM, he unloads when he gets home. And vice versa and etc.

I cannot imagine that working without having two people doing 50% (I mean, within reason, it's not like we're taking an accounting every day. But with the understanding that sometimes someone has a bad day, is sick, baby llama is demanding, etc., the expectation is that it's split halfway.)

I couldn't breastfeed, I wasn't ergonomically set up for it, and had a c section, other stuff happened. I was devastated at the time but in the end, frankly, that helped too, because baby llama care is also 50/50.

If your dynamic is set up in such a way that you're the 'manager' and he 'helps', I think the easiest, most path of least resistance option, is to get someone into the house to clean for a couple of hours every week or every other week. From a relationship perspective, unless he's up for sharing the wealth in the way that I described above, it's really not worth making a big deal about if everything else is great. But I don't think you can do 70/80% of that work yourself without having no time for yourself to sit around and nerd out on the internet or read or whatever, and without resentment building up.

So I think--figure out what you can afford, get some help, do once a month grocery shopping. Reduce variables wherever you can.

Oh! Also, re. the lazyness about the floors--wiping the cat/dog hair off the floor with dirty laundry before throwing it in the washer, wiping off the sink and bathtub and around the toilet the same way, works for us.

Is that bad?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:24 AM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

The best thing I ever did for my mental well being and keeping my house reasonably clean was to hire a cleaning lady. She comes every two weeks, and I love her. I was raised in a situation where my mom spent fully half of her Saturday, every week, cleaning the house (and she never let it get bad), and I felt for a long time that I was obligated to keep that same kind of schedule. That's not how my life has worked out and that's not how I want to spend my time. Cleaning lady. Best thing ever.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:39 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Heh, it looks like the only person that says this is doable doesn't live with someone else (and only needs ten minutes a day to do all chores!).

You know that old adage cheap, fast or good - you can only choose two? Well, there is a similar one for women; job, children or domestic goddess - you can only choose two and you'll do neither to the standards you set for yourself. The only women I know that are able to work full-time and have a clean house while living with a partner also have outsourced help (and still spend a lot of their own time on chores). And once children enter the mix, god help them. They ALL also complain they are doing the bulk of the work and none of them have time for such triflings as hobbies (but all their husbands have poker nights etc).

As to practical suggestions, schedule two hours a day for the house (doesn't have to be consecutive, you can do get up earlier and do an hour then and an hour immediately after work -whatever works for your "peak periods"). Each day spend the first hour on a major chore that stays the same each week (eg, Monday, Laundry Day, Tuesday Bathroom, Wednesday Groceries, Thursday clean out one room and do thorough cleaning of that room on a rotating basis, Friday Kitchen, Saturday Gardening) and the second hour on immediate tasks that need to be done - make bed, clean sink, prepare and clean up dinner; as noted above, only possible if you are multi-tasking. Your husband will have the same set up, two hours a day that he choses and chores opposite to you a weekly schedule plus the daily chores. On one of your days off together and your husband sit down and plan the chores for the upcoming week, review your budget and pay bills for a couple of hours while enjoying something together like a nice meal on your patio or fancy cocktails. Once a month on your day off do a major cleaning lasting several hours (some people do this weekly or bi-weekly depending on the size of their house/stuff).

As a datapoint, I spend about 35 hours a week on my job, have three children (one still nursing) and spend about four hours a day on chores (NOT including looking after the children consectutively) and my house is incredibly messy and looks like I never lift a finger as my mother keeps reminding me.
posted by saucysault at 5:43 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, I have a garden, too - it's not at my house, it's a community garden. It's about a 10 x 5' plot. It's a vegetable garden, and that size garden is both manageable and yields a surprisingly good amount of food (I concentrate on lettuces, which we can't eat fast enough, herbs, which are vastly overpriced at the grocery compared to what you grow yourself, and easy-to-grow veggies like snow peas, chard, kale, green beans, tomatoes, cukes, and squash).

It takes about a day's worth of work in early spring to dig out, amend soil, and do the early planting. Later planting takes a few hours at a time a couple of times during the season. I weed and harvest a couple times a week, maybe a half-hour at a time. It's worth the investment of time, to me, because it's also recreational and fun.

I think another skill you might cultivate is setting a cleaning-time budget in the same way you set a food budget. Two hours of housekeeping a day seems really extreme to me, but if you have a couple children to look after, a large house, an unhelpful mate, and/or other areas to tend like a big yard or garage, then yes, those tasks are probably going to add up exponentially. Control the spread of your life, and you control the use of your time. But even if you have a reasonable amount of work assigned to you, decide what's a reasonable time investment every day, and do just those things that are most important and still fit within the budget. The problem with cleaning - especially if you really are a nester and inclined toward domestic goddess-ness - is that it's never actually done. Sure, it might look nice on the surface, but deep inside you know that the gadgets drawer needs organizing, the broiler needs scrubbing, you need to vacuum inside the sofa cushions, and there's a closet full of crap you haven't sorted yet. You have to learn to manage the obsessive voice that tells you that every single little task needs to be done. It doesn't - and things that do, you can get to on a twice-yearly deep sweep through the house on a cleaning blitz. Telling yourself you have 1 hour (or whatever is reasonable for you) for cleaning daily will help curtail the drive for perfection. Keep it sane. Let's say you have 16 waking hours in the day; you are already spending maybe 10, 11 of them either at work, commuting to work, or getting ready for work. That doesn't leave a lot for housekeeping, especially if you want to, you know, eat a meal, hang out with your SO, watch a movie, read something, etc. Keep your life in scale to your time available - if you can't get to all the tasks in the time you have, find ways to reduce the number of tasks you're expecting yourself to get done.
posted by Miko at 6:33 AM on July 23, 2009

The secret is that Mr. Llama doesn't 'help'--he does half the work.

Yeah, that's our super-special secret method too. We don't have kids, but we have a clean and mostly-neat house, cook great dinners nearly every night, both work full-time jobs, garden, and still have time for other interests and going out.

He does the grocery shopping, which he doesn't mind but I despise. Conversely, I clean the bathroom. We do our own laundry. He cooks about half the time. The one who doesn't make dinner does the dishes afterwards. I'm "in charge" of the planning and maintenance of the garden, but he waters for me in the morning. He's "in charge" of home improvement projects, but I'm certainly capable of using power tools and doing a chunk of the work.

If stuff starts to pile up a bit -- unfolded laundry on the guest room bed, random objects cluttering the kitchen table, etc. -- we just take care of it on the weekend. Though I find that setting aside Time For Chores doesn't motivate me to get them done. I'd rather sneak micro-chores in while doing other stuff.
posted by desuetude at 6:48 AM on July 23, 2009

I can totally relate. I've spent 3 years trying to figure our my routine, I'm still not satisfied. It's important not to feel like a failure, I make choices that are right for me. If I really wanted to spend all my time cleaning, I would. It turns out I'm happy with a semi-clean house, it just took me a while to accept that.

You may have to adjust your standards. Your house is not going to be spotless all the time. Your house may not be perfect, but at least you won't be miserable about it. Because for me, the only options are semi-lean house and worrying about it or semi-clean house and relaxed about it. Obviously, this is different for everyone.

I hate ironing so I avoid buying things that need ironing. I wear jersey shirts and sweaters with my work clothes instead of button downs.

I also got a roomba. I use it on both carpet hardwood and it makes my house look amazing! It gets under the furniture, and gets kitty hair and litter out of corners. And while it's on, I can tackle another job, like the bathroom or cooking dinner.

Dinner is still my downfall, it takes a lot of planning and discussion with my partner to make sure we have enough to eat, and we don't waste food. It only works when we discuss what is in the fridge and plan every meal on an almost daily basis.
posted by Gor-ella at 6:57 AM on July 23, 2009

A "domestic goddess" deserves to be worshiped and should receive the tribute of sacrifices and offerings.

What this means in the real world is that your husband should perform 50% of the domestic chores. "Helping" isn't enough.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:38 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think it is great that you are trying to get a handle on things before you have children. I am currently trying to get organized after never being that tidy or organized, but now I have two kids and a partner who is messy. Yikes.
Two resources I am finding helpful are: Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson, and House Works, by Cynthia Townley Ewer. Home Comforts is more of a tome on how to do everything that a homemaker does. House works has great ideas about getting yourself organized from a woman who proclaims to have had to really work hard to learn it. She also has a website Good luck!
posted by I_drew_an_angelfish at 2:26 PM on July 23, 2009

I work full time (from home though) and have a kid. This may be a personality thing, but I actually keep house better now than before my son was born six months ago, because I'm the type of person who needs deadlines. Before I would think "I'll unload the dishwasher later" and then get to it days later; now that I have less time I'm actually more motivated. So you may not have to have a perfect system down before you have kids.

I also used to buy groceries once a month and almost never cooked. The Epicurious app on my iPhone has been a lifesaver. Now I plan four meals a week and shop for that week on Sunday. Any leftover ingredients I put into Epicurious and find recipes for the next week. Lunches and a couple of dinners are leftovers or sandwiches, and we eat out once a week.

I know shopping more often is counter-intuitive, but now I can just zip in and be done in 15 minutes, versus a once-a-month, two hour ordeal plus return trips because I forgot something.
posted by shopefowler at 8:22 PM on July 23, 2009

Use baskets and containers. I have a lot of reading material around, which looks messy - except that I stack it in magazine-sized baskets, which looks neat and orderly. Seriously, it's a small thing, but it makes a big psychological difference - it says "I'm in control of the stuff, it's not in control of me." If company comes you can easily whisk the baskets out of sight and have a neutral space back.

This struck a chord with me because I never have a space to put the crap I walk in the door with at the end of the day, my hand bag, sometimes a baby llama specific bag, and sometimes knitting, also cell phone and iPod, which don't get put away because they're in constant use.And keys.

So that stuff is often laying around in the kitchen looking craptastic because I don't want to put it away because I'm likely to need it again in an hour or two.

SO I went to Target and bought a black canvas appropriately-sized bin that both holds all of that crap and slides under this bench we have in this kitchen, giving all that stuff a home. So now all that stuff is securely out of sight.

And I will attest: It does make a big psychological difference!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:55 AM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, I'm a little late to the the party, but here's my input--some of it was already mentioned above, but the way I try to deal:

There are two of us, one dog and 2 cats. We have a house and small-ish yard.

Splitting the chores with your husband is a must, unless his job is hugely more demanding. My husband does all the groceries and cooking and some of the kitchen cleaning and his own laundry, and the harder yard tasks. I do all the cleaning and gardening and bills and general keeping-on-top-of-things. If you both want to have a life as well as a reasonably maintained house, it's the only way.

I work a 4/10 schedule, so between the hours at work and getting to the gym, I don't have any energy for cleaning on a regular day, so I do ALL my cleaning on the weekend. NOTHING gets done during the week except some general picking up/dishes. On the weekend, I spend ~ 2 hours on a set list of tasks, what I consider the bare minimum. Some of them can be skipped occasionally, but they HAVE to be picked up the next week. The list is:

--General house pick-up
--Empty trashcans, recycling, compost
--Change kitty litter, sweep and maybe wash floor nearby
--Water plants (inside and out)
--Sort mail, pay bills, file
--Empty car

--Clean kitchen (everything clean and put away, sinks/counters/stove cleared and wiped)
--Clean bathrooms (maybe wash floors, maybe not, maybe clean shower maybe not, maybe clean mirrors maybe not...but sinks and toilets are spotless)
--Change and wash all towels (kitch and bath) and sheets
--Dust whole house
--Vac whole house (can't be skipped because of vast quantities of fur)

So the general philosophy is to be very sure the bare minimum is done, otherwise it gets totally out of hand. Then I have a running list of other chores/projects that I do as I have time and energy on the weekends--vacuuming under the couch cushions, scrubbing the shower, cleaning the fridge, staining the deck chairs, whatever. These get done as I get to them, in the order that they are bothering me the most. This way, if you feel like you haven't gotten a chance to play the piano much recently, you can blow off the deck chairs till later and not feel like your whole week is in chaos due to everything being a disaster.

I would revisit flylady again, not the emails but the routines--if you know exactly what has to be done, you can get into a rhythm and things will go faster.

Other things, some mentioned above:

Pick high-impact things to do consistently and well. Make the bed every day, close the closet doors, put things away as soon as you finish with them.

Along the lines of high-impact--example. We have 2 bathrooms, so it is easy for me to make sure the guest room is clean, even if the master bath isn't. So I make sure it is SPOTLESS on the weekends, and if I have notice during the week that people are stopping by I would swipe around with a tissue. People really notice that, and a number of people have mentioned how clean it is.

When you start gardening, start with high-impact things there, too. Tomatoes and herbs are number 1, I think.

See if you can use your commute time well. Can you read or listen to books on tapes and consciously relax so that when you get home you're energized and can get something accomplished? At the very least use that time to plan the evening--If I get home with no list of things I want to get done, NOTHING gets done.

Lastly: I made a schedule once of everything I would like to get done and how long it would take to do it, just to prove to myself that THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME IN THE WEEK, so I HAVE to let some things go. The neurotic side of me is constantly in need of reassurance, but if I want to have time to practice the piano and go running and garden and read and paint and etc etc etc, I have to let go of the lower-impact cleaning things. If there are dust bunnies under the couch but I was able to get in an extra 1/2 hour of piano.....the piano (almost) always has to win, otherwise you'll just work yourself all the way until you die. Now when those bunnies come out and attack ala Monty Python, you have to take care of it.
posted by lemonade at 3:55 PM on July 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

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