Simple, Really? I’m failing at Housekeeping 101

Monday, Jan 10th, 2011 by

I am not a good housekeeper.


Don’t worry. This deficiency rarely keeps me up at night. I consider myself a good wife, good mom, good daughter and good friend, although of course I could improve in every one of those areas every single day.

A woman holding a green feather duster

This isn’t me, by the way. I just thought it was a funny photo. Plus, I don’t own a feather duster.


In my previous life, I was a good journalist. I’m a good traveler, and I used to throw very good Oscar parties, and I will again someday. I’m good at writing thank you notes, and I make a good guest at cocktail parties and weddings. And I’ve boasted enough about how good I am at the laundry.


But when it comes to keeping a house clean and organized, I have to admit there is a lot of room for improvement.


It’s not for want of good role models. My mom keeps a lovely house.  She rarely goes to bed with even a dirty cup in the sink, and she takes on seasonal projects like cleaning out her china cabinet and closets. My mother-in-law is a good housekeeper, too, and a great cook, to boot.


My house isn’t a nightmare or anything. It’s just … perpetually out of sorts. There are orphaned papers in piles, and toys that should be put away. The stovetop almost always has a pot or skillet on top that needs scrubbed by hand. There are too many shoes by our backdoor, and bags, too. There isn’t any kind of regular schedule for cleaning the bathrooms or the floors. The master bedroom seems to be the dropping point for everything that doesn’t have a home, the linen closet is overflowing and there needs to be a lot more dusting around here. A lot more.


My husband and I lived in apartments for a long time, and we used to chalk  up our housekeeping problems to not having enough space. Or just not caring because it was a rental in which we didn’t spend much time. We worked a lot, and liked to go out. When we met up with friends, it was usually at restaurants or bars or theaters. We promised everything would be different when we bought a house.


Well, we bought a house. It’s on the small side, but plenty big for our family of three. We spend a lot of time at home now. And while we’re still not hosting formal dinner parties, I like to have friends over for coffee and playdates.


I’ve given up on that pipe dream of keeping the kind of home that would be featured in the pages of a magazine. (“Real Simple” — natch.) In fact, I wouldn’t even want that kind of place – when I think of friends’ homes I admire, they are warm, welcoming places where you feel comfortable right away.  And I’m happy in the knowledge that when I get wheeled into a nursing home in 50 years, I won’t be wishing that I spent more time playing with my daughter and less time washing my floors on my hands and knees.


I just want to maintain a home that doesn’t require “cleaning frenzies” when I’m about to have family stay overnight. The kind of home where if a friend drops by unexpectedly, I’m not embarrassed to open the door. I am confident there must be some middle ground between a house that looks like a museum and well, our home.


I’ve been giving some thought about what I need to do to make that a reality, and I’ve been researching some websites and systems that might help me tackle projects around here without feeling overwhelmed.  I’ll write about those next week.


But I’d also love to hear from Go West readers: Do you ever feel like your home is just not how you envisioned? Do you not know where to start cleaning, or feel like you’ll never have enough time and energy to get it organized? Or for those of you are happy with the way you keep your house, are there any secrets you can share with us?


Tara Burghart is the editor and founder of Go West Young Mom. Most Mondays she writes a column called “Simple, Really?” examining why simplifying her life seems to be a complex undertaking. She now thinks she needs to purchase a feather duster, and a snazzy yellow cleaning apron, too.

13 thoughts on “Simple, Really? I’m failing at Housekeeping 101

  1. Stacia

    HA! oh boy I know EXACTLY what you mean. we just had a power clean on Sunday because our house was getting to the point where it was out of control but I've learned that EVERY family is just like this. When I go to a friend's house I easily over look a dusty bunny and toys, etc. but when people come to mine I'm all embarrassed… why is that? It's dumb because they are my friends and I know they don't care!

  2. Jen

    Can't wait to hear any advice. I am HORRIBLE at keeping the house neat. I was bad before kids so now it's even more out of control. I try to blame the kids, but it's mostly my fault. I'm sure part of my problem is too much stuff!!! Calgon take me away!

  3. Maggie

    I could have written this…not as well, of course, but I'm in the same boat. My husband's parents, sister & aunt came over yesterday. My FIL said to my daughter, "Why don't you take Aunt M up to see your room?" I was like a cartoon character…screeching to a stop in the middle of what I was doing…"GIVE ME 5 MINUTES!" I yelled. With those bongo or something beats that go "deedle deedle dee" then a "Vroom!" like from the Flinstones, I rushed upstairs and did the quickest mess move you've ever seen…I moved all the crap from her room into ours and then, of course, G, all proud, showed off Mommy & Daddy & D's room (as our son is sharing a room with us).

    I need a maid…and the salary to support one.

    Although I do clean my sink every night like Miss Jan has done in front of me for so many years. 🙂

  4. Maureen

    Try this! In addition to trying to stay on top of the dishes, designate each day to a specific room. For example, Mondays = Bedrooms, Thursdays = Kitchen, etc. You spend whatever amount of cleaning time you have that day for that room. If you have a busy day and don't get to it at all, it can wait until next week (guilt free).
    I do this for a couple months every year or so.
    I also have a reason for each of my days like thursdays are kitchen so that it is extra clean for Friday's groceries. Friday is living room since we spend a lot if tome there on weekends. Saturday is bedrooms because they have to round up clothes for sunday's laundry. Sunday is basement because I'm down there anyway doing laundry.

  5. Mks

    I've recently brought back 5:00 Clean Up. I have an alarm on my watch that goes off at 5pm. The kids and I race through the house straightnening things up. Usually we only get the main floor done and then I send them off to do their bedrooms (but usually they start tinkering with something instead of cleaning, but at least they keep themselves busy so I do some finishing touches or start dinner). It gets things straightened, but not necessarily clean and disinfected, but I'll take it!

  6. Natalie

    I so wish our house wasn't so out of sorts. I really relate to this post. I want us to be comfortable and not drive my son nuts putting away his toys so he can't play with them, but there has to be some kind of happy medium. I can't seem to get motivated unless I invite people over! Why didn't I get my mother's German "you-can-eat-off-any-surface-at-any-time" genes for cleaning?

  7. Julie

    I do the daily thing also. I asign an area to a day. Monday=kitchen, Tuesday=bathrooms, Wednesday=2 bedrooms, etc. It works out nicely this way for the most part. Some days don't work, because you of course have something come up. This year I'm trying to do a little less feeling guilty if I don't get everything done. You'll also find out though, that the kids enjoy helping with clean up. Sometimes it's not even what you think they might enjoy. My 6 year old enjoys vacuuming and my 4 and 2 year olds enjoy loading and unloading the dishwasher. Have a set spot in the front hall where the shoes and coats go, so the kids can put their own stuff away. I also have attached those 3M hooks to the inside of my one and only first floor closet for the kids backpacks and umbrellas and my purse, all at our own level so we can reach them. On the other side of the closet I have an over the door shoe holder to hold all of the gloves, hats, mittens, scarves for everyone and that works out nicely. Can't wait to get some more tips next week on this, though.

  8. Edith

    I abhor house cleaning! Really, I hate it. If there is a stronger word for it, I'd use it. That said, it has to get done (to some degree), as that's what separates me from animals (that's the line I use to motivate my kids!!). I decided long ago I'd worry more about germs and stains and less about dust and fingerprints. That way, if someone pops in unexpectedly, they'll likely see a fine coating of dust on the tv screen but will rarely see urine stains and toothpaste drips in the bathroom. I can live with that.

    My triplets are almost 8 and have been helping me with 'family' chores for several years. We have "Tuesday Tidies" and "Friday Touch Ups" where I have each kid draw a list of chores to tackle. Kid chores include cleaning the front/back door windows and the lower windows that the dog likes to lick, emptying the trash baskets, wiping down bathroom sink counters, dusting the baseboards, picking up an assigned zone in the home, etc. While they tackle these kid-friendly chores, I jump into a troublespot. We celebrate the end with ice cream!

  9. Tara Burghart

    Girls .. so nice to know I'm not alone, and to get such great real-world suggestions from moms who have been there. I'm compiling all these suggestions for my next post — and ones from nationally known types like the FlyLady — and then I guess I'll make myself pick one strategy and move forward. Hey .. I made my bed today, so that's a start!
    Maggie … I signed up for FlyLady, too, got the first email, found it way too ambitious and signed off that email account!

  10. Becki

    I have a system in my house. We have note cards with M-TH on them. Each day there are about 5 things to be done (ie:empty dishwasher, laundry, bathrooms, floors,etc) we BOTH work on the "list" each day.

    Then, every, every night during "bath" time, I pick up the entire house. All toys away, laundry hung, etc. Its just part of my daily routine.

    Then each spring/fall, I recruit my husband for some furniture moving cleaning. Couch, beds, etc. THIS is when the curtains are done, bed skirts, rearranging, etc. My husband and I joke and call it the "room to room" clean. We do each room, one at a time over about a week's time and do EVERYTHING top to bottom.

    Its just like anything else tho, you have to make it a habit. My son (3) even follows suit, and picks up his toys at the end of the day or he knows he faces the wrath of mommy! You can do it! Take your time and it will all fall into place!

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