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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sometimes You Have to Step in and Do the Job Yourself!

For many years, loading & running the dishwasher was my mother’s domain. She didn’t like the way I loaded the dishwasher (though I still say my way is, was & always will be the best :D), so she kept the job to herself. Which would have been okay, except for the fact that she too often fell asleep on the job! She had no regular routine for it, unless you count running out of every iced tea glass & dinner plate as a proper signal to run the dishwasher. (Ahem, I don’t count that.) What I mean is she didn’t wake up in the morning & unload the dishwasher for the day ahead. She didn’t then load up the dishes during the day or evening as they were used into the dishwasher- they got piled on the counters, stovetop, etc.- because of course you can’t put dirty dishes into a washer still filled with clean ones. She’d procrastinate, and then it’d be back to running out of at least one category of item. Then she’d be stuck unloading the dishes that were clean, sometimes soaking & rinsing the now hours-old dirty ones, putting them in the dishwasher, and finally, getting to run it. She never did have a habit of picking up after herself, and taking dishes from the living room to the kitchen when she was done. So unless she remembered & did this inventory before running the dishwasher, she’d also sometimes miss getting things cleaned that could have fit. What should have been a three-minute evening routine turned into a twenty minute or more nightmare, usually late at night when she was dead-tired & facing a four a.m. wake-up call. When dirty dishes lie around on the counters or in the sink, naturally the rate of kitchen disasters goes up- glasses break more easily, stuff shatters onto the floor in a zillion pieces, things get dropped in the sink & get cracked, etc. It cuts into your counter space for cooking. It’s less sanitary. It’s unpleasant to look at. It adds to a feeling of chaos in your home & in your heart. A lot more arguments get started, and ammunition is right there staring you in the face.

So, once I got a clue, I took over the chore of running the dishwasher for myself. My mother didn’t like it. Too bad. I was through being ashamed of my kitchen, unable to cook easily & having nowhere to prep my dinner food because she had no schedule for unloading & loading the dishwasher. She worked full-time, had a long commute in heavy traffic every day & the last thing she wanted to do at any hour was clean. I got it. So I took over the chore, saving both of us a headache. Her perfectionism had kept me from helping her & myself. Once she let go of it- well, almost- she was able to live in a more Zen-like kitchen again. My mother didn’t know how to apply the dishwashing facts of life because she’d never been told about them. Her mother never owned a dishwasher, and was not a great housekeeper herself, so the habit never got ingrained in any way. My grandmother, her mother, also never made her children do any household chores. So I don’t fault my mom. It takes time to build habits, and running the dishwasher on a schedule is a habit. A home is like a ship in the Navy- everyone has a responsibility for a part of it, some with more responsibilities than others. If there’s no Captain to oversee that things are being done correctly & on-time, no schedule told to the crew of when chores should be done, and no prescribed, clearly-lined-out method to get said chores done- well, could you imagine the chaos that would reign aboard that ship?! Yet so many of us run our households and/or lives like this for years.

You may already be thinking about this & applying it to your own life. The dishwasher issue may be resolved for you. But maybe your husband may be the chief one to mow the lawn or wash the car- except he doesn’t get to it as often as it needs to occur. Your kids may clean their bathroom well enough- except that they only do so when company is coming, you’ve threatened them with a grounding akin to dropping a nuke on their heads & the bathroom is in danger of being declared a toxic waste dump. Or, perish the thought…you may be guilty of some perpetually-undone chore yourself that you are convinced only you can perform “correctly”. Perfectionism & happily-finished chores rarely go hand-in-hand. Please go visit my mentor, The FlyLady, should you not take my word for this. I used to spend six hours cleaning on Saturday AND Sunday, every weekend, people. I get it- you’re confusing perfection with excellence, or as FlyLady says, “Good enough!” Learn how to do something to the best of your ability, and then go do it. If you have someone in your life that has a particular chore, but despite a frank (though kind-hearted) talk, won’t change their timing habit- and it’s affecting your collective world negatively- it may be time to simply take over this chore yourself. Now, with kids, that’s a bit different, because you can punish them! I haven’t figured out a way to punish my own mother yet! But, even with kids, take a look at what may be behind their procrastination. Don’t automatically attack them, or frankly, attack at all. Think as neutrally on this as you can. Try to take emotion out of it for a minute. Do they put it off because they’re a teenager with school, band practice, hours of homework, a part-time job, church activities & they may actually just be exhausted mentally & physically the rare times they’re not on the go? Did they ever learn how to do the chore you’ve given them in an efficient, step-by-step manner? Are they, and have they ever been, held accountable on a week-by-week basis for the cleanliness of their space? How many times have you just done the chore behind their back, because they either didn’t do it right or didn’t do it all? Was there any feedback you gave your kids the last time they did the chore that was negative? If so, you may need to realize your own part in the chain of events. No one likes a nag. Not one person on earth likes to do a job & then have someone follow right behind them & redo their work, especially when the “follower” says it because the original worker didn’t do the work the best way possible. Maybe your kid or husband is just truly lazy, but that is rarely the case. Please read on.

If there are too many knick-knacks & items in a bedroom, bathroom, etc., it will often make cleaning overwhelming & discouraging to even start. Add a perfectionist to this mix & you may as well light the dynamite now. Simplify your spaces as much as possible. De-clutter any & all surfaces you can for everyone’s sake. A surface is wiped down much more easily when it’s free of clutter, obviously. Making windows easily accessible, free of excess window treatments, furniture placed in front of it, etc. Kids, especially, need routine & order. Your husband may put off the car-washing because the hose is knotted, his car-washing tools are scattered throughout the house, and he may not have an electrical outlet needed to use his shop vac to get the interior done right in the garage or driveway, where it’s convenient. One of the worst things that you can do is take something personally- “You didn’t do this chore because you really don’t care about how I feel, or how such-and-such looks!”- when, in fact, logistics or some other issue is at work. I don’t know about you, but if my cleaning supplies are tucked behind a mountain of clutter in the spare linen closet, my inner procrastination gene is going to rebel instantly & say “Screw it!” Make sure that all cleaning tools are easy-to-get to & in great shape. Make sure that the cleaning products you use, or ask others to use, don’t create foul fumes, skin reactions, and annoying dribbles that ruin clothing (if at all possible). Make sure that the methods of cleaning are as fast as possible, orderly, and preferably written out step-by-step for them. A post-it note on a bathroom mirror is sometimes all it takes to let someone know what should get done! I highly encourage you to read Jeff Campbell’s superb book, “Speed Cleaning”, for help in housecleaning. It is an invaluable book for not only learning how to clean quickly, but properly. He also teaches exactly how to maintain cleaning tools, and minimize what you need down to the bare essentials, and having used his methods for over five years, I can attest that he is absolutely right in what he teaches.

Excellence is terrific- I urge you strive for it. Perfection, on the other hand, is a deadly venom that kills the lifeblood of joy. To me, if you are unloading your dishwasher full of clean dishes every morning, have established the habit of putting your dirty dishes in the kitchen & into the empty dishwasher throughout the day and/or evening, and run it every night- well, that’s excellence right there. If you also get your pots & pans from that night’s cooking washed, dried & put away, wipe down your counter & stovetop quickly & change your kitchen towels- hallelujah! You’ve made it, seriously. You should be thrilled with yourself- I was, once I established this habit. You have a terrific habit going, no reason to be ashamed of your kitchen, and you are doing well. If you only get the dishwasher habit down at first, no problem. Once that habit is firmly established, if it hasn’t already, you can build from there. That’s what I had to do. I didn’t grow up learning this- I had to figure it out mostly on my own. There’s no shame in admitting that housework is a learned skill, and that maybe nobody ever taught you at all. Don’t ever beat yourself up because you didn’t know better. Some people are born noticing when things need to be done better than others, granted- but at some point, we all had to learn the skills. We each have our own gifts. Don’t ruin your own life or relationships because of arguments over a lack of cleaning skills or knowledge. Beating yourself up is a waste of time & energy. Do the best you can with what you know at the time, and forgive yourself for all else. And do the same for others. My mother did her best, too, I know now- helping her out, both then & now, is a free gift I get to give every day. Having an organized home, clean dishes to eat on, glasses to drink from, flatware to eat with- that is certainly a great gift to give to someone day in, day out. If you are the one possessing the knowledge, then use the knowledge. Don’t avoid doing things & using your knowledge out of spite, martyrdom or frustration with someone else. It doesn’t pay off any dividends for anyone, yourself included. Whatever you do to bless your home & bless others, I promise you this from personal knowledge, you will get back at least three-fold what you put into it.

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