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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Building Routines Equals Building Self-Confidence

In my life, I've found nothing more life-affirming than building new skills. To gain a skill, you must perform the task habitually. You don't aim for perfection, but you should aim for excellence. When you are first doing the task, one may feel awkward, even foolish. You view other people who are already skillful at it & shake your head in wonder, knowing that you're a rank amateur, thinking you can't possibly master this. And yet you end up doing just that, maybe even becoming a teacher someday yourself. Think of all the things you've accomplished in your life which at one time were seemingly-impossible tasks. Learning to walk, drive a car, use a computer, write a thesis, craft a business letter...the list goes on, and varies from person to person. But we have all become a success at something. Remember that experience right now. I want you to feel the pride in knowing that you became a master at something. I then want you to take that attitude & apply it to something that you're struggling with making a routine today.

Whether you're having trouble remembering to make your bed every day, work out each morning before work, spend more time with your kids or cleaning out your closet. All of us are almost always in the process of trying to gain some new skill, or at the very least remain masterful at what we're already doing. It's not easy to take the first steps. It's hard to watch others who seem to do things so effortlessly while you're huffing & puffing. Who wants to be the one struggling with learning the steps of an aerobics class? Who wants to be rebuked by a teacher for giving the wrong answer in class or missing an important sentence when reciting a monologue? No one does. Absolutely no one wants to be seen as a failure. But there's a big difference between being a beginner & being a failure. It's interesting how many of us confuse the two! The important thing to remember is this- you aren't a failure if you keep trying every day to accomplish something. You may find after a time that you're not meant to do the task you've attempted. Maybe it just doesn't suit your natural talents or you have no enjoyment in performing it. There may be someone around you who does the task with great ease and/or enjoyment, and you're meant to do something else. But you'll never know for sure unless you attempt the task to begin with! Attempt to do the task. Try it a few times. Take notes. Learn what you can from others who have gone before you & mastered the job. You'll know then- and only then- if it's not for you. Step away from the fear of being seen as a beginner or from making public mistakes. No one who ever walks out of their comfort zone experiences success at all times. You'll have skill sets that you'll find you just aren't meant to take on. There's nothing wrong with this. To a great extent, we should go with our natural inclinations, our natural talents. But every one of us has tasks which we simply have to do, whether we like it or not. If it's a task that you have to do in life anyway, then research how to do it as smoothly, quickly & joyfully as possible. Seek out the methods of success in the skill that will shave off time, increase your efficiency & minimize your messes. Never be afraid to ask someone who's gone before you how to to do things correctly. Most people are glad to share what you know. Look around for a mentor, and I can almost certainly promise you that one will appear. Most people have not because they ask not.

I was once a clueless housekeeper. My home looked like a tornado went through it by the time it got to weekly housecleaning. I was so depressed & frustrated because no one had ever taught me the habits of maintaining a neat home. I tried very hard to clean well when I did take out the tools of the trade, but I lacked knowledge of how to make it easier. Not until I began reading from mentors, people who had walked the path before me, did I start to get a clue. I had to acknowledge that I wasn't an expert, first of all. That I had something to learn (well, a lot of things, actually). But then I had to do the tasks myself. I had to perform the suggestions over & over again. Through my own trial-and-error, I learned what worked for me. I became my own expert. I even developed my own new methods eventually. This can happen to you, too. In fact, you should expect it if you stick with something long enough. I did not start out on the path feeling bold & confident about my abilities. I wasn't sure that I could master being a good homemaker. I believed that I was lazy, unstable or irresponsible- after all, I'd certainly been told more than once that it must be a character flaw causing my lack of success in homemaking. It wasn't that at all, though. It was a combination of having no mentor, no practice & no real resources, not some horrid immorality I possessed. You may have been told your whole life that you're messy, unsuccessful or incapable. You may have had it far worse than I did & possessed a parent or siblings who undermined your confidence at every turn. You might have been told that you could never amount to much in life, naturally inept or stupid. If I can do anything today, I hope that it's release you from that mental bondage. Because those words of negativity which were spoken are just flat-out lies. You can build new habits at any time, and be astoundingly successful at them! Will it happen instantaneously, this mastery? Not likely. But I know that it can happen, because I've lived it! I know now how to keep an organized binder for school. I know how to clean a house from top-to-bottom thoroughly in two hours or less. I know how to keep my house looking nice with an hour's work or less a day. Yet ten years ago, I had not one of those skills & would never have believed that it wasn't my own immensely flawed brain to blame. But it wasn't true! There was nothing wrong with my brain. I just didn't know the steps to take, and I hadn't practiced the steps yet. That's all. I no longer live in condemnation. If you're struggling with confidence in this area, feeling bad about yourself, I want you to know that you're not alone. But I want you to have hope that it doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to live under that guilt.

I started my journey years ago by reading Elaine St. James' "Simplify Your Life", which was a huge help in turning the corner for good. The more minimalist you become, the easier keeping a home will become automatically. I highly recommend reading FlyLady's work at Do what she teaches for awhile, even if you're unsure if she's right. Just give it a try for a month- believe me, when the need arises for you to adapt her teachings to your lifestyle & home, you'll be able to do so. You don't have to buy anything new or subscribe to anything if you don't want to- her program is free & you can just use what you already own to get started. Peruse every book you can on the subjects you're struggling with, be it weekly housecleaning, becoming a better student, organizing you desk or de-cluttering your closets. Review different books on Amazon to see what might be a good addition to your library. Read "Speed Cleaning" by Jeff Campbell if you don't know how to get weekly cleaning done in a speedy, efficient, thorough manner. Google topics that you need answers on to improve your organizing skills or whatever else you need help with. Ask questions of online writers like me if you have questions along the way- that's what we're here for. Most important of all, don't give up on yourself or your goals. 

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

Monday, October 1, 2012

Create a Daily Cleaning Caddy and/or Apron

*There's something that I have to address here to a few naysayers. (The following comment is not addressed to my regular readers.) I laugh when people who don't personally know me read this blog title & automatically think that I'm a "scary" Stepford wife-type. And I have literally been called scary by a few critics recently who apparently a) haven't read my actual blogs & b) don't realize that I'm a single, childfree-by-choice college student who utterly loves her freedom & independence. If anyone tried to make me a mousy, timid, seen-but-not-heard lady, they'd quickly find themselves getting a smackdown. I adore strong-willed, fiercely independent, tough women who speak their minds- and that's what I grew up with for role models. I've never demanded for a second that anyone live as I do, or become a full-time homemaker if they don't want to be. I'm not even a full-time homemaker, wife or mother! I love finding solutions to organizing quandaries- because I want to spend less time cleaning & searching for stuff, not more! What I'd really love to ask my critics is why they find it so "scary" to be an organized person or to talk about the subject with others? To make it clear, I'm not a believer in the philosophy that says women are only meant to birth babies, worship their spouses & clean house, and nothing more. However, if that is what you love to do in your life & it fulfills you completely, more power to you. If you're someone who wants to spend a lot of time on their career instead though, great. This blog isn't written just for one type of person. And not all blogs will apply to everyone, which I've said all along. The only thing that I believe in firmly is focusing your life on activities that you love. It's that simple for me.

The last time that I checked, wearing an apron was just a way to protect your clothing & keep items on hand which you reach for constantly. Caddies & toolbelts are used by artists, plumbers, carpenters, painters & lots of other workers every single day- and these are hardly people that could be considered frightening human beings void of individualism. I hold up no feminine or masculine ideals for people, because that's not what I write about. I'm not going to apologize for what I write about, period. I'm not going to change blog titles or keep information from readers that I think might help them just because a few people out there mistakenly think that I want women to go back to some proverbial Stone Age. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone who keeps a home- which would be all of us who weren't lucky enough to be born with a personal maid, including men- to have every tool at their fingertips to get their homes clean & organized. I write this so that hopefully they can move on to doing whatever it is they love spending time on when the housework is finished. When someone reads this blog, I want them to have the intention that they'll develop themselves to their full potential. And nothing does that better than a clean, functional space to reside or work in. Almost no one can thrive in clutter or excessive dirtiness. There is never meant to be anything political in my blogs- every one of us just has our areas we have to maintain & care for. If I can simplify anything for my readers, then I'm going to try & help them reach their goals.*

One of the kindest things that you can do for yourself is to create daily functioning "tools" which will prevent that sense of running around like a chicken with it's head cut off. There are many reasons for this problem- your own mental distractions ("Where the heck did I leave the glass cleaner?!"), kids or pets carrying them off to some unknown place (in which case you know you'll need to hide them up high in the future) or the bad habit of not putting things back in their proper place when they're done being used. Another frequent misstep in daily maintenance is not having assigned a home for all of your daily cleaning items in the first place. This is why I recommend that you allot a particular caddy or some other storage container for daily (and weekly, for that matter) home cleaning. These are typically not the big guns of cleaning that you need to carry around. Rather, they're simple "touch-up" items that help keep your home smelling & looking a little fresher each day. Anything that you can do daily to keep your house just a little bit cleaner will make your weekly or bi-weekly housecleaning go a lot faster. It will also leave you feeling more confident about the state of your home each day. I don't expect everyone to share my zeal about daily homemaking, but I know that I want to avoid that feeling of embarrassment which arises when my home looks to others like a hurricane blew through it. I want to know that my home smells nice & looks presentable (not perfect...just passably clean!) If you're a homemaker, you may have had the thought that you shouldn't need such daily helper tools, because after all, you have all day to clean. Right? Wrong! I want you to abandon that mindset. It should never take you all day to clean, especially when you consistently keep up with daily maintenance & a thorough weekly or bi-weekly housecleaning. Just because you have most of the day to spend around the house doesn't mean you don't deserve to purchase, make or organize items so that they can be found & used with lightning-speed. The faster you get these items together & used each day, the more time you have to do things that are really enjoyable- playing, cooking or baking with your kids...sewing that quilt you've wanted to get to for so long...taking a walk or working out...calling or writing an email to an old friend from school...reading a novel without guilt hanging over your head...meditating or spending time in prayer or Bible study...playing bridge or Bingo with friends...volunteering out in the community. You get my drift.  I take my caddy around the house every day as I go from room to room & straighten up. Here's what's in mine, to serve as an example:

1) Earth Friendly Stain & Odor Remover (for carpet stains & such)
2) Old white hand towels, two or three, for cleaning up carpet stains or little spills around the house
3) Two to three dusting cloths, in case I run into dusty spots while cruising through my house that got missed on my weekly cleaning (you can use a feather duster instead if you like, in place of dusting cloths)
4) Tealight candles for my candleholders- I use tealights during blackouts or in rooms where lighting is a bit low. I prefer tealights to votives because they seem to let off a little less soot & they burn out relatively fast. I don't need to worry too much about them being a fire hazard, especially because I burn them in votive holders.
5) Febreze Fabric Refresher- pretty self-explanatory
6) Either Lysol Disinfectant Spray or Febreze Room Spray, also self-explanatory. I'll admit, I use both daily. The Lysol is best directly applied to surfaces, like toilet handles, light fixtures, etc. Febreze is nice in the air, and I like their anti-microbial version for spraying sheets, upholstered furniture, bathroom rugs & cloth shower curtains daily. My mom's a diabetic with a low immune system & I cannot be too careful about killing off any microbe in the home that could make her ill.
7) A brush to get fur off of upholstered areas where my kitty takes her naps, like the rocking chair & top of the recliner
8) Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner or a similar product, if you have a lot of surfaces where kids and/or pets leave marks each day as they blow through the house like a tornado. This will clean up fingerprints, paw prints, potato chip crumbs, etc. (This need obviously won't apply to everyone.)

The best caddies have a handle, don't tip over easily & stand upright at all times no matter how they're loaded. I use a caddy from The Clean Team which has three separate compartments to it. These caddies can be found in any janitorial cleaning supply store, online at & many other places. Mine looks very much like the one below:

I've recommended wearing an apron around the house before, especially if you're likely to be home all day. It can carry many items at once if it has sufficient pockets & weight distribution. Buy an apron that allows adjustment around the neck, and has long enough ties around the waist & more than one pocket. If you're a full-figured woman or a big guy, purchase an oversized apron. Trust me, it's worth the slightly-higher cost to buy an apron that'll fit you grand. Most aprons come with pockets, and I say the more pockets, the better. There are a variety of sizes, styles & lengths of aprons out there. If you cook or bake a lot, tend to splatter things on your shirts or use bleach often in cleaning, I recommend getting a bib-style apron that covers most of your torso. This can save you a lot of heartache caused by ruining good shirts (as well as money spent on pre-treater for when they get thrown in the washing machine...) Otherwise, a simple waiter-style one without the bib might work for you just fine. If you have any neck or upper back problems, too, an apron that ties around the waist alone & has no weight on your neck via a bib is probably best.

If you don't carry your cell phone on a belt clip, an apron pocket can be a great place to stow/protect it. Here's some idea of what I keep in my apron...again, just to serve as an example for you:

1) A small pad of lined paper (you can use Post-it notes or a memo pad, as well), a highlighter & a black pen or a pencil. This is great to make notes with about repair jobs that need to be done around the house later, places that need paint touch-ups, etc. If you carry your phone with you, a pad of paper like this is a good place to take down phone messages or make notes from a business call. It'll come in handy many times.
2) A tube of lip balm.
3) A packet of Kleenex pocket tissues.
4) A small tube of hand lotion, a pot of cuticle balm, a couple of individually-packaged Purell wipes & a 2 oz. container of Purell gel. Housework is rough on the hands. When I sit down for a break throughout the day, I like to put on a little cuticle balm and/or hand lotion to help keep the dry skin and hangnails at bay. Sanitizing gel or wipes is great to carry around if you handle something a little icky but can't get to a sink and soap right away.
5) A packet of gum or mints (great for after lunch!)
6) A couple of Band-Aids. (I cut myself on envelopes, while cooking dinner or in some other dumb manner at least once a week it seems. But then, I am a klutz!)
7) My FlyLady timer.
8) A cleaning cloth spritzed with some glass cleaner before I head off to touch up the mirrors/glassware house.
9) A polishing cloth sprayed with a little furniture polish to touch up any dusty wood furniture.
10) A special cloth designed to clean flat computer and TV screens, spritzed with Philips spray for those specific surfaces. (I don't polish these every single day, though- I do this maybe twice a week.)

You can also keep an additional caddy or basket of items under each sink so that your time is cut down considerably in cleaning up each day. Under my kitchen sink, I keep the following items:

1) Cascade Dishwasher Detergent.
2) A small bottle of Clorox bleach (I put a splash of bleach in every dishwasher load to sanitize everything completely- to be clear, I do this at the last minute, right before the dishwasher starts running).
3) Lysol Kitchen Cleaner Spray, for daily counter & stovetop cleaning/disinfecting.
4) Seven white cleaning cloths or microfiber cloths (one for each evening, when I wipe down the counters & stovetop after dinner).

Under my bathroom sinks, I have a caddy filled with:

1) Windex Multi-Surface Cleaner, for wiping down the mirrors, vanity, sink, the outside of the toilet (everything but the bowl) & the floor around the toilet. These surfaces don't necessarily need to be cleaned in full each day- just see where it's needed each day & spot-clean those areas.
2) Seven white cleaning cloths or microfiber cloths (you guessed it- to be used with the Windex)
3) Lysol Disinfectant Spray to use on the faucet handles, doorknobs, light switch & toilet handle
4) Lysol Complete Clean Multi-Surface Cleaner, to clean the bowl with a toilet brush daily (I always wash the floors with a generous splash of the same cleanser twice a week, too)

White cotton or linen cleaning cloths are terrific for me because they're reusable & washable. I bought Caldrea's Lint-Free Cloths (they're available on &, and they're really nice. Gently-used white cloth napkins (either pure cotton or linen) also work great. You'll want something with stitched edges & cloths that are big enough to give you plenty of cleaning surface space. I personally like that I'm not using up paper towels for environmental reasons & that I'm not putting money out for them over and over. I wash the cotton cloths by themselves in hot water & powdered detergent, then dry them in the dryer on high. White cloths can also be washed with a little Clorox bleach. I fold them up immediately when they come out of the dryer so they're always ready to use. Some people like to just use white vinegar and/or baking soda for cleaning, and I think that's perfectly fine. I can't stand the smell of vinegar & admit to a pretty strong dread of germs that can't be killed by vinegar or baking soda. I may be over the top when it comes to eliminating viruses & bacteria, but everyone has their faults. :D Microfiber cloths are also great and if you don't buy cotton or linen white cloths, then these should be your choice. Microfiber is absorbent, shines items well, scrubs with great ease and stay lint-free so long as they are also washed alone. No matter what type of cloths you use, washing them in a mesh laundry bag and hanging them to dry will extend their life. (Just don't pack them all too tightly in the bag together or they won't get cleaned completely. There should be some "wiggle room" for each cloth, even in the bag.) If you dry your cloths in the dryer, they will come out less wrinkled than if they hang-dry. It's entirely up to you. Never use fabric softener on the cloths regardless, and always be sure all detergent is out of the cloths before you get them out to dry.

Use your imagination when it comes to aprons and caddies. An old bucket, basket or Sterilite container may be hanging around that you can use as a new cleaning caddy. You may sew well enough to make your own apron. (I hold no such skills, believe me!) Please consider your personal needs, your family's lifestyle & what you continually find yourself wishing you had easily at hand when designating items for your caddy & apron. A little pair of cuticle scissors, a nail file, fingernail clippers or a pocket-sized book are some other items that can be good to carry around. Carry whatever will increase your confidence that you can handle little issues as they come up, thoughts as they come to your mind & to take a bit of time throughout the day for yourself, too.

Here's to being a somewhat-sane organized minimalist,