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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The “Lab Rat Maze” Method to Achieving a Clean Home Every Day

I’m not calling you a lab rat, nor am I calling myself one, but there’s an important lesson to be learned from the good old scientific rat! In particular, their path from start to finish in a maze, where at the end a prize awaits, is a great teacher to us. For us, the maze is our house. Or any other space that you're responsible for cleaning up. The prize at the end is that after we’ve gone through the maze, the space is neat, clean & smells as nice as it looks! There’s a way to achieve this every single day. Lab rats who are untrained start out in their maze cautiously. They don’t know what’s behind every corner & thus approach it slowly. They’re not quite sure where to step next at first & in the beginning getting through the maze correctly so they can reach their prize is a slow process. But over time, as they travel the maze again & again, they become quite speedy, getting to their prize with great ease. So it can be with you & your home. I know, because I have been in the rat’s position, with the clean home as my prize! Efficiency experts or time-management consultants advise that we can cut time drastically if we do things in a specific order each & every time that we do a certain task. A daily once-over of your home to keep it looking & smelling awesome is a task I can write about for you with foreknowledge, because I had to learn it the hard way myself. I only learned about how lab rats work their mazes long after I started on this method (go figure!) But now you get the benefit of my trial-and-error.

The simplest way to do this is to work in your collective space (home, office at the job, etc.) from front-to-back & top to bottom. For one thing, when you work that way it'll decrease your chances that important tasks get overlooked. For another thing, it minimizes the time & movements that it takes in the achievement of your goal. If you change your strategy every single time you sort, straighten up & clean your home, I know from experience that it’ll take your brain more work to get the exact same tasks done- meaning it’ll be more tiring for you both mentally & physically. This is actually scientifically proven, again by our little friend, the faithful lab rat. You see, as he’s making his way around the maze the first time, his rat brain has to work very hard to get through it & reach the prize. Over time however, his brain, despite the fact that his body is moving faster & faster, actually has to work far less to get the same path cleared. One universal example of this is driving a car. If you drive, you already know what I mean. What once was an exhausting, nerve-wracking trek when you first learned how to drive can now be done virtually on auto-pilot. Obviously, you still have to be aware to new sights & sounds when you're driving, or you can get hurt.  But in general your actual motions have gotten easier, to the point where you hardly notice (if you do at all) when you make your turn signal, turn on your windshield wipers, or park your vehicle.  Everything becomes automatic, even blasé.  It can even be joyful once the stress of thinking so hard is eliminated, when you're trying not to make a mistake.  Thus, the daily path through the home or office become an almost soothing & certainly a satisfying experience.  I know that once my daily go-around the house is finished, I feel a sense of accomplishment, peace & happiness.  I’m left with a home fit for company, true, but more importantly the home is nice for those who live in it, including myself.

I’m going to walk you through my own personal maze step-by-step. I work my way from the back of my home to the front.

Here’s my layout, as an example (but of course draw up your own specific layout):
My bathroom
My bedroom
Home office/Guest room
Living Room
My mother’s bedroom
My mother’s bathroom
Dining Room
Laundry Room
Kitchen/Breakfast Room

In my bathroom, I do a swish-and-swipe, which I laid out for you in one of my previous blogs.
Please adapt this to your home’s layout, decor and materials, your physical abilities & what kind of day you’re having.  Don’t let a day or two of skipped trips or a missed chore here & there make you feel like a failure.  I’ve done this more times than I want to admit & it’s no fun to think that way.  Yesterday is gone.  Let it go.  Focus on the now.

A tip: Carry your tools for daily upkeep with you- fabric refresher, disinfectant spray, feather duster, etc.  Putting these items in a basket or caddy with a handle & storing it in the same place each day will help you tremendously in making daily cleanup a habit.

In the bedrooms, I make the bed, spritz some Febreze Antimicrobial Fabric Refresher on it, straighten up the items on the nightstand, dresser & any other surface, de-cluttering as I go along.

I spritz some room freshener in each room of the house. I also spray some Febreze Fabric Refresher on beds, cloth shower curtains, bathroom rugs & upholstered furniture each day.

I scoop out the litter box in the home office & spray some Lysol Disinfectant around the litter box. Each morning, I balance my checkbook. I make sure that I've entered every deposit or withdrawal into my checkbook immediately. I check them off as they clear. I go through one file folder or drawer a day to keep my desk neat. I also go through my mail each day, handling it as soon as it's gone through. Any letters that need to be written, bills that need to get paid, etc.- if I can get them done today, I do so. If not, I file them properly. I open up any boxes from orders, put anything new away, break down the box & get the box in the trash.

I take out the trash whenever it's needed throughout the house, putting a fresh bag in the trash can as soon as I take the old full one out. I straighten up the throw pillows, fold up any blankets & de-clutter papers, catalogs, magazines, etc., in the living room daily.

If anything's on the dining table, I clear it off & put the items wherever they belong.

If the dryer is dusty or the washing machine is gunky somewhere, I wipe them down with a Lysol Wipe. I do one load of laundry a day, if needed- wash, dry, put away (the last part can be the hardest!) I don't do laundry on Sundays, because that is my day of rest, but usually I've got a load or two to get done each morning.

The kitchen gets cleaned up thoroughly in the evening (which I've detailed in another blog post), but I unload, load and/or run the dishwasher as needed each morning. I take a feather duster around quickly through the whole place daily, picking up the little bit of dust that gathers from day to day. Once I'm done using it, I shake the feather duster outside. And then I am done!

If you're like me, you'll have to do this alone. But if others are around & you can do it, delegate these tasks in an appropriate manner! Teach your kids to make their own beds, do their own laundry, swish-and-swipe in the bathroom (especially if they have a bathroom to themselves), deal with the dishwasher, put away dishes in the right spot, wash pots & pans, etc., as they get to an appropriate age. Show them how to dust, run the vacuum & wash floors, too. Advise them on how to keep a neat binder for school, manage their time & deal with the inevitable curves thrown at their plans in a peaceful manner. When they're old enough, teach them how to care for their vehicle, clean it, change a tire, etc. You're doing them an enormous favor by teaching them how to manage their own spaces & lives! They may hate it now, but eventually they'll appreciate what they've learned, especially if you teach it to them in kindness & love. And DO NOT discriminate between your sons & daughters. Nothing drives me more nuts than seeing a parent who makes their daughter do a bunch of cleaning while allowing their sons to not only get away with cleaning nothing, but also leave clutter around for others to pick up. There should be no room in your home for chauvanism in any format! I started doing my own laundry at twelve years of age. My mom showed me how to get my laundry clean & that was that. I learned to fold laundry properly from Linda Koopersmith's book, "The Beverly Hills Organizer..." My mother new how to get a bathroom clean beautifully & I learned that from her. I read Jeff Campbell's great book, "Speed Cleaning", to learn much more about housecleaning. Much of the rest (especially in daily housekeeping) I got from FlyLady. A few things I learned or developed on my own. You don't have to do exactly what I do. Just do what works for your space. Every time that you move to a new home, office, etc., you'll have to draw up a new mental map & follow the new maze until it's mastered again.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

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