How To Keep Your Home Clean If You Don’t Have Kasambahay
Are we relying too much on hired help? This working mom candidly talks about maintaining your home on your own.
I don't know how my friend Yasmin keeps her apartment so immaculate. I have never seen a speck of dust on her furniture, nor a stray hair in her bathroom sink. Our friend Zelda's apartment, on the other hand, has wood shavings from her hamster pen scattered on the floor, piles of books on most surfaces, and general detritus that looks like performance art.
My adventures in house sitting made me realize where I sit on the home cleanliness spectrum, which is right in between Yasmin and Zelda. My home is comfortably medium maintenance—reasonably clean when unannounced visitors drop by, but there may be a dust bunny or two underneath the bed.
Doing it on our own
When my husband and I moved to another country, we lapsed into a state of shock and awe. For the first time in our lives, we were living on our own, with no household help. My husband stood in front of the coin-operated washing machine in our apartment building, baffled. I used too much soap when I mopped the floor, it took forever to rinse out the suds.
Some nights I dreamt of Gina, our helper in the Philippines, and woke up to my new reality, devoid of voice-activated chore resolution. Before long, though, I got the hang of it, because there was little choice to do otherwise.
And baby makes three (plus more mess)
For the first five, baby-free years of our marriage, cleanup was a breeze—we only had ourselves to pick up after. But when our son was born, we were too exhausted and to maintain any semblance of housekeeping. The laundry baskets overflowed, the floor was cluttered with baby gear, and coffee cup rings marred every horizontal surface.
Just when we had recovered from the demands of early infancy and resumed cleaning our house in earnest, our son learned how to knock down his toy bins, clapping with glee when the contents spilled out onto the floor. Now our house never stays truly tidy for more than five minutes. It would be easiest to just concede defeat now.
Between my job (I thankfully work at home) and taking care of an active toddler, I am either too busy or too tired to do a lot of things, including answering messages, reading a book in its entirety, or managing to paint all ten toenails. But I can't escape cleaning, because if I don't, the clutter gets to me and I feel ill at ease.
Finally doing the CLAGO system
Our first commandment of housekeeping is CLAGO (pronounced, at least in our house, "clay-go"), which stands for Clean As You Go. It takes a lot less time to put away stuff after you use it, than to have to tackle an accumulation of clutter. After brushing your teeth in the morning, wipe the toothpaste goo from the sink. Never let clothes lie around—either chuck them in the hamper or hang them up. A few minutes of quick cleanup here and there amounts to a lot of time saved later on.
The general schedule my husband and I have agreed on is to surface clean daily, and deep clean once a week. Every night before we go to sleep, we spend ten to fifteen minutes picking up stuff that has drifted from different rooms of the house and putting them back in their proper places.
A daily/weekly schedule also works
And our cardinal rule is to never go to sleep with dirty dishes left in the sink. I personally think that this is the tipping point between cleanliness and chaos. Once you start letting food-encrusted dishes fester in the sink, it's a slippery slope towards letting everything else go, too. Waking up to a dirty house is stressful, while waking up to a clean house is a positive, tabula rasa start to the day.
We used to take Saturday or Sunday off to deep clean the whole house from top to bottom, but the inherent drawback is that it eats up precious weekend time, which of course is better spent watching inane TV. Now, we simply assign one room to be cleaned on a designated weekday (e.g. kitchen on Monday, master bedroom on Tuesday, and so on.) We clean the commonly used areas as well as tackle the overlooked tasks—like de-gunking the top of the refrigerator, or wiping the blades of the ceiling fans.
A few times a month, I walk around with a garbage bag and do a house-wide purge, tossing bills and catalogs, as well as stray papers like receipts and junk mail. I then take another bag, go to the refrigerator and dump any suspicious leftovers and items beyond their expiration date. At the end of this blitz I feel ten pounds lighter, even though it's actually my house that lost all the weight.
The truth is, I'm glad that my husband and I no longer have to rely on someone else to do work around the house. I rather like who we are now, compared to the clueless lightweights we were when we got married. And if my career ever goes south, I could always go the maid/cook/nanny route—preferably in Cole Sprouse’s household.
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