I’m really excited to introduce my new pastime in the form of an informational series called The Honest Organizer! As a new mom and wife and homemaker, I’m seeing now more than ever that I really need organization in my home to help me with my workload. I’ve seen my tidy spaces explode on the regular since baby boy came into my life and at first it left me discouraged and bewildered. I wondered if I’d ever have a stress free moment in my life again. Clutter and disorganization turn even the simplest tasks into a complicated effort and I was rarely able to see anything to completion with baby in tow. As if a fussy baby wasn’t enough for my poor nerves, by the end of each long day I also had to look out on all the uncompleted piles of stuff I’d just have to get to “later”…and guess what? “Later” meant “later, when I’m even more tired than I am now!”
Before we can even talk about organizational systems and how to tailor them to our space and needs, we need to sort out a few kinks that are in our thinking. There’s absolutely no point in running out to Dollar Tree and buying 35 cute baskets like the lady on YouTube if you are struggling to keep up with cleanliness and basic maintenance in your home. For today, I’m just going to focus on what it takes to keep your home from exploding into a million pieces every day.
No, Low, and High Effort Tasks
Let’s face it: there are very few areas of your home that are truly no effort to maintain. So when I say “no effort” what I mean is that these areas are often overlooked, ignored, or put off for whole seasons or forever. This could be your porch or your attic or more realistically, the corner of your living room that is obscured by a fake house plant. They may not play a crucial role in the goings-on in your home so you don’t put any effort into dealing with them, regularly or irregularly. Hopefully you aren’t ignoring your bathtub or kitchen to that extent, but there are plenty of people seeking to become more organized who put zero effort into maintaining those more vital aspects of the home.
To truly get organized in a way that works for you, you’ll have to be honest about where you give no effort and whether it deserves regular or irregular, low or high effort. If you want a cute and clean porch but are currently putting no effort into it ever, you’ll have to work a low effort chore into your routine that fulfills that desire and doesn’t wear you out doing it.
A “low effort” zone is some place that is manageable either regularly or irregularly with minimal effort, like quickly wiping off the bathroom counter in the morning every day or dusting the ceiling and doorways once a week. A lot of us tend to put no effort into low effort zones by sheer procrastination, which causes them to get visibly dirty or downright yucky. Then we also tend to put low effort into high effort areas that really need our focus in order to run smoothly, like taking the laundry out of the dryer but never folding it and leaving it on the couch (or worse, on the floor).
Something that is “high effort” takes a decent chunk of your time to complete and may have multiple steps, like laundry, dishes without a dishwasher, or mopping (apart from Swiffer). Obviously if you regularly put no effort into the kitchen, then that area is going to be a high effort project to complete in one fell swoop. If you break your kitchen chores up into smaller tasks that are not done all at once, you can turn your kitchen into a low effort zone with regular maintenance. This is how you get a clean kitchen “all of the time” without having to do every single kitchen chore one after the other every day.
It is SO important to have realistic expectations of the effort your home needs from you before buying any more furniture or organizational knick-knackery. I know it’s easy to have an image in your head of how you want your space to function or look, but you can only do so much in a day or week. Your “organized” life will implode no matter how pretty it looks for a moment if you can’t apply the right effort at the right time. This means having a routine that works for you instead of working you into a rut.
Cleanliness is Close to Godliness, My Friends
According to the story, God didn’t do everything in a day and He didn’t put anything off, either. Ideal organization is a system of cleaning and tidying that flows naturally from room to room, helping you keep everything in its place without wearing you down. Your organization can double as home decor, but if it gets in the way or makes cleaning more difficult and time-consuming, you’re more likely to put less effort than is necessary into maintaining your space.
By practicing a housekeeping routine, you will find all the ways your organization or decoration does or does not work. For instance, I struggled to keep the area next to my bed clean and clutter free when I was using cute wicker baskets on the floor to house my books since we have no bookshelf. Things would just pile up on top of the books and when it came time to clean the floors (every other day, according to my routine), I’d have to move the baskets off the ground and onto another surface. This always involved trailing dustbunnies around. I didn’t like that, and I found that it caused me to avoid cleaning the area because it had become a multi-step chore.
My cleaning routine for every day is fairly lengthy since I’m a stay at home Mom. It has to reflect the reality of my life, which is that at any moment the baby could need me and I’ll need to stop whatever I’m doing for however long it takes. I also might need to take impromptu naps if I got terrible sleep the night before. Newborns ain’t no joke! If my husband is in for the day due to weather like this whole week of severe storms, he cares for the baby while I catch up with the house. I do my best to fulfill the tasks for that day, but I let things roll into tomorrow a lot.
That is why I no longer write daily to-do lists. I need to see my week at a glance, so I made myself a weekly cleaning chart that covers every day tasks, along with Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday only, Monday-Wednesday-Friday only, and Friday only tasks.
Here’s what it looks like:
I put it in a page-protector and use a dry erase marker to cross off tasks as I get to them. Whatever is left unmarked is left for another time. I’ve broken everything into smaller tasks so I can more easily visualize what I need to do next based on the flow of my day. I do not do these things in order for the most part, nor do I pay very much attention to the line I drew to keep the AM and PM tasks separate. I did that mostly to break it up and stay focused through the day instead of getting overwhelmed.
I give myself 2 or 3 chances a week – M-W-F and S-T-Th – to complete certain things that are both high effort (laundry, cleaning the laundry room, vacuuming) and low effort (taking out the trash, cleaning the sink, cleaning the face of the fridge). Once a week I clean the inside of the fridge, dust, clean all the floors (if I’m able to), and clean the mirrors in our bathroom. I don’t stress out about most of the everyday tasks since I know all too well that tomorrow is just a day away. At the end of the week, I can look back at all the unmarked tasks and reflect on what I had trouble completing and why.
I do not list any tasks for the last day of the week. If something needs to be done, of course I’ll do it, but I’m known for letting the dishes pile on Saturday as I try to give myself a full day off from cleaning and tidying. It’s an effort to rest and focus on other things like reading, writing, and brainstorming. Sometimes I’ll just watch movies all day cuddled up with hubby and baby. Before I implemented this routine and the checklist, I would never take a day off because I would see some chore waiting for me and I’d just do it. It was frying my brain. Leaving Saturday off the list really helps.
Anyway, the baby’s crying up a storm and my husband is asking if dinner was canceled. I better go! Maybe this has been information overload for you, but I hope that you’ve found something helpful!
If you want a blank template for your own 6-day routine, you can download the PDF here.
I suggest putting it in a cute picture frame and hanging it with these wherever your main station is for stuff like that. I put mine at the entryway of my room since this bedroom is command quarters for all my chores, but for some people the kitchen might be better suited. Keep a dry-erase marker and eraser nearby and watch as your practice makes perfect housekeeping.