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Help! My house is a mess!

I admire those writers who can slave away at the keyboard and still manage to keep a pristine house. (especially those that add kids and a job into the mix!). As we close in on week six of the Winter Writing Festival, I’ve come to a hopeless conclusion. If I’m writing, my house is guaranteed to be a blast zone. If my house is clean, it means that I haven’t touched my work in progress. No matter how hard I try, I can’t manage to strike a happy medium. So, here’s where I admit that my struggle to try to be super-mom, super-wife, super-housekeeper, and super-writer usually ends up in epic failure.

It’s about time for me to recognize that I am never going to be able to do it all. It’s also time for me to recognize that just because I can’t do it all, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to find a better balance between the things I need to do and the things I want to do.

Family will always come first. I will drop household chores and writing time when I’m needed. But often times, I hop on the computer once I get the kids off to school, and before I know it, it’s time to pick them up. Once they’re home, it’s making sure they’re getting their homework done, preparing dinner, doing the dishes, laundry, shower, getting ready for bed. And by that time, the last thing I want to tackle is the cleaning the bathrooms, mopping/vacuuming the floors, or any of the other tasks staring back at me.

I know success depends on having a routine and sticking with it, so I’m working on a game plan:

  • Break down chores into manageable, daily chunks. Just like with writing, everything is easier when you focus on small, doable goals rather than the overwhelming big picture.
  • Complete daily chores before diving into writing. Instead of getting caught up in my story right off the bat, put my must-do chores first. Who knows, forcing myself to wait a little longer to open the WIP may even get me excited about getting to write. And mindless chores are always a good way to work out those story problems too.
  • Stop obsessing about doing everything perfectly. Once I take on a chore, I tend to go a little overboard with wanting to do it well. Flylady’s motto is ‘housework done incorrectly still blesses your family’. And I think that’s a very good point, and one I’m still struggling to take to heart. We can still feel good about what we’ve accomplished, even if it’s not perfect.

Now, here’s where I sound the additional cry for help. How do you juggle writing and household chores? (And if you say you have a housekeeper that does it all for you, I’ll have to hit you. ;) )

40 Responses to “Help! My house is a mess!”

  1. Kerrie says:

    Let me just say that you are not alone. I think your plan sounds like a good one, and what I am trying to do. Another thing I’ve noticed though is that it’s easier to focus on housework than writing when the kids are home, so some chores just wait until they are home if possible.

  2. Elisa Beatty says:

    My name is Elisa, and my house is a disaster.

    My son got on Skype with a friend the other day, and a table piled high with books and papers and formed the entire backdrop behind him, and I was still in my pajamas because I was trying to fit a little writing into my weekend morning, and I felt like just melting through the floor….

    But I know I absolutely can’t do it all, not with my crazy job and long commute and all the grading I have to do at home and the needs of two complicated kids. I put reasonably healthy meals on the table, and do the dishes and laundry as best I can, and save the bigger cleaning for whenever it can be managed.

  3. I could handle writing and housework. That’s not to say my house was immaculate and I no longer have kids living at home (unless you count my husband, and he definitely qualifies). However, when I began publishing last year, I discovered I couldn’t handle writing, housework, publishing, and promoting.

    How did I handle it? The first 8 months, we lived in squalor. Unfortunately, my husband/child preferred living in the mess over cleaning it himself. I didn’t. So as soon as I started making enough from my writing, I hired a cleaning service.

    That was great, but they only came every other week and were cleaning rooms my husband and I never stepped foot in, while my kitchen and bathrooms needed cleaning EVERY WEEK.

    So I let the service go, and for an extra 20 dollars a month, I hired a housekeeper on an hourly basis. She comes for three hours every week and cleans my kitchen and bathrooms because they need attention every week. The other rooms she cleans on a rotating schedule so that each one gets thoroughly cleaned once a month.

    It’s working great. It costs me $60/wk or $240/a month or $2,880 a year. Last year that worked out to only about 5% of my earnings. I don’t have an agent, so I figure this is a small price to pay to be able to work in a CLEAN house. And it’s a great motivator to keep writing because I don’t ever want to go back to scrubbing my own toilets.

    • Wow, Laurie. That’s awesome! It’s great to know that a housekeeper can be an affordable option. Like you, the bathrooms and kitchen are the rooms that most need attention in my house and the ones I most hate dealing with.

  4. Liz Talley says:

    Well, I do have a housekeeper who comes every other week. I will sacrifice a lot for that little luxury because she does the cleaning of toilets, changing of sheets, and mopping of floors. That allows me to do the light stuff in betweeen and keeps our house fairly tidy. I’m pretty sure if I didn’t have Gloria, it would be a sad, sad thing. So I cut out my Starbucks (except for once a week) and culled my “on sale” shopping (where I bought a lot of great deals I didn’t NEED) so I can have Gloria.

    Another thing I do is tidy up while talkiing on the phone. My mom is going to call everyday, so I don’t sit and talk – I fold towels or pick up. Usually gives me a crick in the neck. Guess I need a bluetooth.

    Wish I had more suggestions. I read once about a mother who cleaned the bathroom while her tots were in the tub. BUt mine are too old for that. Oh, another tip – clean out and donate extra stuff to charity. The less you have in your house, the less cluttered it will be.

    Good luck. Seems like you have a good plan! Now I’m looking around feeling a bit guilty :) But not too guilty.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      I clean the bathroom while younger son is in the bathtub. :) The glamorous life of an author–doesn’t get much better than this, does it? LOL

    • Not having to clean toilets…

      That sounds like heaven to me! :) I’m glad you have a housekeeper to help you maintain your house and give you that time to write. One of these days I’ll get there!

      I fold laundry when I talk to my mom, too. I always know it’s going to be a lengthy call, so, if nothing else, the laundry will be folded and put away!

      • Liz Talley says:

        Exactly! And if you ever get there, you will never go back. I think I’d work minimum wage at a McDonald’s to keep my housekeeper. I wish I could afford her every week…maybe one day!

  5. Kat Cantrell says:

    I’m jumping off of your last point–stop obsessing about doing it perfectly–and giving chores to the kids. I’ve thus far resisted because I do not like dings in my hardwood floors, but it’s past time for them to learn how to do it right. It’s a win-win. Clean house. More time to write. Responsible boys who will grow up thinking it’s normal for men to clean the house. :)

    • Yes! I’ve definitely resisted giving my kids household chores. I guess I’m more of a control freak when it comes to that stuff than I thought. But they’re plenty old enough to pitch in, and making them help out will teach them responsibility. Sooner or later they need to learn how to do that stuff, right?

    • Diana Layne says:

      Having children help, while they might gripe and moan, makes them feel like a part of the family. Also, I use “consequences” when they don’t follow my instructions instead of time-out. Consequences is usually something that needs cleaning. Actually it’s gotten them to behave MUCH better, but the house is still dirty, lol

  6. Tamara Hogan says:

    –> Stop obsessing about doing everything perfectly

    Cynthia. Honey. If you haven’t come to terms with the fact that perfection is an impossible standard for anyone to uphold, NOW IS THE TIME. Surrender. Really. The relief is enormous.

    I don’t have kids, so that simplifies household chores somewhat, but I write first thing in the morning, when I’m freshest, then go to work, already having written. Household chores are done in the evening, during commercial breaks while watching TV. It’s amazing what you can get done in a three-minute blast of very focused effort. ;-)

    • No!! The perfectionist in me is cringing at the idea that there is no perfection! LOL. I’ll work on letting go!

      I love your idea of commercial break cleaning. I’ll have to try that!

  7. This is a timely post for me, Cynthia, as I just spent the past weekend cleaning my house…as much as possible. Yes, after about 6 hours of cleaning (with kids/toddler/hubby home all weekend, they’re making messes as fast as I can clean them), it still isn’t to my standards. But, sadly, I’m a perfectionist, so nothing will ever meet those standards. The world is imperfect, and I have to learn to live with/in it. :)

    I try to compartmentalize things in my mind so I don’t go insane with distractions. “Yes, my house is messy, but that’s what Saturday mornings are for.” Or, “that pile of dishes bugs me, but that’s what the hour after dinner is for – cleaning up.” I tell myself this so I can get back to my writing and other things I need to get done while the house is quiet and the kids are in school.

    In addition, saving the chores for Saturday allows the kids to help, and shows them that it’s important to take care of their home. I used to think the kids were too young to help, but they’ve been raised (in Montessori schools) to respect their world, and I had an ah-ha moment when I realized that that means the home life, too. That they need to respect their space, and I think it helps them to realize that when they make a mess, someone (hopefully, them!) has to clean it up, so maybe they’ll think twice about leaving things lying around.

    • Perfectionists unite! We need to form a support group. :)

      I like what you said about kids learning to respect their world/home life. I never thought about it that way before, but that’s a neat way to look at it.

  8. I also have a full time job, kids in school and writing now. I live in a small-ish NYC apt and things pile up quickly. I do all the cooking, cleaning and daily food shopping. Boy I’m tired. So yes, my son’s rooms is a disaster. (My daughter is away a college). The laundry piles up and I scrub the bathtub when necessary I can’t remember the last time I made my bed.
    Every 2 weeks or so I get disgusted with myself and just spend a Saturday morning trying to go through the mail and put away the clothes. It’s tough!

    • Making the bed? What’s that? LOL. I’m usually of the mind that if I’m not disgusted with the house, it can go a little longer without cleaning. ;) Of course, then it becomes a bigger chore. So, I’m trying to train myself that a little routine decluttering/cleaning will take less time and give me a cleaner house.

      • There’s a trick I should’ve mentioned. While I have someone clean my house every week, I NEVER make my bed. Our bedroom is upstairs and no one ever goes into it other than my husband and I. So I figure the five minutes I could spend making the bed everyday (which I’m only going to mess right back up in 16 hours, is thirty-five minutes more to write each week.

        Now if you live in a rancher this doesn’t work. Visitors are always walking by and poking their heads into your room. My philosophy on housekeeping is like the tree falling in the woods thing. If your bed is unmade and no one sees it, is it really unmade?

    • Diana Layne says:

      Oh, I make my bed every day, it only takes a few seconds, really-actually pull the covers up as much as possible before you slide out and it’s practically done. My grandmother got me in the habit-when she’d drop by, if my bed was made, she’d give me a quarter (which would buy a drink or a candy bar and I could walk tot he corner store) and if it wasn’t, I didn’t get the quarter.

  9. Elizabeth Langston says:

    i have a daughter in high school, so she has to help me with my “cleaning blitz.” 30 minutes, twice per week. I do the *arm work*. she does the *leg work.* for instance, i fold towels and clothes; she distributes. she brings dirty dishes to me; i load the dishwasher. she knows that it will only last 30 minutes (but she has to work hard or it doubles.)

    our housekeeper, Doris, comes every two weeks (and we call that Doris Day). She does the deep cleaning. I always hold one of the cleaning blitz’s on the night before, which my husband thinks is funny. “Why are you cleaning for the cleaning lady?”

    Another thing I’ve had to institute is “Author-Free Day.” On Thursdays, I do not write, read blogs, answer emails on my author accounts, nothing like that. (I do make an exception for my agent… but just her.) My family can count on having my attention, if they want it. They don’t actually ask for it a lot; but they are glad that it’s available. [Note that I have to homeschool my high-schooler and she doesn’t drive, so she does take a bit more energy than the average teen.]

    • I love your ideas for the cleaning blitz. That’s such a great way to get the kids involved and minimize the grumbling.

      And I definitely have to start implementing an ‘Author Free Day’. What an awesome idea! Thanks, Beth!

  10. Hope Ramsay says:

    The older I get the lower my standards of cleanliness have become. But I wasn’t ready for what was going to happen to me after I made my first sale. I had no trouble juggling job and family and cleaning (and writing as a hobby). But doing all that and having writing as a second job — well, something had to give.

    And the housework is the first thing. My sanity is probably going to be the second thing.

    I’m thinking a cleaning service might be exactly what I need. Thanks for the suggestion.

  11. Kerrie says:

    Here’s my trick to making the bed: while still in it, I lie in the middle, and straighten up the covers on my husband’s side. Then I ease myself out the other side, smooth it out. We have a couple of the pillows that stay in shams and that we don’t sleep on, so I throw those on top. 30 seconds, and our bed is made and it feels like a good start to the day. It’s not perfect, but it works.

  12. Rita Henuber says:

    Rule #1 define clean. My baseline is your friend doesn’t mind her feet sticking to the floor when she pours herself a drink. Top of the scoring rung is your pastor can come over and take a tour of the house. I’m usually at the lower end.
    Rule #2 If the dust bunnies are big enough to shoot and eat – time to clean.
    Tips- Watch a few episodes of hoarders back to back. That will make anyone want to clean.
    Use an industrial shop vac without the nozzle. Don’t worry, anything sucked up probably won’t be missed. Shop vacs are great for cleaning the oven and the guck out of the back of the fridge BTW.
    Don’t use a rake on your office floor – it snags the carpet.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Seconding using the shop vac to clean the fridge – especially the crisper drawers where vegetables are kept.

    • Great idea to use the shop vac to clean the fridge. I don’t have a shop vac but I do have a Kirby, which will pretty much annihilate the dust.

      If I look around and think, “wow, I’d be embarrassed if someone stopped by” then it’s usually time to get cleaning. :)

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Wow, you have a future as the next tips from Eloise. I never ever thought about using the shop vac to get the crud out of the vegetable drawer. Live and learn.

      I’m going to have to bookmark this page….

    • Hoarders is not a good show for me to watch. It lowers my standards too far, and I sit there thinking, well, at least I can walk in my house. Or I’m not as bad as them. Not exactly the yardstick I should be using. :) My gauge is, if I’d be mortified when you drop in unannounced for a visit, then it isn’t clean enough.

  13. Diana Layne says:

    I don’t bother cleaning much these days, there’s simply too many people here, too much stuff as we are squeezing three households into one. I used to be able to juggle it all though, and I used this book to get it together: Confessions of an Organized Homemaker (actually when I read it in 1986 it was called Confessions of an Organized Housewife). http://amzn.com/0760722293 She has a book now called Confessions of a Happily Organized Family which I snagged a couple of weeks ago thinking maybe I could learn some tricks to get the grown ups around here more enthused so I don’t waste my time cleaning to have them mess it up five minutes later. So far have not had time to read it though. Something else that drives me bonkers is meal-planning for this crew. I have used emeals.com in the past and I’m about to go back to it-they now have a wide variety of every menu for about every need, and it comes with a grocery list and prices into your inbox every week.

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