Posts Tagged ‘housework’

Progress report, of sorts, on efforts to declutter and do some basic home (re)ordering…

Living Room (aka the Toy PURGE)

In addition to the big bookshelf re-org, SG and I cleared out about 50% of the toys (maybe more) in the livingroom/play area. My parents bring them over, Buddy receives them as gifts and hand-me-downs, and they just seem to proliferate on their own. In any case I took a boatload of crap down to my office and yesterday and today (in an attempt to get my office under control – more on that later), I sorted through them. The smallest pile was made up of toys to hold on to for when he gets a little older or to bring up when we need a fresh or “new” toy. The next pile – a great big box – went back to mom and dad (I put it in the back of my mom’s minivan this morning). The rest I put into bags to take to Goodwill. 

I also brought up some clear storage containers from the basement and sorted out the remaining toys into bins. Big legos, medium legos (he’s still not ready for the regular/little legos), train tracks, “buses” (his word for all vehicles), and animals. Right now the stuffed animals hold court on the back of the couch and although it is not very sophisticated, it works because he does play with them a lot and it is nice for him to be able to locate and retrieve “white bear” or “brown moose” or “boots bear” or whichever of his plush citizens is in favor at the moment.

That’s about it for the moment. I’ve also made some progress on the kitchen and dining area, but I hope to do some more this week and post some photos. In any case, my slow – glacially slow – battle to organize our lives is progressing….


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Teaching+Being Sick = UNorganized Homemaker

And let’s not forget that being a homemaker is not my primary job. Unfortunately, no one besides me (and SG) is going to do it, and the lack of organization in my home life continues to plague me. Plus no one is forcing me to undertake this experiment, so I should stop whining and just get to it.

So let’s return to the chipper world of Deniece S and her organized home and family (hmm, that sound sarcastic…or bitter. I’m not really either, maybe just feeling a little inadequate).

Truth be told I’ve been skipping around a bit in the book, thinking about different aspects of home organization and family management, so this installment is not quite as methodical as the previous ones.  

To start with, I was working my way through the core principles, which include decluttering and grouping which I discussed in my previous posts. The next is. 

Be Motion Minded

Here Mrs. S (as I like to think of her) sings the praises of Taylor and workplace efficiency experts, which makes me a little suspicious in that Taylorism and the rigid systems it has inspired have caused a great deal of de-skilling and de-humanizing of the workplace in the last century. However, setting aside the issues of alienation from one’s labor for the moment, her principles in terms of home organization are sound and reading the specific recommendations reminded me of a visit to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design in NYC at a time when they were having an exhibition on designing the home for accessibility and ease. In this exhibition there were two kitchens – a “big” one and a closet (NYC apartment sized) one that had been designed by students at the Rhode Island School of Design. The kitchens were designed in such a way as to minimize lifting and stooping and to be honest, they kind of blew my mind. There is, of course, no reason why the standard tall fridge, stovetop with oven underneath, and high and low cabinets must be the model for most kitchens, but because they are I had never been able to conceptualize anything differently. Mrs. S., I suspect, would be very intrigued by this project, and that suspicion makes me suspect that she and I might have some common ground after all.

  1. First she advocates storing items at or near their point of first use. Seems obvious but actually takes some thought. Based on this idea, SG and I have a plan for our kitchen and dining area that, once we get around to it, should improve the flow of the two rooms and keep us out of the other’s way (the kitchen is very small and is basically the hallway between the front and back of the house).
  2. Second, she argues that it makes sense to store things in such a way that you do not have to take many steps to retrieve the items you need and complete your task. Honestly, while there is always room for improvement, there is nowhere in our house where one must take many steps to retrieve anything! 
  3. Third, she is a fan of one motion storage – particularly for items that you use a lot. This principle makes a lot of sense to me and I’ve tried to put this principle into effect in both the bedroom and the living room – particularly when it comes to Buddy’s toys and clothing.

More on the “groundwork” of decluttering and re-ordering the house in the next post.

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What a week. I was sick. Then Buddy got sick. Then I started teaching my new, self-designed, and extremely labor-intensive class on Monday (and SG had to take a break to watch Buddy because fever = no daycare for the poor little guy. Then I had to actually teach class on Wednesday (Monday I just went through the syllabus and called it a day). Yesterday I was so wiped out that after I dropped Buddy off I spent the whole day sleeping. I feel somewhat guilty about that but I honestly don’t think I could have done anything useful anyway.

Today I got back on the horse, cleared a path through the toys in the living room, threw some of the dishes in the dishwasher and did some work on my diss. Here, in no coherent order are some random thoughts and events from my life at the moment:

  • Buddy is going to spend time with his old babysitter tomorrow (yeah!) so that I can get caught up on lesson planning (boo!) and SG can do the taxes (double boo!).
  • Since he’s been sick Buddy has revised his usual wake-up time of 5 or 5:30 am to 4 or 4:30 am. We went through this for a while when we were night-weaning him, and we got through it,  but since he’s been sick he hasn’t been eating as much, so he wakes up and then he wants comfort and he flat-out refuses to go back to sleep. Basically he stands up in his crib and screams and jumps for an hour until it is “time to get up.” (We have a no getting up before 5 am rule – you have to draw the line in the sand somewhere).  I should mention that while we don’t co-sleep, his crib is approximately 5 inches away from my side of the bed – we live in a very small two-bedroom house, and the bedrooms are on separate floors (I use the downstairs one as an office). So it is pretty hard to ignore.
  • The 4 am screaming sessions, combined with his revived interest in nursing (although to be honest he has always loved it), mixed with my feeling like death on a sticke, has brought me to the end of my rope. It is time to wean. We will take it slow and gentle and it can take a couple of months, but it WILL happen before my 40th birthday in May. I. CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. 
  • I’ve made little or no progress on the Self-Improvement Experiment – we have been in survival mode around here for a week. I’ll pick it up again over the weekend and have a couple of posts about moving forward.
  • On Wednesday a couple of emails went around our department list-serv congratulating two of my colleagues on landing tenure track jobs. While I’m happy for them, it is sort of like twisting the knife. Then yesterday, another friend of mine announced that she was invited to interview for a very prestigious department in the UK. Never mind that because of our family situation SG and I agreed to stay in North America, so I decided not to apply anyway, this person is not even close to being finished and she was INVITED to apply. I know that I can’t compare myself to others and that my turn will come (at least I hope it will) but I’ll admit it – my self-esteem has taken quite a blow this past week.
  • On the plus side I posted to FaceBook that while I was happy for friends that I was down about giving two GREAT interviews and getting NEITHER job and a lot of people responded both intelligently and sympathetically. Also one of my best friends, who teaches in the Bay area, sent me some super fancy Easter chocolates in the mail. I started to cry because it is nice to know that there are people out there who understand and who have my back.

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I haven’t had any time to sit down to write about my next steps in following the program in Confessions of an Organized Homemaker but I have been busy continuing to declutter and to apply her next “Basic Organizing Principle”: GROUP. 

A few excerpts:

Whenever practical, group and store like items together…The main purpose of grouping is to give everything in your home a well-defined place. If you have a family, this is paramount! Without well-defined, specific places for everything, your family will only have a vague idea of where things belong. They will put things back haphazardly, and you’ll have to look for them when you need them…Have you noticed what a mess people can make when thy’re looking for something? Giving things a well-defined place makes it possible to find things before they are in disarray.

This is SUCH a huge problem for us. SG is the KING of picking things up and using them and then just putting them down again wherever when he is done. And I do it too (although not as much). He is constantly asking me where stuff is (it drives me nuts) and we are both constantly pawing through piles of clothing and boxes of toys and so forth, looking for things. 

So in addition to decluttering, I am going to try to think about grouping and keeping the idea of “well-defined, well-confined” in mind for the next week.

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I must admit I like Schofield’s take in the introduction and first chapter. First she tackles the all important question of why we should be organized:

I enjoy an organized lifestyle because it helps me get what I want. Good home management skills provide me with a cheerful background for living…Because things are orderly, minimal time is spent housecleaning. i have a lot of free time….

and then in the next section

What you need to do is put housework in its proper perspective. View it as a tool to help you get what you want…. visualize yourself lying down every night with a peaceful feeling, knowing your work has been done well. you awaken to a house that is in order.

Yes please!  I do want to wake up in that house. And despite my critique in the previous post, this is a refreshingly practical way to look at things. I don’t want to be convinced that housework as inherently fulfilling I just don’t want to live in a disaster zone. She also warns about over-organization and the havoc it can wreak on your family and personal life. Organization need to work for you. That is an idea I can get behind. 

So yes, I’m sold. Tell me more.

Chapter Two: The Organizing Principles

So here are her six organizing principles:

  1. Think before you act.
  2. Discard and sort
  3. Group
  4. Be motion minded
  5. Practice preventative maintenance 

Think Before You Act

In other words, don’t just do things the same old way, take a moment (or a few or a day) to think and plan before you tackle a project, and make planning a way of life.

All sound advice, but more of a mantra than a practical piece of advice, so let’s move on to #2.

Discard and Sort

Ah yes. Here we are at the classic decluttering portion of the book. No time. No time. But never fear, she has lots of different ways to implement her basic four box discard and sort method. Here are a few that might work for us:

The fast fix:

  • take out stuff that clearly stays (dishes, silverware, etc.) and put it in one box/pile
  • take out perishable stuff and put it into a second pile
  • throw away any OBVIOUS garbage 
  • put everything else in a fourth box and then put the WHOLE box out of the way for the moment – eventually you will have to go through it and do the discard/sort but it gets you dug out for the moment.
  • Put the other stuff away

Hmm, that might work for the living-room bookshelf. And the kitchen cupboards.


Go through the process one shelf or drawer at a time. 

Toss It, Move It

Go through the process one step at a time – with as much time as you need between steps. Find stuff that is trash – throw it away. Find stuff that belongs somewhere else, put them away. Find stuff that you want to give away – box it up. Reorganize and straighten the stuff you are keeping.

Both of these methods could work for different parts of the house.

So the goal for this week is to apply these three versions of the discard/sort methods to at least one area of the house.

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images I’ve heard that Deniece Schofield’s book is one of the best on this topic but I’ve never picked it up before. Then I read about it again in Almost Frugal and the next day found a used copy on sale so I thought I would give it a try. 

First a couple of thoughts and general points. Ms. Schofield is, I strongly suspect, in the category of “Christian Homemaker” – a breed of women who feel a deep connection between the work they do in the home and their religious piety. From what I can tell, Schofield is fairly understated about her beliefs in the book, a fact that I appreciate as I do not fall into that category at all and find the frequent references to scripture and womanly duty distracting and off-putting in other books and blogs on homemaking. 

Which is not to say that I don’t have some sympathy for the broader connection that these women are trying to make – that there is real value in that reproductive work (i.e. raising and nourishing a family – both physically and emotionally) that has been assigned to women in our culture and despite the lip-service paid to mothers and homemakers, that value is largely ignored (or openly belittled) in our contemporary social system. However, I do find the framing of this argument – in terms of a natural god-given male-dominated division of labor between the sexes to be reactionary and problematic. 

The history of the cult of domesticity and the domestic goddess/perfect homemaker is a rich one and it is something I teach in my gender class. The students find it fascinating to trace back the current cult of craft and domestic perfection (hello Martha!) to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the contemporary capitalist system (which depends on women as the reproducers and consumers of society) and in Victorian culture in the second half of the 19th century. Many of them thought that the focus on domesticity and perfect housekeeping began in the 1950s after WWII. 

Another point, related to the first is that there is an assumption in the book (and in others, and in popular culture) that the wife (and I won’t even get into the heteronormative assumptions at play here) is the primary household manager, and cleaner and cook and childcare provider, even if both adults work outside the home.

Here is a quote: 

So, you spend most of your life studying rapid eye movement or maybe you specialize in Asian drug smugglers. Domesticity sort of pales by comparison.(pg.2)

Now to be fair there is nothing that specifically identifies the gender of the reader in the book, but I think it is safe to say that the book is aimed at women and marketed to women. To be even more fair it may be that she addresses this issue in the book and she may have responded to these concerns in her second book Confessions of an Organized Family.

Given the history and the subtext, I am still drawn to this and other resources on homemaking, decorating, entertaining, organizing and so forth for a number of reasons. First and foremost because my house is a mess and we are continually frustrated by our lack of organization and domestic harmony. Second because being organized saves time and money. Third, I just like this stuff. I would love to have time to sew and bake and concoct great art projects to do with Buddy. 

So let’s plunge in – in the next post…

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  • When your 2yr-old’s favorite game is crawling around on  the floor picking up “fluff” off the carpet, it might be time to vacuum.  
  • SuperGuy and I shared a bottle of wine last night and watched Pineapple Express. He also gave me a backrub and told me I was pretty. Both were much needed. We’ve both been going full-speed-ahead with Buddy and work for awhile now we’ve sort of lost touch with each other. He also made it clear that he is proud of me whether or not I get this job at Big University. I still really want it but he made me feel better about the possibility of not getting it as well.
  • I watched the final few episodes of West Wing this weekend – and I have to say that the REAL election of Obama and the REAL inauguration of  President Obama was much more satisfying. How nice not to have to take solace in fictional characters any longer.
  • I’ve started listening to classical music on the radio when I have to drive. It is not something I know a lot about, but I like that it makes the drive seem like you are in the midst of a Merchant Ivory film – it really does make all the ordinary (and annoying) things around you seem better – elevated and more interesting somehow.
  • SuperGuy got paid half for his big contracting job so we are going to the bank today and by the end of this week we will be DEBT FREE! It is a huge accomplishment for us and a fresh start.

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