….if you’re more Susan than Bree.
When my husband and I moved to France it was the realisation of my dream more than his, if I’m honest. Living in the country, in an old stone house in a home that I’d lovingly decorated for my family, children playing in a beautiful garden, chickens, a dog, country walks……you get the picture, right?
The trouble is with any move that takes you a step closer to your dream is that it doesn’t mean the end of your problems; you take your problems with you and, in terms of an organised house, one of my problems was myself.
I’ve always been an enthusiast and decorating, home creating, is something that I’ve done since a child. I made Barbie’s furniture. I decorated my bedroom from furniture I’d painted and special little somethings. My dad laughingly said to me recently “When you lived at home your mum was always saying “Why don’t we have rooms like Andrea?” ”
However, after the creation came the maintenance – I was not good at this. Add two children and a move to France and this weakness was highlighted.
Living in la campagne profonde with its beautiful scenery had its down sides. The language, for one. I cannot tell you how tiring it was speaking in a second language. We had long journeys to and from school, the supermarket….everywhere. Our washing machine kept flooding the utility area…..it was overwhelming. I just wanted to sit on the couch and scroll through Pinterest at other people’s beautiful homes. A vicious circle had begun.
You may not have the added difficulty of moving to another country – or maybe you do, I know there are lots of military families out there on the move – but you perhaps have similar problems. This is how I got out of my vicious circle. It’s done as a step by step because, in all honesty, it’s how I did it. It was organic, and once you start you may find your way diverges. If it does let me know how it’s going and share your tips in the comments – I know I can always do with any pointers!
1 My Whistling Kettle
This was my first step. We had a whistling kettle in my kitchen – we’d lost our electric one when we moved. As we thought we’d find it soon I just bought this cheap replacement. However we didn’t find the electric one until we moved to this hime.
Anyway, it took ages to boil. One day, feeling guilty about the amount of time I was spending on Pinterest dreaming about my home whilst the mess gathered around me, I just decided to tidy up the kitchen a bit whilst it boiled. It was genuinely more a conscience reliever than a real attempt at cleaning my house. That’s all I have to do, I said to myself, just whilst it boils. When it whistled I sat down and had a coffee and I only started again when I wanted another coffee. It wasn’t a conscious decision to get the house clean. You see in the past I’d always have “one big clean” and then I was going to be organised! So when I went to pick up my eldest daughter from school I was surprised to see a clean kitchen! A new cycle had begun.
2 Limit Social Media, But Use Them For Inspiration
After my first day of this I did the same the next day – it was like elves were cleaning my house. You those other times I’d tried to get organised with my big efforts, I’d end up exhausting myself so I didn’t want to continue. It’s like saying you’re going to get fit, then deciding you’ll do a five mile run – you might feel empowered at first, but the mental strength to keep going from 0-100 mph just doesn’t last. You give up. But this, this was just ‘having a cup of coffee’. So I had more coffee and I tidied the kitchen again. However this time didn’t take nearly so long, so I started to do the dining room next door too. I started to feel happy that parts of my house that taunted me were under control. My mood lifted and I wanted to take it a step further.
So, I changed my rule from ‘just whilst the kettle is boiling’ to ‘do 30 minutes then take a break’. After 30 minutes I’d put the kettle on again and only once it had boiled would I sit down for a coffee. But I’d use my time to scroll through specific Pinterest pins now, all on getting an organised house, cleaning schedules, housecleaning tips. It’s amazing how these inspired me to keep going. Gradually my house was getting more and more in order. But when it came to Pinterest I also decided I’d ….
3 Time Them
I’d put my iPad on a fifteen minute timer whenever I stopped for my coffee, scroll through Pinterest and – this is the shocker – I actually started looking forward to cleaning again as I was feeling so inspired. I’d stay for the fifteen and then set my timer again to do 30 minutes cleaning, then a bit extra while the kettle boiled, then I’d take a break for fifteen minutes. So you can see, pretty soon I was cleaning for most of the hours, but it just didn’t feel like a big deal as I’d built up the time gradually.
I also think what was important about this organic process was I didn’t have the idea of perfection in my head, I didn’t set out with “It will be perfect and then I’ll”. That’s important because, you know, it’s not going to be perfect. My home is not Downton Abbey.
4 The Laundry Pile
Even though my house was getting cleaner there was one area of my life that was really taunting me – the laundry.
Again, in the past I’d always ‘done’ the laundry, as in I’d decided to do it all in one day, then I’d keep it going. However, just like ‘big cleans’ I’d end up tired out from doing the same thing – back aching, arm aching, wrestling with the kids to not go near the iron, not muck up the piles of laundry etc. By the day after I’d still have laundry to do because – and I can’t say this enough – you will always have laundry to do, and I couldn’t face it. So I’d put it off and then it would just be there. An insurmountable pile again.
Sometimes I’d have piles of laundry that I needed to just iron, sometimes to wash and iron. On this occasion, due to the leaking washing machine, I had the latter. So this is what I did;
- I started with the clothes to wash, doing one load.
- I tumble dried it, taking it out as soon as it was done, sorted it into needing ironing and those things that didn’t.
- Put the things that don’t need ironing immediately away! So many times I’d have just piles of washed, dried clothes that looked massive, but when you do this you get rid of about half of each load.
- Do this again, by now you should have done two loads, but only have one basket of ironing. Do that basket.
- Do one additional basket of your existing washed clothes.
- Put the ironing board away.
That’s right – put it away!!!! Don’t carry on. This is a marathon, not a sprint! Don’t do the laundry to the extent your sick of it. Each day you do this you get rid of your back log and you’ll gradually get to the point where you have one load which you sort, putting away what you can, and storing a half basket of ironing until the next day. That’s right – I only iron every other day now and its not something I dread. However I do have one more laundry tip which I started to do later on.
5 Cooking Meals
I am not a natural cook. I mean it. My husband is, he’s great at it. Me, not so much. He works from home when he’s not travelling for work and one of my most used sentences is “Toby what do I do now!!!!” At which point he has to come down to rescue me!
Again, in my previous ‘get myself sorted’ attempts I’d gone all out on cooking. I was going to cook every day – so I’d make a menu plan, I’d shop and then….it would all go to waste. Things would happen and, as its not my natural skill, I’d get stressed at the expectations I’d set myself. Then, when I inevitably failed, slump.
So I decided to just cook my easiest meals on three days, then I got meals that where no brainers. Meatballs that I could just add pasatta and spaghetti too, pasta that I could cook with a ten minute, blue cheese and bacon sauce (it’s quicker than ordering take-away and the kids love it), filled pasta shells (yeah, a lot of my simple meals are pasta based aren’t they?)…..anything that was no stress, but healthy.
By doing this I was giving myself permission to just continue with getting the house sorted. Now I cook more, but I’ve developed recipes that I know and can do in my sleep, but we’ll come back to that later. In the meantime, there’s another food tip…
6 Make a little extra
I know this is a tip you read everywhere re home organisation, but I want to stress the little. I’ve done the mass catering food prep thing – it doesn’t help. Well not me anyway. If you’re having to peel, chop and stir large quantities the positives start to outweigh the benefits. But a little extra you won’t notice in your workload, and these can be added to your ‘no brainer’ meals, or they can be your “in case of emergency”s. This brings me to the next point.
7 Shop Twice A week
This sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but trust me on this. You know and I know you’re going to end up back in a shop during the week right? So make it part of your management plan.
I used to dread going to the shops with the kids; pushing a heavy trolly round the store, constantly stopping them from grabbing things, the eldest getting distracted and my being frightened she’d get lost, nearly dislocating my shoulder by hauling the trolley to a stop as she ran in front of it, again…..by the end of it I’d be the mother from hell, whispering threats in an ever increasing tone of violent desperation. I know, I’m impressing you right now aren’t I?
The trouble was when I tried to do a shop without the kids I only had a two hour gap to do it in. This always sounds sufficient, but you probably know that in reality there’s always something that goes wrong. All of a sudden I’d be at the check out panicking I wouldn’t be there in time to pick up my eldest from school, dreading her worry when mummy wasn’t there.
Anyway as my house got more organised I noticed how often I would throw food away and also how often I wouldn’t fancy what I’d bought at the beginning of the week. When you’re tired out, you’re not a natural cook and your husband is working away the last thing you want to do is cook something you don’t want. So shopping twice a week is quicker -I can definitely fit it in on my own – and it means I don’t waste as much food.
8 Make A List And Check It Off
This is one of my favourites. The house was looking cleaner and I was finally feeling like I could be one of those women.
However, there was always the added extras; the chores, the things you couldn’t forget, the exercise plan you wanted to introduce….So I started making an hour by hour list of what I needed to do and when.
I have my cleaning schedule in bold, my everyday little things that have to be in a time, some personal care stuff, as well as one off tasks that need to be done the next day and projects. I have a weekly overview and and underneath each of these I update a list of chores or tasks for the next week and the week after.
When I’ve done each thing I tick it off – as long as I do 80% of what I need things stay organised. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t get everything done, it might remain on the basic framework if its an additional task (like arranging a dentist appointment). As I clear off additional tasks I take one from my reserve list and put it in next weeks schedule.
I love it. It’s bizarrely inspiring.
9 When You Introduce New Recipes, Repeat Them Until You Know Them.
I used to make a menu plan each week, going through my recipe books to make sure I had a variety of foods. However, as I’ve said, as the week wore on I didn’t fancy cooking full stop. Let alone cooking new recipes. Even when you’ve done a recipe a few times and you know it works there’s the back and forward to the cook book, reading, double checking – its amazing how much mental energy and time this takes up.
So I started to have my old familiars, my quick but healthy options and then I’d take a recipe and do it each week until I knew it by heart. Then I added in another. If you’re only doing one of these, once a week the kids don’t notice and you’re expanding your skills without leading you to breaking point.
10 Laundry Where It’s Accessible
As the house became more organised I started to look at what I was doing and what I could streamline. As the laundry became more manageable I started to place the ironing board on the upstairs landing as I could iron and put away really quickly. This was such a help as I used to do loads and think “I’ll move that in a minute”. But there have been so many times I didn’t, the hubby would take stuff leaving a mess of the piles and I would feel I was back to square one.
11 Get Your Kids A Chore List
Having young children and maintaining a house is a lot of work – you don’t want it to be like this forever do you? So train your kids up. My six year old sets and clears the table, cleans her own room, puts her laundry in the wash and sorts it….she’s becoming a real handy helper. The three year old has her own, small chores too.
It’s amazing how much they want to help now.
12 Get Them All In A Coming In The House Routine
You don’t want them dragging dirt through the house, or using your sofa as a coat hanger. In, shoes off – away, coats off – away, bags – away. I’ve said this so often now its become a house mantra.
13 Do A Walk Through At An Appropriate Time – And Get The Kids To Help
Now, at the end of the children’s day when my youngest has gone to bed my eldest and I have a tidy through. Basically if she wants to watch tv before bed she helps; it’s a great motivator. Toys get tidied up, clothes get sorted, any rubbish thats accumulated gets moved – theres no tv until its tidy and the longer it takes the less tv time there is. She’s actually getting very good at cushion arranging!
14 As They Get Older Make Them Clean Up There Own Messes
Obviously I don’t mind an accidental spill, but if there’s been a deliberate mess made I get my kids to clean it up now. So, for instance, when they drew all over the living room walls the other day they both had cloths out to clean it up. The three year old didn’t make much difference admittedly, but I find that once they’re going to be held responsible for any deliberate messes they make less happen.
15 Make Your Husband A To Do List
As my husband is away a lot I’ve tried to learn as much as I can in terms of DIY as otherwise everything gets left for him when he gets home, and that seems a little unfair as he wants to spend time with our kids.
Full disclosure, he’s pretty fantastic around the house. So when I say a to do list I don’t mean “take out the trash”; he does it any way and he’s not a child, so I wouldn’t insult him. What I mean is a list of DIY jobs that I can’t do on my own. So I can change a plug, but can’t do more complicated electrical work, I can drill a hole in most walls but can’t through thick masonry. These other jobs get put on a list for my hubby. The reason why I’m including these here is that sometimes the jobs are so the house runs rather than looks good and I’m always sure to let him know which are which – and thank him when he’s done.
So that’s it, how I got organised in 15 points. It’s not that our house runs like clockwork; sometimes things happen to make you go off track. However when they do and I look around feeling overwhelmed I put the kettle on….
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