By Sarah Wilson
Clutterbugs. Some mothers do ave em. I have three of them at home. Four if you count my husband. And sometimes I can be a clutterbug, so that makes five in total. Having a family is a true blessing. But along with the blessing of family, comes a certain amount of inevitable chaos. In fact, my original blog name was ‘Cappuccino & Chaos’ as it does sum up my life with little people rather well. I’ve now begun a series on my blog called ‘Cappuccino and Chaos Consulting’. Yes I am no stranger to chaos. We were the family who lost a school library book, before our son even started school. Yep, on the first visit! But thankfully we found it a week later. I have battled and grappled with the mess of family life. So if you are a mother who mutters about clutter, struggles in a muddle and stresses about mess, then please read on.
‘Cappuccino and Chaos Consulting’ is not about giving advice to others. After all, if you came to my home you might wonder whether I was qualified to advise others about household organization! I know many others who manage their home more proficiently than I do. Despite being a natural organizer, I have struggled to manage the chaos that accompanies a young family. But I do try. Lord knows that I try. Perhaps I am just being hard on myself. ‘Cappuccino & Chaos Consulting’ is about providing support, collaboration and encouragement to those who are in the delightful, busy and sometimes chaotic season of being at home with young ones. In this series I share strategies that have worked for our family and welcome dialogue and suggestions from others as to what has worked for their family. I know that there are bigger battles in life and more important things to worry about than mess. But research has shown that mess is one of the biggest sources of stress for mothers. It can be stressful when you can only find one shoe in the morning, the hair ties have gone walk about, and the school library book is nowhere to be seen. On one occasion I found a sneaky sneaker in the freezer of all places. The freezer! One has to have a sense of humour about these things. Humour is indeed a wonderful coping strategy.
Being a household manager or ‘Director of Domestic Affairs’ is a humbling job. Sadly it is a vocation that isn’t valued in our society, despite it being actually quite demanding. Some of the chaos in our household has improved now that the children, although still small, are a little older. The baby stage is indeed a precious stage, however it can be somewhat more of a challenge to manage the household (and everything else) during this stage. Now that I am out of the intensive baby phase with two under two, I am able to keep on top of things a little more.
‘Cappuccino & Chaos Consulting’ is not about encouraging others to have a perfect house. Sure, the photos on my blog may look pretty, but I don’t expect to have a perfect home. Instead I aim to realistic expectations, and a home that is not a bio-hazard. But even this is easier said than done! I’m not expecting our home or life to be as clean as an operating room (thank goodness, because it’s not!). Yes I can accept some messiness, and I know that house-keeping is not a matter of godly virtue. Real life is messy and I can find beauty in disorder. But although I have a passion for organization, I don’t consider myself to be very gifted at cleaning. In fact, when God was handing out housework anointings, I think I may have been absent that day!
Part of our struggle with clutter is that we have so much stuff these days. I elaborate on this topic further in my recent blog post ‘From Stuffluenza to Simplicity: On Overcoming the Overwhelming Overload’. Too much stuff can just be plain overwhelming. And what are the main offenders? You guessed it – toys. It’s the little bits and pieces, all over the house. Yes we have plastic labelled boxes for different toy categories, but still the lego gets mixed up with the wooden train sets, that gets mixed up with the plastic train set, throw in a couple of odd socks and a few cards from a card game, a pen or two, a hair tie, you get the picture – toy chaos.
Too much clutter can affect us emotionally. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between more clutter and higher rates of depression. Several studies have found a link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel. I’m not proud of the fact that I become a Mrs Grumpypants and nag the children for their apparent lack of concern over the state of their bedrooms. Getting them to help tidy up is somewhat like pulling teeth. But we do have a few rewards in place. And the ‘Cleaning Fairy’s Pick-Up Box’ a.k.a the Uh-Oh Box. It is usually brimming to over full. Why does that not surprise me?
Routines, Routines, Routines…
Wouldn’t it be nice to have Peter Walsh, Oprah’s organizational guru pay us a visit? But short of that, to tackle the chaos in our household I have utilized and streamlined a few simple systems.
I’ve utilized a meal planner for years. This has meant that when I do the grocery shopping (no easy feat with smallies in tow), I know that I need to find ingredients for one vegetarian meal, one curry, one stir-fry and so on. But in my sleep deprived state a few years back, it did not occur to me to do the same with housework. It’s funny how it’s the simple things that we sometimes don’ think of.
Within the last six months I have developed a housework routine. And I wish I had devised this years ago. I don’t know whether my home is a little cleaner or more organised, but knowing that I always change the beds on ‘Make Bed Monday’ or that I always clean the floors on ‘Floor Cleaning Friday’ has been helpful for me psychologically.
In addition to a weekly housework routine, I then developed a monthly task timetable. Instead of trying to spring clean our house all in the month of September, this is broken down into one or two manageable tasks per month. This month my task is to sort out and de-clutter our books.
One of the most overwhelming areas in maintaining a home would have to be the laundry. This is what my laundry resembled before I developed a simple routine.
And then I developed the Lattes Laced with Grace Revolutionized Laundry Routine. I wash one load of washing per day, with the exception of Sunday. The washing is hung out and then when it is dry it is put into a container for each person, before being put into drawers on ‘Washing Wednesday’. So it isn’t rocket science, but it has meant that I no longer have a Mt Foldmore like the one in the picture above. We have also recently invested in a dryer. How we have survived for six and a half years in Dunedin without a dryer, I do not know.
I’m always looking to streamline the organisational systems in our home. But…..there is still an element of the chaotic….and I’m learning to embrace chaos. I’m a slow learner. After all, my eldest is seven so you would think that I would be used to it by now. However, we can’t change our personality and how we are wired. But we can change how we think about things. I certainly don’t mind if someone else’s house is a mess. After all, their mess makes me feel better about my mess. If I go to someone’s house with young children and it is ultra clean and tidy, I often wonder, how do they do it? But as mums we often feel judged if our house isn’t clean and tidy. Perhaps we need to give each other more grace in this area.
And to the mother who stresses about mess – I can relate. Recently I came across a blog post titled ‘How to Miss a Childhood’. And it resonated with me. Yes I want to cherish the childhood of my children as it is so very fleeting. And that means being really and truly present with them, and not always rushing around cleaning and tidying (or surfing on the computer or phone!). It is a balancing act, and I try to spend a portion of each day on the allocated household tasks, and other moments where I can be present with my children. I wish to savour the moment, and to let them make a marvellous mess. After all, we are too blessed to stress. And in the words of my daughter’s favourite song from ‘Frozen’, there are some days where you just have to ‘Let it go’.