Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the Files of Mrs. Clean

Someone recently asked me how I keep my house clean.  First of all, "clean" is a relative word.  When I think "clean," I'm thinking of the scent of almond Endust on the furniture and orange Mr. Clean on the floor in addition to putting most things (because really, most is all we can hope for) in their places.  Other people in this house have different ideas about clean.  Very different ideas.  We'll get to that later.

I'll freely admit we have too much stuff.  Toys are just the latest addition, joining the love affair that we have with books, music, and movies.  We just can't throw that stuff out, and at this point we could compete with the local library.  We already have patrons (you know who you are).  Our house isn't that big, which makes the disinfecting part of cleaning easy.  However, it's kind of tough to find a place for everything when there aren't that many places to be had.

At some point, I hope my kids note my efforts to maintain a clean environment.  Instead, when we should all merrily be singing "the clean up song," they whine, "I didn't make that mess!"  Which is my cue to stand in the middle of the room and bellow, "Well, I didn't make ANY of this mess, yet I clean up after ALL of you people ALL THE TIME!!"  I know the parenting books recommend starting the kids in on household chores.  Trust me, they'll get there.  We're just not ready to play with chemicals yet.

So while everyone in our house appreciates a fresh-smelling, dust-free home, the main issue is what to do with our extraneous stuff.  I try to put away; Bobby arranges in neat piles (neat = clean).  These theories are sometimes at odds.  I remember an article I saw posted from Family Circle, 18 Things You Can Get Rid of Today.  We are in violation of everything on this list - EVERYTHING! - except vases.  And that's only because my husband stopped buying me flowers, ever since I yelled at him for not realizing that "cut" flowers are DIY and don't come pre-arranged (a big deal when you're a week overdue with your first kid and are trimming 3 dozen roses at the kitchen sink). 

AFTER I tossed out the old magazines

Anyway, our biggest violation on the list is MAIL.  We have a mail basket on our kitchen island that functions as our junk drawer, containing: spare keys to unknown places, library cards, list of neighborhood home sales from 2002, old Christmas cards, pictures without frames, pens, tape, car title, old bills, new bills...the list goes on.  Basically, it's stuff that doesn't have a logical home and it drives Bobby absolutely nuts. 

In a nutshell, here's what the article tells you to do:
  • Don't sit down.  STAND with your mail in hand by the trash can.
  • Put bills in a pretty basket.
  • Take magazines to where you read them.
  • Scan and toss newspapers and newsletters.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.  Here's why:
  • What do you do with the bills when you've paid them?  Toss them out?  Keep them in the basket until they breed more bills? (And sadly, doesn't that always seem to happen?)
  • What about those items that you don't know how to handle?  The coupon that you may or may not use?  That letter from somewhere semi-important addressed to your husband that doesn't require immediate attention, yet can't be thrown away, and still never gets read?
  • And isn't moving magazines to where you read them just creating a pile somewhere else?  We're a literate family.  We get something like 10 magazines a month.
  • Where do you put the stuff when the basket gets full?  We've been down that road before, and it's not a vacation destination, believe me.
As I said, this mail basket drove Bobby bonkers, so he came up with a solution.  One day, he brings in a clear plastic file box and spends an hour or two furiously sorting mail in the kitchen (possibly the first and only time).  I eyed him suspiciously, but kept quiet.  When he was finished, he brought me in to show me his handiwork.

You know something is not going to go well when you hear, "Now, admittedly, it's going to be up to you to make sure this system works."

He showed me the carefully marked folders for coupons and bills (paid and unpaid).  Even one for memories!  I protested that I didn't want that ugly thing sitting in my kitchen, and that I wanted to hide it away somewhere, which in his mind, completely negated the "Stand and Scan" principle that Family Circle recommends.

So where does this leave us, about a month later?

All of the junk that had a quasi-home in the mail basket, but was not welcome in the file box, is now sitting on the dining room table.

All of the mail that has a special file folder in the file box is sitting in a pile just outside the file box.  Actually, two piles.  Old stuff and new stuff.  It transitions from one pile to another.

The file box is still in place on the island.

The mail basket is on the dining room table.

The other day, I got sick of it and dramatically reduced one of the piles on the island, and filed some of the mail in the file box.  No one noticed. 

The File Box

When I first read the Family Circle article, I was skeptical.  But noticing in review that we hang on to all of this stuff, I have to take a serious second look, books and movies aside.  Why do I need to keep all that kitchen stuff?  Why do we need so many tools and so much gardening equipment in the garage?  Why does EVERY old t-shirt end up in the linen closet as a dust rag?  Why can't we all realize that not everything is going to be of use "someday?"

I'm inspired to look again and give some of the tips a try.  The file box is not a bad idea.  But it's not up to one person to make it work, and we've got to work out a few of the aesthetic kinks. I'll let you know if we have any success.

In the meantime, does anyone have any good ideas on how to organize my mail?!

Disclaimer:  I have the best husband in the world.  We share the load.  He spent the day cleaning up the yard, including the presents left by the dog.  If I appear a little critical of his role in housekeeping, it's for comedic effect, I SWEAR :)

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