Monday, 2 April 2012

Making Light Work Of Your Chores

One of the wonderful Mother's Day gifts that Papa Bear gave me this year was this inspirational book by the Christian author Emilie Barnes. I haven't been surprised at all to discover what a wonderful resource it is, as the other books that I have read which she has authored are just as inspiring - if you haven't yet discovered her, do look at the selection of books available on both and As well as being a useful handbook full of practical homemaking and organisational hints, this lovely volume also has chapters on child rearing, hospitality, holidays and how to create precious family traditions which will make memories to treasure forever. I am really enjoying dipping into it whenever I get a spare moment (especially in the evenings, which is really the only time I get for reading). I would recommend it to any wife and mother for her personal library. Thank you so much Papa Bear!

One of the topics that Emilie Barnes writes best about is organising your home to make the most of the space you have and the time you've got to maintain it. I particularly like the way she divides homekeeping tasks into small 15 minute portions, which make a big chore seem much less overwhelming and more manageable. Although I didn't know about Emilie Barnes when I was a young housewife, quite by accident, I started off by using this technique myself, to cope with my daily chores, by breaking them down into separate smaller chores that still took the same total amount of time, but made me feel more in control, and as if I had got more done. This was also a great way to cope with the unpredictability of having a new baby (and in my case, 2 new babies in very close succession!) as it meant there was no problem if I was interrupted in a chore to tend to one of my wee bairns - I could quickly get back on track once I'd settled them again.

Nowadays, I have a slightly different schedule, still based on this but which I find means that none of my regular household chores ever take me longer than this as I do them regularly enough to mean that there really isn't much more to do, than a 15 minute timescale will cover. I still do the same total amount of housework that I've ever done, but I get through more different chores in a day, and keep everywhere looking pretty neat and tidy, by doing it like this instead of just focussing on one room each day as I use to.

I'm able to do this now partly because we live in a very small apartment - we have only 6 rooms (3 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and bathroom) and a small hallway, stairs and a landing. Also we have very little storage space, so there isn't much room for large accumulations of clutter to stay on top of. And of course our children are grown now, so we don't have lots of equipment for homeschooling or for young child entertainment (which always seemed to take up a lot of space and make a lot of mess). Obviously if you live in a 12 room house and are blessed with a big brood of young children, your home isn't going to be quite as easy to keep tidy as mine is. But I've also lived in larger houses than this, when our children were young, and by using this technique of doing "little and often" I've never found my housework to be overwhelming. Tiring, yes, but never insurmountable!

Of course, I do have larger chores that have to be tackled. Last week was the cupboard under the stairs, and the wardrobe in our bedroom. This week I have on my to-do list the kitchen cupboards. These bigger chores I work through in a slightly different way. I'll start by mentally dividing the room I'm working in into "zones". For example, when I did the living room last week (where the cupboard under the stairs is) I separated the room into 4 sections - the "bird corner" where the bird cage is, the "cupboard corner" where the cupboard itself is, the "book corner" where our bookshelves are, and the "entertainment corner" where our TV set is.

The entertainment corner is easiest to deal with - there is just the tiny TV set (we don't own a widescreen television, just a wee 14 inch old fashioned box shaped TV on a stand), with the DVD player, satellite reciever and video recorder (yes, we still own a video recorder!). All the DVDs are on the bookshelves, so I just make sure everything is straight. It doesn't even need dusting sinse I do this every day anyway and it was scheduled for later on in the day when I normally do it.

I then tackle the bird corner, which again doesn't take long at all as the birdcage also is cleaned twice a day, once in the morning when the birds are uncovered and given their greens, and once again in the evening before I cover them up for the night (birds should be covered completely, so that they are in total darkness, for 12 hours in every 24). Their cage is set on a large stand with a tray underneath it on which their food bucket is kept and a couple of spray bottles, one to clean the cage with and another to spray water on the birds (you should do this at least every other day, to keep their feathers in good condition). That's all that is there, and none of it needs more tidying than this.

I then set to work on the bookshelves. We have got 6 long bookshelves fixed with brackets to the wall in our living room. These are our only bookshelves. We keep books on 4 of the shelves, DVDs and CDs underneath them on the floor (behind the settee) and then on the topmost 2 shelves some pieces of original (but inexpensive) artwork that we have collected over the years. This may not seem like many shelves for a family of 4 but it is enough. The cubs have small bookcases in their bedrooms for their college books, but all the family literature collection is kept in here. If there gets to be too little shelf space for the number of books (or DVDs/CDs) that we have, then I do a cull and take some to the charity shop near our home. We have more than enough anyways, so I don't intend for us to give extra room space to books. Every time I do a focussed room tidy like this, I will go through all the books and if necessary discard any that have not been read for a while and don't need to be kept. I also take all the books we do want to keep off the shelves, reorganise them neatly, grouping them by category so they are easier to find, and dust everything. Then they all get put back on tidily and it looks very nice indeed for about a month!

The cupboard under the stairs is home to our Christmas decorations, extra birdcare equipment (such as the thick covers that go on their cage each night, and the sandpaper cage liners we use to keep the interior of the cage neat and clean), and our outdoor clothes (coats, hats, scarves etc). I also keep the sewing machine and all my crafting supplies in here. Again, if the space in the cupboard becomes too little for the items that need to be kept in it, I do a cull, which may involve discarding Christmas decorations that have seen better days (we really need a new tree, but we have not discarded the one that we do have, since a new one would be an expensive but uneccesary purchase. It's a little tatty and some branches are a bit wobbly, but once it's covered with garlands and baubles, you can't really tell, so it seems an extravagance just to buy a new one because it would look nicer). When I do my focus clean I take every single item out of the cubboard (the birds always watch this with fascination) then give the whole cupboard a good dust and hoover, and then replace every item carefully. I've got very good at managing to maximise the space by squeezing the items into it so that they fit as neatly and closely together as I can! Although Emilie Barnes suggests you do this, I don't index the boxes in our cupboard under the stairs - there's really no need. For one thing, there aren't that many other places where anything else could be stored, in our home, and for another, there aren't really that many boxes, or that many different things. There are 3 big boxes of decorations, plus a bag of garlands, the big tree and 2 little ones that are used as table decorations, my beautiful and very precious porcelain gingerbread houses and a box of smaller decorations that are used for around the apartment (we don't go big on trimming our whole home, having said that. Just the living room, mainly). The other items in the cupboard aren't kept in boxes or if they are, you can see the contents, so I don't feel the need to label everything. But oh my goodness, how lovely and organised it always looks in that cupboard when I've tidied it up! I don't know how it ever manages to get into a muddle, with me keeping it organised like this, but somehow it does!

We really don't have all that much "stuff". Papa Bear keeps his tool kit, home decorating equipment and fishing gear in the cupboard outside our apartment block (we have 2, one right next to our front door, where the fishing tackle is kept) and another one downstairs, where the rubbish bins are (nothing else lives in that cupboard, as the bins make it very unhygenic). I am always amazed at how much junk some of our neighbours manage to squeeze into their tiny outside cubpoards! But some people do like to keep more "stuff" than we do - and that's fine, if it makes them happy. The cubs each probably have as much as Papa Bear and I put together, becuase they are both studying, and growing and learning, and have more hobbies than we do (their musical interests, for example). But they take care of their own houseworks! Even Cubby ... and that is where the 15 minute quick-clean really does come in handy, becuase it has proved to be a HUGE motivator in getting the cubs to take responsibility for their chores! When you are 8 or 10 years old, cleaning a whole room can feel very overwhelming. But break it down into smaller chunks, get a kitchen timer and have some music playing, and before you know it, those 15 minutes are done, and even if you haven't managed to tidy the whole room, I can promise you'll see a difference!

I can honestly say, as I am sure Emilie Barnes would agree, that I do enjoy my housework. The reward isn't necessarily in actually doing it - though even then I mostly do enjoy it - you can think your own thoughts (and sing your own songs!) while you are doing housework. But there is most definitely a reward in seeing the finished result - a lovely clean home!