Skinflint Sunday: Hire a Housekeeper?

Over the last few years the boys have been doing less and less housework. When they were little they were really good at picking up after themselves and keeping the place neat, but 5 years ago when I took an 18 month stint of being a year 10 student manager and was at work till late nearly every night… that’s when the rot set in. Things gradually became cluttered and disorganised, we all got used to living like that and it became a way of life.

I hate it. I can’t stand doing housework but I also can’t stand living in clutter and mess. It clouds the thinking and makes me feel as if I’m not coping well with all the demands that I have to juggle.

It got so that I started carrying around huge piles of resentment against the kids. Why should I have to do all of the work? I’m not their maid! They’re all bigger and stronger than me, so why are they the ones walking blithely past patches of mess and clutter and why am I the one who eventually cleans it up? Every night after dinner I’d nominate 2 kids to unstack and stack the dishwasher and that always got done with no fuss; Evan4 feeds the animals every night and Tom1 puts out the bins every week; but everything else the kids did around the house seemed to be accompanied by me going operatic and screaming melodically at them to help. Not a nice way to live. It’s exhausting.

Then a couple of weeks ago I had a lightbulb moment.

It’s only possible for people to walk past things that need doing around the house if no one’s accountable for it.

It’s too easy for people to say to themselves, “That’s not MY mess. I didn’t drop that/ spill that/ drop my jocks in the corner of the bathroom and leave them there” etc, and then walk on by. I decided to make us all accountable for a section of the house each.

I hopped on to Flylady. I was a member a few years ago, but the daily emails got to be a hassle, so I unsubscribed. However, I still had a copy of her control journal for housecleaning that I printed off. I unearthed it from the pile of papers on top of the cats’ scratching post in the lounge room and read through it. Coincidentally, she divides the house up into 5 zones, which is exactly the number of people I’m dealing with here. In the control journal she has lists of jobs that need doing for every zone. In her system, where she assumes there’s only one main person doing the cleaning, you do a general sort of clean during the week but concentrate on one zone a week, so that over time your whole house ends up clean and organised and runs like clockwork. Quite a few of the things on each list don’t really apply to our place, but in desperation I thought that if the whole house gets things cleaned in it every week, we’ve GOT to be better off, surely? And over time, if the basic system works, we can tweak the tasks to suit each area.

So, two weeks ago in the second week of the holidays, I called a family meeting.

Let’s face it, we all knew that something had to be done about the house, so the topic of the meeting didn’t come as much of a surprise. I started out by saying that this was in no way intended to be an attack on any one person who wasn’t pulling their weight with the cleaning, because NONE of us were… including me. (The boys started to look a little more relaxed after that was said.) I told them how the mess and disorganisation in the house was making me feel and I also told them that if it continued I was a bit worried about the effect the pressure of it all was having on me. Work this year is a bit of a slog and I can’t do anything about it. However, we CAN do something about the slog at home.

I ran through the Flylady system and showed them the control journal. Her zones are:

1. The entrance, front porch and dining room.

2. The kitchen.

3. The bathroom and one extra room.

4. The master bedroom.

5. The living room.

We then sat and talked about what we would do. We agreed that it was stupid to split up the lounge and dining rooms into two separate zones, because we have an ‘L’ shaped lounge/dining room, so the dining room merged into zone 5. Zone 1 now includes unstacking and stacking the dishwasher and also vaccuming the entire hallway. Whoever has the bathroom also does the folding of washed clothes, and whoever has the the Master Bedroom zone has to thoroughly clean their OWN room, not my room. (I don’t want them going through my stuff!!!)

“What about the garden?” asked Evan4. I replied that the garden needs attention but I want to get the house sorted first, so we’d see how this went and then worry about the garden later.

We decided that we’d have a full 5 weeks with everyone having a turn at all the zones, then we’d tweak what needed tweaking. Then we agreed on who would do which zone in the first week …. Tom1 said that Mum really needed to do zone 4 which was quite true!… and we had a week to get our zones done. I was very pleased with their maturity…. no one folded their arms and stated that they wouldn’t do it; everyone was on board and agreed to give it a go. Not bad for a house full of layabout teenage boys!

The first week worked quite well, except for Tom1 neglecting to do the dishes all day Friday, then saying that it was past 4pm and it was now no longer his zone and so the huge pile of dishes wasn’t his responsibility anymore. (He was forcefully disabused of that theory and he did the job before his father arrived to pick them up for Boys’ Weekend.)

This past week, now that we’re back at school, was interesting. Nothing much was done all week with regards to actual cleaning. Dishes and folding were done, basic clearing away of things left out were done but no actual cleaning. On Friday night I said to them that handover of zones would be done by midday Saturday and they had to be ready. Then I went to bed and crossed my fingers.

Yesterday I got up before anyone else as I usually do and did the dusting and vaccuming of the lounge room before anyone else was up. I wanted to have full use of Mrs Doubtfire before anyone else. (I love Mrs Doubtfire!) Then, as the boys surfaced, I suggested that no Playstation or computer screens get used until their zones got done. Then I left them to it.

It was amazing. Evan4 asked where “that book” was so he could check what he needed to do. Ryan3 came and asked me to show him how to clean the shower. (He didn’t do a perfect job, but hey…. it’s better than if no one did it so I’m happy.) Kids got up, had breakfast, got dressed and then started to clean their zones. By about 12.30 everyone was finished. Because a lot of the jobs that suck up my morning were now being done by other people, I was able to get some little things done that bug me but I never get around to doing. Like cleaning the filthy computer keyboard with a baby wipe. Then looking across at the phone and cleaning that too. Then wiping the light switches. All the while hearing the sound of the vaccuum cleaners going in different parts of the house. It was really great.

I spent the afternoon knitting, guilt-free because my house had been taken care of. My mother and my little niece dropped in and we had a perfectly ordered house (and fresh chocolate cake that Evan4 baked) to greet them with. I was so happy I baked a full roast dinner and then we all settled in and started watching the ‘Dexter’ dvds that Gim from work has lent us. We stayed up till 11.30…. that show is wonderful!…. and then went to bed. I slept with a smile on my face, knowing that tomorrow all I hav to worry about house-wise is to bake enough biscuits and cakes for the coming week, to put out a couple of loads of washing and clean out the chicken coop. Everything else has been done.

The downside to it all so far?

* Obviously some things aren’t done to the standard that I would do them. There are still marks in the shower recess and some cobwebs in dark corners.

* There are things that need to be made clearer on the list. Some tasks need to be done every day, not just once a week, and in some areas the boys haven’t twigged to that yet.

* The handover time is a little hazy because three of the boys spend alternate weekends at their Dad’s place. So at the moment it’s Friday at 4 on one week, and Saturday at 12 on the next. Not sure how that will go.

* It makes ME do housework because I don’t want to be held accountable.

The upside.

* It makes THEM do housework because they don’t want to be held accountable.

* That huge feeling of bitterness I’d feel whenever I looked at  a mess that wasn’t cleaned up has now gone. As long as everyone is pulling their weight, I’m happy. It wasn’t fair to have one person shouldering the burden for 5.

* They are learning that it takes teamwork to run a house effectively and that everyone has a responsibility to clean up and look after the environment we all share. I’m hoping this will mean that they’ll one day be lovely husbands/partners/housemates.

* Although some things aren’t done “properly”, over time, with the same tasks being tackled each week, they’ll be easier and easier to do.

* Different people look at an area and focus on different things. For example, last week Ryan3 wiped down the walls in the kitchen. This week, Tom1 thoroughly wiped down the fronts of the cabinets. The week before that, I thoroughly cleaned the glass splashback and stainless steel rangehood. Slowly, it’s all getting done.

(* I’m also hoping that as they clean each area they’ll begin to help each other out by being more responsible for things they leave behind and things they spill/cook etc. Once they clean a certain area they’ll know how yuck it is when people are irresponsible. This one has yet to be proved….)

So far, two weeks in, I’m optimistic that it’ll work. I have to keep on top of what’s going on because if I relax and let things slide then it’ll all fall in a heap. But given that I’m aware of that, hopefully this is something that will be able to keep going and make us all look after the house and each other. (I sound a bit like Jerry Springer!)

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20 Responses to Skinflint Sunday: Hire a Housekeeper?

  1. Widget says:

    since flylady moved to the bigtent I have started getting a digest each week and it seems to have coincided with getting rid of my cleaner.

    I had been thinking about how to maintain a clean house to the standard that I had been used to and your post reminded me of what I should do. Five zones – easy! Focus on one zone each week – and then it’s done just after a month. I think I can manage all of that.

    Thanks for the reminder! Looking forward to seeing the sparkly new house.

  2. Urspo says:

    keep chanting these magic words “Limits” and “Structure”.
    Lay down the boundaries what you will/they will do.
    Avoid the temptation to do theirs
    And point out you will throw out things not attended.

    Good luck.

  3. maybaby says:

    I love FlyLady. I joined when my youngest was six months old and she had only 8,000 members.

    I think your reworking of her system is GENIUS. We have five people, if my husband is on board (and he probably will be…he vacuums without being asked and that sort of thing). I’m totally swiping this from you. Totally genius.

    PS. Dexter is truly a wonderful show. Try to books, too. I love both the books and the tv show.

  4. Jayne says:

    Your future daughters-in-law will thank you 😉

  5. Great post! I wish I’d thought of this when my four were growing up, they did all have their pocket money jobs but everything else we always said was because it was part of belonging!! Part of being a family! My youngest daughter tells the story of trying to instill into her ex that it wasn’t just her job to clean the toilet, he told her it was woman’s work, she told him that it was her dad that had taught every one of them how to clean the toilet!!! Very true. He never did get it, no wonder he’s her ex????

  6. Andi says:

    What you haven’t mentioned is all the hard work that came BEFORE this story …
    The bringing up of 4 respectful young men who have a good enough relationship with their mother (and each other) to want to make this work.
    I’ve said it before, but I have to repeat … you are doing a wonderful job with your family. You are raising 4 young men with a social conscience, a love of animals, a healthy respect for others, discerning minds and creative souls.
    Dance froggy lady … you’ve earned it!!!
    Andi x

  7. Lorraine says:

    Great idea! ….Never did get the concept that being the parent made one responsible for the entire house cleaning gig! I agree with everything Andi said!

  8. Janet says:

    wow, that sounds amazing – although I did think (for a moment) that maybe you could assign yourself the executive manager/scheduler position which does not involve actually getting ones hands dirty. But then I realised that it works because it relies on that idea of housework being shared among occupants….

    It is nice having a clean house, isn’t it. Says she who cleaned and sorted her desk and the child’s room this weekend.

  9. Mad Woman says:

    I had to stop the emails as well. It all became just a little too much. But I LOVE the Fly Lady system. It’s been hard to stick to lately with The Man working nights, but I’ll get there eventually!

    Good for you…and good for the boys!

  10. NeedToChange says:

    What a great idea.

    My girls are 6 & 7, they have a basic chore to do in the morning and again in the afternoon, its hardly a help to me as its stuff like feeding the guinea pigs etc. I’m looking forward to the time when they will be responsible enough to help out.

  11. river says:

    I had a quick look at Flylady when I first heard about her, and decided in about 10 seconds that I couldn’t stand her.
    I used a different method to get my kids co-operation, but they were younger than your boys. Anything left lying around was put into a laundry basket each day, and after dinner each child would take his or her belongings from it and put them away. When they were older the mess was usually confined to their rooms and I just shut the doors and couldn’t see it.

  12. Marita says:

    Great idea 🙂 I really like the thought they may start to consider the others who clean that area more and take care to clean up after themselves. Wonder if I could work on this in smaller way with my girls :: wanders off to ponder ::

  13. nicole says:

    I also “did” the flylady system when Sam was little, but her emails were no big help because of the time difference, I tried getting back into it when we moved here 4 years ago but all her advertisements and god stuff annoyed me too much :-/ Maybe I should take what I liked (morning and evening routine and zones) and do my own thing…
    Thanks for the ideas!

  14. libby says:

    I used to flylady and did it for a solid 6mths before my mother in law came to stay and found the house was spotless with little effort. however the emails do annoy me but sometimes they are good to give me a jolt…

    need to inspire my girls to help more, im not their slave either… hope it keeps up for you froggy

  15. trash says:

    Good job Missus. Loving the disabusing re: the dishes.

    FYI international readers – ‘jocks’ are boy’s undies.

  16. Kate says:

    I am FAMILIAR with that feeling of bitterness. I try not to resent my sister’s messes too much, because it’s her house too and it’s not her problem that I have a different standard of neatness. But GRAAR! And then it gets to the stage when I resent her for MY messes because I can’t tidy or clean MY stuff properly because her stuff is in the way, and nothing has a place to be put away. I moved the desk out of the living room this week and now all the random bits of paper and books and cds are collecting on the couch. Not ideal.

    One week. One week and then she’s gone and I can spring clean.

  17. Stomper Girl says:

    So hear you on the resentment bit! It was turning me into an evil witch when I was doing all the cleaning – the males would walk into a gleaming house and not take any special care – dumping crap onto clean surfaces or walking muddy feet onto the mopped floor- and it would make me furious. Now that I pay someone to do it I don’t take it so personally. Maybe now that your boys have some idea of what’s involved in the clean-up they’ll take some extra care in the in-between times too? Here’s hoping.

  18. fairlie says:

    This sounds like great idea – except I wonder how the Flylady would deal with a 6 year old consciencious objector? She’s very good at making mess, not so good at cleaning it up. It dements me.

    I checked the link, that Flylady makes a lot of sense.

  19. Stacey says:

    I will definitely be visiting Flylady. I could do with some advice in this area. The idea of making everyone accountable for a zone is excellent!

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