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.
* 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!)