Strategies for Maintenance

Clients frequently ask me for strategies to maintain order in their home, especially this time of the year.  We are all trying to regain order for the new year, and our families are inside more than ever with frigid temperatures.  It is one thing to set up systems that look pretty and work when we first set them up.  We can all get behind tossing junk and buying pretty bins – right!  It is entirely different to set up a system that works for a busy family with kids that are not highly interested in helping maintain those systems.  And yes, there is typically one spouse that has a drastically different definition of tidy than the other.  So, how do we set realistic expectations for ourselves and our family to keep our home ordered and running smoothly?

First, let’s look in the mirror.  I see homes where one person (it’s not always the woman!) has an unrealistic view of perfection that can’t be achieved if you have a busy family and keep your priorities in order.   I meet countless families that want their houses to be ordered and running smoothly but are too busy to ever be there.  Managing our homes requires us to be both physically and mentally present for a significant period of time on a weekly basis.   And of course, there are the families that just have too much stuff.  Remember that it doesn’t just take money to buy stuff, it takes time to manage it no matter how organized we are.  Before implementing new systems and strategies carefully evaluate why you think prior efforts have been derailed.

If you are investing time in managing your home, have a reasonable amount of stuff and a realistic expectation of what order looks like I think even the busiest family can maintain an orderly and well managed home with a few good strategies.

This chart provides a basic framework for setting up systems and then working to maintain them with some simple daily and weekly strategies.

Set Up A System Maintain Daily Maintain Weekly

•Everything must have a home  

•Sometimes we need a home for a “category”

•The hub of your home, including the kitchen counters should not be the “home” of anything

•Labels can help keep your family on the same page

•Quick tidy

•Everyone must get belongings to their personal space or its home daily

•Sweep the kitchen floor and wipe off counters & table

•Tidy & sweep mudroom

•Kids’ Rooms: clothes off the floor

•Each family member resets their personal spaces with everything in its place

•Reset whole home of weekly visual clutter, twice a week is helpful 

•Work on one or more “closed space(s)” for about 20 minutes

•Clean toilets & sinks

Without a good system that gives everything in your home a place to belong, it is hard to pick up quickly.  Those “I have no idea what to do with this” items are the ones that derail us the quickest.  Find a home for everything and store very little in the hub of your home.  (think kitchen, living room, dining)  For my family, nothing belongs in the hub of our home except the items our family uses together to eat and enjoy our time together (games and puzzles).  This means that every day you can require each member of the family to take their belongings to their own personal space and all clutter should be picked up. 

I don’t make my kids keep their rooms spotless every day.  And let’s be honest, there are many days that I can’t see the floor in my 16 year old’s room.  But… that’s the freedom and grace I give him to be his own busy person during the week.  However, once per weekend he is required to get his room in order according to mom’s standards.  He still has more “clutter” that belongs on his desk and shelves than I would like but I just require that all of his belongings are put away and well taken care of.  He also has to vacuum and dust his room and clean the bathroom he shares with his brother twice per month.  I clean it at least once a month as well, because he’s 16 and I want my house to be clean when he moves out in 2 years! 

Now I know requiring your kids to pick up daily and clean their rooms well once a week sounds like torture, but I am a firm believer that the real benefits of these habits go WAY beyond a clean home.  Our kids need to learn to take care of their own belongings and be good stewards of their blessings.  Almost every client I have ever worked with has high standards for their kids to work hard at school, sports, music or whatever extra-curriculars they are interested in.  But we also need to teach our kids the life lesson that we must work hard at home too.  We often want to let our kids off the hook at home because we know they are such good students and dedicated athletes or musicians, but we aren’t truly helping them if we have no expectations of them contributing to the efficient management of the home in which they live.

The last, and I would argue most important reason to consistently require our kids to help us maintain order, is that it provides an opportunity at the youngest age and the oldest to teach and reinforce the principle that obeying your parents is not an option.  When our kids learn at a young age that obeying our house rules is a consistent and non-negotiable expectation the entire family dynamic is more peaceful—not just the living room!

By requiring my family to pick up their own belongings each day on the main floor, the spaces I live in regularly are not overwhelming for me to keep picked up and clean.  If picking up at the end of the day meant picking up after my entire family of 5, I would never do it.  Because I just pick up my belongings, do the dinner dishes, wipe off counters and sweep the kitchen and mudroom it only takes 20-30 minutes a day.  

Weekly my family must get their personal spaces in order and help with their laundry.  Remember they have been allowed to manage their own personal space throughout the week, so sometimes this takes a long time on the weekend, sometimes it is super fast.  Let your kids have some freedom for how they manage their own belongings and space, within some reasonable boundaries.  Once a week I spend at least a few hours tidying and deep cleaning our home as well.  Now I’m a weirdo, my ideal Saturday is snow falling outside and me organizing and cleaning my house all day.  I know many of you lead much more exciting lives than that, but reality is… maintaining our homes takes time.  I also spend a couple of days a year (usually after Christmas in January and after summer break in September) resetting larger spaces like the storage room, purging clothes in my closet and kids’ closets and the pantry.

Do a little bit each day, a better job once per week and reset whole systems a couple of times a year.  This will keep your systems running smoothly and your home in order all the time.