Getting Started On Your Messy House

retrochick.JPGIvy says:

Dangit all, have a few days of confusion, sickness, meetings, and general disarray, and you wake up to what I woke up to this morning: a house that would undoubtedly earn the Home Ec 101 Seal Of Disapproval. Yes, my darling Home Eccers, while I do generally keep my home in some semblance of order, sometimes it gets away from me and I end up with dishes in the sink, sand on the floor*, a puppy playpen in the middle of the living room, overflowing trash cans, and the remnants of some long sessions with the Xbox 360**. Yes, this is what I walked into this morning when I came out of my bedroom.

Now, the easy thing to do would be to retreat to my “writing studio” (aka my garage) and not look at the mess. It would also be easy to think to myself, “I’ll make them clean it up, since it is largely their mess.” The problem with this is, mess multiplies like Tribbles. You’ve got to get hold of the mess before it becomes overwhelming and you really don’t wanna clean it all up.

Does this mean you have to slave after the Xbox sessions? No way. The important part here is to get a foothold into the mess, so when Mr. All-Xbox-All-The-Time gets home, he’ll be able to clean his fair share. The hard part, I’ve always found, is getting started, so let’s take a look at where to start.

First, you need to identify where the mess needs to be cleaned up most- what is the priority? In my house, this was the sand on the floor. Not only is it extremely irritating to end up with sandy feet, but the longer you leave it, the more it gets tracked around and into places where it will be harder to clean up. I first grabbed my broom and swept the sand out of the way of my major walkways and then took care of all the needs of all the living beings in my house. I fed my youngest son, the dog, the puppy, and the kitties. I ran the dog outside. Then I went to work on cleaning up the sand.

A helpful hint, by the way, for people having to deal with sand- get the majority up with your broom and dust pan and then use your vacuum cleaner to get the rest. You could spend all day sweeping with a broom and still not pick up every grain of sand. Sand, I’ve found, is like glitter. Both are insidious and will show up in your house 3 years after you’ve had either in your house. I don’t know how it manages this, but it does.

The next priority is to take care of the overflowing trash cans. You can’t clean house without empty trash cans, so I took all the trash in (and next to) the trash cans out to the dumpster. While I was at it, I also emptied the trash cans from the bathrooms and bedrooms. Might as well make a clean sweep of it while you’re at it.

Once you have the priority items out of the way- and naturally, yours will differ from mine, but go with the things that are bugging you the worst- go for things that are low on the labor scale. For example, I can rinse dishes and put them in the dishwasher and then walk away and let the dishwasher do the work. Same with laundry. Then, if you like, you can take a break. Set yourself a certain amount of time that you will break, otherwise it’s easy to sit forever and let the mess go on. I like to use my timer on my oven to make sure I take the break for the length of time I intend.

From there, clean as normal. Don’t forget the maid’s creed of “top to bottom, left to right.” Now, you might be wondering what I’m leaving for the errant Xboxers to do. No worries. I’m cleaning up their trash and mess, but what I’m leaving for them is other chores. Things they hate to do, but aren’t as obvious as the giant mess they left for me. They’ll be putting away laundry. Scooping cat boxes. (Muahahahahaha!) Cleaning toilets. If they complain, I simply remind them of the mess they left for me to clean up. “Next time,” I’ll say, “perhaps you will remember to clean up your mess from the Xbox sessions.” Will they? Sure, for a couple of weeks, and then I’ll have to do it all over again. But for a few weeks of peace, it’s worth it.

*No, I don’t live by a beach, as much as I’d like to wish I did. Mr. Ivy decided it would be a good idea to buy my youngest son a mini-sandbox, despite my best efforts to dissuade him from this.

**For those who aren’t, ahem, lucky enough to have a teenage boy and a husband who love them some video games, let me tell you what this is like. Picture your couch and end tables covered with half-eaten snacks, soda cans, printed out bits of GameFAQS, blankets strewn everywhere (can’t be cold while we’re killing zombies), popcorn bowls laying on the floor, pillows everywhere…you get the idea.


  1. imeverything09 on September 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I do not have a teen age boy who plays XBOX (he's only 16 months old.) However, my boyfriend Looooooves him some COD and Halo. I admit I like watching him play, and surprisingly he cleans up after himself. We have a problem with dishes being left around, but I do it too. But I so totally get the blanket thing. Of course you can't be cold while killing zombies. Toasty feet, make for a happy man, and a happy man makes a happy girlfriend 🙂

  2. jessica on November 4, 2009 at 3:46 am

    My husband says glitter is the herpes of craft supplies- you think it's gone and then BAM! It's back. Sand is the same way?

  3. Diaper Cakes Becca on February 18, 2009 at 11:12 am

    We recently had the entire family coming over for the 3 year old’s birthday party. We kicked into MAJOR cleaning mode in our house. EVERYONE got in on the action. Laundry was the first thing we got going. Then we dumped all the trash. Bathrooms cleaned. Windows cleaned. Ceiling fans cleaned. Furniture dusted. Play room toys were all disinfected, put away and organized (we’d recently had a bout of colds in our house so we wiped all those down to prevent the little guests from picking up any of those germs!). Dishes washed. Kitchen counters fully wiped down and appliances all shined up like new pennies! Laundry folded and put away. Dishes put up. Floors vacummed (including the edges) and, finally, kitchen floor mopped.

    The boys EARNED their XBox time that weekend….the amount they cleaned was directly proportional to how much they cleaned. This was also helpful because it meant I didn’t have to worry about people stomping on the wet kitchen floor because they were fully immersed in their gaming by that point.

    We do not allow food during XBox sessions (specifically for this reason). If you want a snack in our house….you eat it in the kitchen!

    Once every few days or so I go on a “pitch it” sweep. I do not like junk lying around and I encourage EVERYONE to just throw things away. With five kids we simply cannot hold onto every little piece of paper that comes home from school. The really good stuff gets displayed on the fridge or put in the “save” drawer….everything else gets pitched.

    Also…I have a NEW trick. The boys are growing like weeds so now when I see them wearing jeans that are too short (but I don’t want them to change because they are just playing outside and there is no need to put on new clothes to get dirty)…….I attach a safety pin to the inside cuff of those jeans. THIS way I have the pants marked when I do the wash and I can put them to the side when they are clean and dry…..into the Goodwill pile they go! With five kids it is simply too hard to remember which pair of jeans were riding up on he middle one, etc…..

  4. Snakes as pets on February 17, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I’ve found that if I give myself a schedule to clean one room one day per week things are reasonably bearable.

    Kitchen is the highest priority for obvious reasons. Then the bathroom, next is the living/dining room and finally the bedrooms. Breaking it down to spending 10 or 15 minutes per day on one room at a time seems to keep things relatively tidy.

  5. Judith on January 23, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Priorities! Yes! What a good idea!
    Okay, so I have about 30 minutes, so I’m heading to conquer:
    1. declutter the coffee table
    2. put all shoes, etc. on the steps in their owners’ rooms
    3. unload dishwasher and reload with breakfast dishes
    4. empty overflowing newspaper recycling box
    5. put all non-junk mail, now on dining table, in their slots
    That’ll make it look neat, if not clean. Clean I can get to tonight after my meeting.
    Thanks for your honesty and your encouragement, Ivy.

  6. Stephanie'sMommyBrain on January 23, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    The house fairy rant is hilarious! Love it!

    The only thing worse than glitter and sand is sand with glitter in it in the hands of a 2 yr old.

  7. kv on January 23, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Hey! How’d you know I have a messy house??? LOL I’m a full-time student with two teenage boys and 2 very big labs!

    Thanks for the info.

  8. Mom of three on January 23, 2009 at 8:20 am

    You need to read my post on killing the house fairy.

    After I had my little house fairy killing rant, they have done a much better job of keeping the house picked up and clean. It needs cleaning today, so I will probably do that tonight. Haven’t done a lot around here this week because it’s been too dang cold in the evenings. When is spring coming?

    Which reminds me. #3 and I are getting up a road trip. If that dang groundhog sees his shadow, he’s going to be in serious trouble. You wouldn’t happen to have a good groundhog recipe would you? 😉

    I have had enough of winter.

  9. Keter on January 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Ivy, I sure hope your “writing studio” is heated!

    Prioritize, prioritize…since I have a husband, three dogs, a cat, two parakeets, and usually at least one house guest, there are many days in which the mess they create is greater than the number of hours (or minutes, if I’m really against the wall with work-work) I can spend cleaning up. So I have created categories for ranking messes:

    1. Will it make anyone sick? (really serious biohazards)
    2. Is it causing damage? (leaky pipe, something that will leave a stain)
    3. Is it unsanitary? (not an immediate hazard, but will turn into one over time)
    4. Will it cause collateral damage? (sand, lost mail, mold)
    5. Is it in my way? (dishes in the sink, full trash cans, stuff on the floor)
    6. Will it cause me to be late? (this can be a lot of different things – consider the things that have made you late in the past, like wet pantyhose or a lost cell phone)

    1s and 2s will get done if I have to lose sleep to do them.
    3s and 4s will at least get a stop-gap measure applied to them. (quick wipe with a disinfectant, swept into a corner, gathered into a temporary and easily identified cache)
    5s and 6s are maybe partially dealt with, but sleep or bathing may be a higher priority

    On really bad weeks, I sometimes have an entire weekend of nothing but catch up, but at least we stay functional in between. And no, beyond taking out the trash and hauling in firewood, I can’t delegate. :o(

  10. Angela on January 22, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I have a computer gammer… I so know where you are coming from, ours is just all over the desk.

    I usually have to get my laundry done before I clean, It just seems all over the place untill it is all washed, then it is usually ver easy to clean the rest of the house.

  11. Would-Be Housewife on January 22, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Your puppy is adorable!

    My most irritating cleaning thing is socks. My husband leaves his socks everywhere! No matter how many times I check to make sure I have them all before starting the wash, I still find one lone sock after the laundry is finished (under the couch, behind the fridge, kicked behind the toilet). I swear, if I ever die and go to hell that will be my punishment, picking up socks the rest of eternity.

  12. Taylor at Household Management 101 on January 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I agree, washing clothes is really a simple step, because you just dump them in and walk away, as I talked about in my blog post about how to wash clothes (click on my name for the link).

    Well, it is a bit more complicated then that, but not too much. I like chores like laundry where I can get it started and then move on to something else while it continues working for me. That way I feel like I am multi-tasking, but I’m really getting to focus on just one thing at a time.

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