Secret Supermum | How To Keep The House Tidy When You Work Full Time

Wednesday 14 February 2018

There’s never enough time for everything. That’s my overwhelming feeling about combining motherhood and full-time work, like I do. Something is always falling behind. It's a constant process of playing catch-up and trying to find compromises and solutions.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it's that there is such a thing as ‘work-life balance’ - but that it isn’t a steady state that you reach one day, like the summit of a mountain. It's a constant, ongoing back-and-forth shuffle of micro-adjustments and trying things that don’t work - or sometimes do.

Some days you feel like you’ve got it nailed. Other days everything is a failure. And learning to accept that ebb and flow can be a significant challenge when we’re all fixed on this mythos of ‘having it all’.  You can have it all - just not all the time.

Take the fleeting moments of victory when the tides are in your favour and block out the days when you missed that report deadline, your toddler point-blank refused to get dressed and there’s yoghurt smeared all over the sofa. It's the only way.

Having said that, there are some practical tips that work for me - and perhaps will work for you too. These I’ve come across through a combination of internet research, asking other mums who seem to have their act together, and trial and error myself.

So I’ve decided to run a mini series of posts on some aspects of it that are interesting - how to keep up some kind of beauty routine, a half-decent wardrobe and a house that isn’t total chaos while also catering to the demands of two CEOs - the one in the boardroom and the one in the highchair at home.

First up, how do you run a reasonably clean home when you work five days a week and have a small child or three hellbent on creating as much chaos as physically possible? Here are my tips:

Do The Double

Like all the best ‘hacks’, this one is incredibly simple. But when I read about it I thought ‘Of course! Why on earth did I never think of that?!’.

My problem is mainly that between working, blogging and parenting, the time I have for cleaning is minimal. I don’t want to spend loads of time doing it in the evenings, because I’d much rather be spending time with my little boy. I don’t want to do it at the weekends, because they are for family time and relaxing.

But when you double up, things get much easier. 

The real big secret with cleaning is to do it little and often, rather than saving it all up for ‘when you have time’ (pro tip: you will literally never have time). So I’ve started keeping ‘go boxes’ - little plastic boxes with cleaning supplies appropriate to that room - in the room itself rather than all under the kitchen sink. So in the bathroom, I have cleaning spray, bleach and mirror/glass cleaner. Then, while Theo is happily splashing around in the bath, I whip out my go box, and spend less than five minutes on one job - cleaning the sink, say. I never do more than one, but I do one every night - sink one night, toilet the next, shower the next, bath the next.

Everything stays clean, I don’t miss out on Theo and I’m just using dead time to stay on top of household jobs. The same can apply in any room that we go into - I'll pick one cleaning or tidying job and spend no more than five minutes on it.

Handily, that is generally about the length of time Theo can entertain himself before losing interest or wanting Mummy. And I never feel as if I spend ages cleaning, either. Magic.

Never Go Empty Handed

If your house is anything like mine, then it’s haunted. Not by a ghost, but by seemingly endless trails of stuff  being where it shouldn’t be. Discarded shoes waiting to be returned to the wardrobe, bottles of nail polish, toy cars, random paperwork...there’s no end to it. And all this stuff is waiting - either to be ferried upstairs or down.

So I’ve made a habit - and it has to be a habit, so you can do it without thinking - of never going either up or down the stairs in my house without taking a pile of stuff with me. 

It could be the week’s dry laundry, or a load of dirty laundry for the machine It could be some of Theo’s toys or the endless amount of shoes that gather in my hallway. Just never to go up or down  empty handed is the aim.

My house has three floors so it can be a bit of a mission if you’re at the bottom and something needs returning to the top! Again, it's very simply but it drastically reduces the untidiness of things hanging about on floors where they have no home.

Project Black Hole

Every so often, but on a regular basis. I like to make time for a ‘black hole’. You’ll have several in your own house, and I have some usual suspects in mine.

There is that drawer in the living room, or that one kitchen cupboard. The place where old pens go to die and random bits of paper congregate. Or it could be that hook that harbours all the tired old coats no one wears anymore. Whatever it is. It needs time set aside once every few months to tackle it.

Cut The Clutter

The less stuff you have, the less stuff there is to tidy. I used to be very much a hoarder as a child - but as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to love a good clear out. There is literally nothing like the angelic feeling of utter pureness you get when you’ve had a good purge and everything has gone. It’s energising - and the more you do, the easier it becomes. 

Not to get too deep, but I think it all stems back to when my parents got divorced. With one moving hundreds of miles away and the other downsizing, I had the task of sorting out my childhood bedroom, and there was no longer the option for hanging on to too much sentimental stuff or things I’d outgrown.

The thought of having to throw things away terrified me, but once I’d actually had to do it, I realised I quite enjoyed getting rid of things. Objects no longer had the same power over me. 

And although I still have my weaknesses (I am a makeup hoarder extraordinaire….), I’m not afraid to get biblical once in a while and clear the decks. A few of my best tips would be:

Keep an ‘unsure drawer’ somewhere in the house. If you come across things that seem to exist in a state of limbo - you can’t decide if it’s going to come in handy or if it can go - it goes in the drawer. If you haven’t looked for or thought about it in six months? It's safe to say it can go.

Similarly, the ‘hanger hack’ is a super simple way to pare down your wardrobe. Turn everything in your wardrobe so the hangers face the wrong way. Each time you wear something or hang it up after laundering, hang it back the right way. Again, after six months it will be obvious what you aren’t wearing, and you can donate or recycle it - or sell it on. There are a couple of rare exceptions, such as things that are only for the depths of winter and it's summer, say. But usually this is a pretty good guide.

Have a pre-Christmas clutter session.  This time of year its a prime offender in our house, what with the influx of kids toys taking over every available surface. Have a pre-emptive strike with a November clear out. You get to give away toys that another child might love, and clear space for Father Christmas to drop some new ones off at the same time.

Make Tidy a Family Routine

Tidiness has to become a habit for it to work - something that you don’t think about, and just do on autopilot. The good news is that habits can be learned - and taught to children as well.

Again, a few simple ‘live by’ rules save a lot of trouble - I don’t leave the house in the morning without doing the dishes and wiping down the kitchen surfaces, and I don’t leave the kitchen in the evening after making dinner without doing the same. Because there is literally nothing more depressing than piles of dirty dishes.

I don’t go up to bed at night without spending three minutes straightening the living room, and I don’t leave the bedroom in the morning without making the bed.  This means that the house is always just about ticking over, and nothing ever gets too far out of hand.

If All Else Fails…

Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Those odd mornings where it all goes nuclear and the above habits go out of the window. But, y’know, 80:20 rule and all that. Be kinder to yourself. Things aren’t perfect all the time - and that’s okay. In fact, it's good, because it's a sign that you really are a human and no one has secretly downloaded your thoughts and memories and put them into a lifelike robot (sorry, a little bit of a tangent there).

It’s also okay to get help if you can afford it. When I go back to work after I have my second baby, if it's full-time, I fully expect that one of the ‘luxuries’ of having two salaries coming in will be the ability to pay someone to come in once a fortnight and clean the place, so that I can just do little top-ups.

I also know that, if it's been ‘one of those weeks’ - work has a big deadline or kids are ill - it's going to be messy. Just as long as it doesn’t stay that way, it’s cool.

1 comment

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