Now that I’m finally over the hump of the first trimester, I feel like I’m surfacing from a long dream. Just before I found out I was expecting, I was just beginning to feel like Ben was finally getting to the age where he wasn’t so completely clingy and needy and I could finally maybe get into a good groove in terms of housekeeping, etc. Well, I suppose him getting to that point is a signal that perhaps we are getting to the point of being able to incorporate another new person into our family. It seems like the divine plan for me is to never allow me to get too comfortable and settled, too reliant on my own ability to get things in order. Instead, I need constant reminders that I really can’t do it all on my own, I need to turn to Him constantly.
Anyway, I’m over the exhaustion and the nausea is gone (except for the lingering hair-trigger gag reflex). So I’m also trying to shed the sloth that I find inevitably accompanies the physical slump. In giving in to the reality that I can’t do it all, I have to let go of my own expectations of myself. That letting go is such a hard task at the beginning of what I’m starting to think of as my “crisis phase”—the first trimester, the first several moths postpartum. But on the other end of the “crisis” it always takes me a few weeks to realize that my improving physical capabilities are now exceeding my actual accomplishments. I need to raise the bar once more and implement a new set of standards for myself.
In a recent pep talk Auntie Leila suggests that the way to stay on top of housework is to divide one’s house into zones and to dedicate an hour a day on most days to cleaning one zone. (Other housekeeping gurus advocate similar plans; but Leila’s is the most recent I’ve read, so I’m tagging her on it.)
Well, in this stage of my life with constant babies and toddlers and up and down energy levels, I find that the idea of eking out even one hour a day on “most days” is way too intimidating. For now at least I think embracing an hour a day standard would just be setting myself up for failure. So I’ve been trying to figure out what standard will work for me. What can I keep to as a minimum daily requirement that I can stick to despite illness and toddler meltdowns and just plain crummy days? What will work with our current scheduling needs?
I decided that the one thing that will keep me fairly happy with conditions in my house is having every room vacuumed once a week. And so I decided that my new goal is to cultivate the habit of at minimum running the vacuum down the center of one room every weekday. Not moving the furniture or dusting or other cleaning, just running the vacuum.
Just the act of getting out the vacuum and running it doesn’t take very long. A slap-dash job shouldn’t take more than five or ten minutes. I think I can do that on the worst days of low energy )minus, of course, those post c-section weeks when I physically can’t—or should I say shouldn’t under doctor’s orders—push the vacuum.) That simple act should also be enough to jump start me and overcome that initial inertia that is so deadly.
I will tell myself that I can’t get online and check my email until I’ve turned on the vacuum and even half-heartedly attacked the day’s assigned room. Then if that’s all I can accomplish, I’ll allow myself to fall exhausted into my chair and consider that day’s chores done. But if I can do more, then by the time the vacuuming is finished, I will be charged up to actually do that more. I generally find that getting started is the hardest part. Once I actually am moving, I can generally keep going.
So I penciled a rough schedule into my notebook, with the understanding that the actual assignment of specific rooms to specific days may change. I’ll probably assign to Monday whatever room is most bugging me after the weekend. Sometimes that may be the living room, but other times that may be my bedroom or the pantry. I didn’t assign cleaning a room to the days we go grocery shopping, which may or may not actually be Friday. Recently I’ve been doing the shopping on Thursdays and sometimes it slides to other days.. That’s a big enough task on its own. And I didn’t give the bathroom its own day. It will just have to piggyback on another room on a day when I’m feeling up to it. And weeks when I don’t maybe I can get my sister to do it.
Monday: living room
Tuesday: pantry and office
Thursday: kitchen and dining room
Friday: grocery shopping
Notice, I only assigned tasks to the weekdays. Saturdays we often plan family excursions to the farmer’s market or the park or shopping trips to Ikea or Home Depot and such. Often enough that it would disrupt my schedule to plan to have it be a housework day.
This week I began to implement this plan and I know it’s only midweek; but so far it’s been an awesome beginning.
On Monday I decided that the living room looked pretty good as I’d vacuumed it on Saturday. So I started with the bedrooms. But we got a late start and I’d only got through vacuuming the kids’ room when it became clear Ben needed to take his morning nap. I’d stripped the sheets from my bed and the blankets were still on the floor waiting for the new sheets before I put them on. My room is right next to his so by the time I got the bed made Ben was sleeping and vacuuming seemed like a bad idea.
So once he was down for his nap I instead attacked the kitchen floor. I moved the chairs and rugs out and swept and vacuumed then I got a bowl full of soapy water and started scrubbing. Soon the girls joined me. We did all the lower cabinet fronts, the front of the oven and the dishwasher and the lower fridge door. Plus the floor. And the kitchen chairs. Bella has actually got the idea of scrubbing at something until it’s really clean and not just swiping at it a few times, getting bored and moving on to something else like Sophie does. She did a pretty good job wiping down cupboards and wiping down the trash can.
By the time Ben woke up, the kitchen looked great.
Monday I changed the sheets on all the beds, did about six loads of laundry—and even put them away. By the time Dom was home I’d done the dishes and got a great start on making dinner. It was a wonderful start to the week and showed that my plan of just vacuuming one room could really kick start my day. (When I have the energy.)
On Tuesday I vacuumed my bedroom and then did some decluttering in there as well. I put away a lot of clean clothes that had been sitting around in a laundry basket for months. I put away a bunch of sheets that had been sitting in a pile. I threw away some papers, I put a bunch of stuff I’d collected to donate into a bag in the living room. I moved some books to the office.
Then prompted by the cold rainy weather and Sophie’s desire to wear shorts, I pulled a bunch of the summer clothes out of the girls’ drawers and dug out what long pants and shirts I could find. I’m missing a bunch of the 3T clothes for Sophie. I couldn’t find any fall weight dresses for Bella, though I could have sworn I got a bunch from my sister-in-law as my niece, who is a year older than Bella, went though a phase of wearing only dresses last year. I found about two dozen pairs of tights but none of the dresses. So I’ve still got some digging in the shed for the rest of the clothes; but now at least they have seasonally appropriate clothing and won’t be tempted to dress themselves in tank tops and sundresses.
On Wednesday we had story time at the library so I did my first minimum-effort day. I ran the vacuum quickly through the living room, which didn’t need it desperately as I’d done it on Saturday. I also ran it through the dining room just to pick up the crumbs we’d forgotten to sweep up after last night’s dinner.
But, when my sister woke up there was a bad smell in the refrigerator and she decided to do a major clean out. I joined her as soon as I saw what she was doing and between the two of us we sped through it in no time. We took everything off each shelf, removed the shelf and washed it in the sink, dried it and rehung it, then quickly wiped down the jars as we replaced them so they wouldn’t just gunk everything up again immediately. We also took out the drawers and washed them. We tossed out a bunch of icky leftovers and eliminated the bad smell—a combination of old beans, old rice, and old cabbage.
Thursday was my grocery shopping day. I didn’t anticipate getting anything else done around the house. If I get all the groceries put away, that’s my major accomplishment on days when we go shopping. To make things even harder Thursday morning I was completely exhausted. All I wanted to do after breakfast was go back to bed. I even did lie down on my bed for about fifteen minutes, trying to gather enough energy to get the kids dressed and out the door. I’m afraid I lost my temper and screamed at Bella. Oh I get so irrational when I’m tired.
At least putting the groceries away was much easier with a clean refrigerator. For once there was room for everything.
And though no housework was done, I did rise to the occasion for dinner and made a meal that hit a homerun—at least as far as Dom and I were concerned: pan-seared, sesame encrusted tuna steaks (marinated in a mixture of tamari, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, green onion) served with wasabi mayonnaise and sliced of avocado; sushi rice; roasted beets and sweet potatoes; sauteed asparagus. The kids just picked at it—though Bella did finally try a bite of the tuna and said it was good though it made her thirsty—but I thought it was heaven. My best attempt yet at pan searing tuna.
On Friday I’ll vacuum the pantry and office, they are the lightest rooms because usually I won’t even be tempted to clean them. Just run the vacuum and call it a day unless I really feel like wading into a major reorganization. However, if I’ve got a spurt of energy, maybe I’ll tackle decluttering my sewing table. I’d really like to get sewing again.
On the other hand I may end up taking Bella to the doctor. She’s got a nasty rash that I suspect may be poison ivy and it seems to be spreading everywhere. Ick! I’m afraid it might have spread to me too. I’m highly allergic to poison ivy.
Of course, it’s only the first week; but I’m optimistic that I can stay the course because even though this has been a stellar week in terms of what I’ve accomplished so far, I think my expectations are set low enough that I won’t get discouraged by being unable to keep up with the schedule.
Photos taken Saturday Oct 2 by Theresa Scott (my sister, “Auntie Tree”) at C.N. Smith Farm, East Bridgewater