A Fine Mess: How to Have a Clean-Enough Home Over Summer Break – Alison Hodgson

I awoke at 1:00 the other morning to my niece Grace’s soft voice informing me my daughter Eden was, as they say in the U.K., “being sick.” And boy howdy, was she ever!

My husband, Paul, and I have a team approach on these occasions, and we are guided by our strengths. Because I am usually more patient (when the children are sick) and Paul has a stronger stomach, I extricate the child and tend to all needs, bathing and medicinal, while Paul tackles the mess. Unfortunately, this time Paul was in Australia. Happily, my older daughter, Lydia, was there and lovingly on the spot. I was so thankful to hand over her sister before I turned to the wreckage.

I will spare you the details, but please know that the cleanup was involved, and more than once I fell into frenzied gagging and despair. After I had the first load (of three!) in the washer and everything else scrubbed and sprayed, the room airing and the little girls reshuffled — Grace in with her big sister, Beth, and Eden and her pug, Oliver, in my bed with me — I texted Paul to report the catastrophe. Though I had handled it with Lydia’s help, I concluded, “I think we’re going to have to move.”

Even before Eden’s sickness, we had reached the apex of stickiness combined with sandiness and warmth from moist dog noses pressed against too many windows, dirt tracked in and around the house and molting fur covering every surface despite desperate dusting, Swiffering and sweeping.

Perhaps you have been there too: that point where you reconsider pet ownership, motherhood and life in general; where you wonder — no, let’s face it, you know — you made a fundamentally wrong turn — in everything — but it’s too late to divest yourself of the children and the animals, so now is the time to go hardcore minimalist.

Yes! This is the way to live from now on as soon as you clear out all this mess! But — and you are just being practical here — your house is too far gone. The only solution is to put a For Sale sign in the yard in order to start fresh in another house, which you will keep clean and organized and where you will spend the majority of your time posing artfully with your family in your perpetually immaculate kitchen. That’s the ticket!

Or maybe, you think, it’s time to take up hard-core drinking … in the basement … in the dark … if you even have a basement. If not, you find yourself relieved because you can’t even imagine what a mess it would be if you did.

I know this spiral of horror and despair, because I’ve been down it almost every summer since I became a mother and certainly since becoming a dog owner.

Those of us who are Not Naturally Organized may think our Naturally Organized friends never feel this way, ever, but they do, with two key distinctions:

  • This feeling of panic is triggered much more quickly in the Naturally Organized than in us.
  • The Naturally Organized take immediate action.

Again, it’s as simple and as horrible as that.

Look at this Naturally Organized mom doing a quick pickup.

For those of us who are Not Naturally Organized, the day-in, day-out work of running a home can be overwhelming. Add to that the extra demands of summer “break,” and it’s a lot.

Here are a few suggestions to keep your house running smoothly enough this summer.

1. Floors are foundational. When in doubt, sweep. I can handle a certain amount of disarray, but it feels like all the wheels are coming off when there are grit, sand and dog fur underfoot. We moved into our new house in the dog days of summer and had to wait until the cooling temperatures of mid-September to have our lawn seeded. This meant my kids and the dog were tracking in bright orange clay and sand all day long, and I almost lost my mind.

I try to sweep daily. In the summer especially, whenever I’m starting to feel twitchy, I know it’s time to break out a broom or the Swiffer and attack the floors. It’s my bottom line in every sense.

2. Put away the extras. Did you just return from the beach? Are your bags and baskets dumped by the door? Got back from vacation a week ago and you’re still living out of your suitcases?

This is the line of demarcation between the Naturally Organized and those of us who are decidedly not. The Naturally Organized, no matter how exhausted, will summon the strength to put everything away, right away, because it will drive them mad to leave it.

It’s usually a stick in the eye for those of who live with them. We just want to collapse and relax, but when your vacation has thrown up all over your house, that’s the last thing to do. It’s time to hit it. Call all the kids and have everyone pitch in. Gather all the dirty clothes and take them to the laundry room; put away all the clean clothes and toiletries and return the suitcases to storage. That last one will almost kill you — I know — but doing it will feel great.

Trip to the beach? Hang any wet towels and suits and put away the toys and leftover snacks. If you brought a cooler, be sure to empty it! We Not Naturally Organized folks love to forget that.

It really takes only a few minutes, and none of it requires thinking, just a bit of running around.

eclectic  Tile
3. Create a sacred space. My home is open concept. When you walk in the front door, there is a small entry that ushers you into the main room: an 8-foot farm table straight ahead, kitchen to the left and living room to the right.

Our kitchen is basically a galley with a large island replacing the second wall. The island is the first horizontal surface you find coming in from the mudroom, and I knew it would be ground zero for all the crap our family drags in.

Thanks to respectful requests, outright threats and repeated confiscations, the island is usually clear. The end of our table, just adjacent, is another story, but we’re on a journey, right?

Pick a space and fight to keep it clean and free of clutter.

This kitchen gives you the gist of mine, minus the gazillion dollars for the tile, range hood and built-in refrigerator as well as the large arrangement of flowers, which would not be allowed on my island!

4. Take a break. If you have school-age children, I don’t recommend taking on large cleaning and decluttering projects in the summer — the exception being if you are on an absolute vision quest like I was three years ago.

A poem I have seen on plaques comes to mind (author unknown):

“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait for tomorrow,
For babies grow up we’ve learned to our sorrow,
So go to bed cobwebs and dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my babies cause babies don’t keep.”

The assertion: You have to choose cleaning or your children, and you’d better choose those babies!

I think you can do both. Of course, if you are Not Naturally Organized and generally struggle to maintain consistency in cleaning, you need to pace yourself. This is true whether or not you have children. Take the long view, slowly make new habits and enjoy the long and beautiful days of summer with your children.

Your comment