Sunday, December 16, 2007

House a cluttery mess? Try the Laundry Basket Treatment!

Bet you thought laundry baskets were just for laundry, didn’t you? Well, they actually have an amazing versatility, not the least of which is their usefulness when blitz-cleaning a messy room.

I used to be the queen of the untidy house. With a full-time job, a husband, three kids, an assortment of dogs and cats, a five-bedroom house, and no maid or cleaner, I was housework-challenged. My husband was firmly of the opinion that housework was “woman’s work,” a sentiment eagerly embraced by the boys, and my teen daughter…well, let’s say that if there was a clear path from her bedroom door to her bed (so I wouldn’t impale my foot on some buried artefact while delivering clean laundry), it just wasn’t worth the effort to tangle with her roiling hormones.

With so much house and so little time to keep it, it was an endless chore to keep things picked up. I also tended to get distracted…I would begin cleaning the living room by picking up dirty glasses and cups and toting them to the kitchen, where I would get distracted by a couple of kid’s sweaters on the table which I would carry to their rooms…where I would get further distracted by attempting to collect dirty laundry from the debris-strewn floors. End result? hours spent running from room to room with little bits of the mess, and none of the rooms ever getting tidied up.

I can remember my mother telling me “clean your room!” and being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task and baffled as to where to start. Helping my youngest child, who suffered from ADD and learning disabilities, to clean up his room taught me a few valuable lessons. First of all, “clean up” is too vague: the task needs to be broken down into smaller steps. And secondly, what do you do with something once you have picked it up? If the item in your hand belongs in the kitchen, can you stay on task long enough to take it to the kitchen and return to the room? And how many trips to the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, etc. are you going to make? And at what cost, in terms of time?

I came across the solution to my untidy house quite by accident. Having a mountain of laundry to do each weekend, I had invested in a stack of large rectangular laundry baskets into which I could sort the various loads and easily carry them to and from the washer and dryer. While upstairs gathering laundry from a bedroom one day, I stuck a few items that belonged downstairs into an empty laundry basket so that I could carry them easily back to their place of origin. Pulling dirty clothes out of another room, I spotted some items belonging to the kitchen and put them into an empty basket for easy removal. It didn’t take long for me to take this to the next level, and in a short time, I evolved a system that has stood me in good stead until this day (those children now have teenagers of their own!).

Here's how it works:

Invest in at least three large rectangular laundry baskets: you can get more, but get them in multiples of three. Boxes will work, but they aren’t as sturdy or as versatile and they exude a subliminal message of “storage” to which you do not want to succumb. The ultimate objective is to put possessions away and throw away trash, not to store the stuff.

Now, mentally label the baskets “Here,” “Another Room,” and “Trash.”

Take the baskets to the first room to be cleaned, put them near the door, and begin. Go through the room, starting at the door, and pick up each item that is on the floor, bed, tables…everything that is out of place…and place the items in one of the baskets. If a basket gets full, do not empty it! This will distract you from your task of removing the clutter from the room. Either pile stuff around it or bring in another basket. If an item is too large to fit into a basket, put it beside the appropriate basket. The objective here is to clear the room of clutter in an organized manner, and in such a way that you will not get distracted by other tasks in other parts of the house.

When all the bits and pieces have been cleared away, take the trash basket outside and empty it, returning to the room with an empty basket. Now, take the basket you mentally labelled “here” and remove each piece and put it in its proper place in the room. You will now have two (or more) empty baskets.

Now, go through the “Another room” baskets and sort the contents into the baskets you just emptied. Perhaps you’ll have “Kitchen,” “Family Room,” and “Kids’ Rooms” baskets. Maybe you'll have "Upstairs," "Basement," and "Patio" baskets...mentally label the baskets according to need. Now take those baskets to the appropriate spaces.

Chances are, each of those spaces need the Laundry Basket Treatment, too, so just put the baskets down at the appropriate doors and mentally label them “Here.” Bring in two empty baskets for the trash and things that belong in another room, and repeat the process in each room.

You’ll notice that no dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or other cleaning has been done…there is a reason for that. It is important to stay focussed on the immediate task…removing clutter and restoring order to the rooms. Cleaning, which is actually a different set of tasks from restoring order, can be done after each room has been relieved of its accumulated clutter. Order brings a sense of calm, disorder brings a sense of chaos, and if you are feeling unsettled and anxious, it scatters your energy. Hence the importance of focussing intently on only one task…restoring order to a space through the removal of those things that do not belong in it and putting the remaining items in their proper places.

When your whole house has been restored to order, then it is time to clean. We’ll talk about that next time.

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