Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Making the Job Manageable

So, you’ve given your house the Laundry Basket Treatment and cleared it of clutter and debris. And you’ve assembled a cleaning basket with all the items necessary to clean. The vacuum cleaner has a clean bag in it, the broom, dustpan, mop and pail are all at the ready…and you just don’t know where to begin. The task just seems monumentally overwhelming and you are tempted to flop onto the sofa with a slab of chocolate and just ignore the whole thing.

There are two reasons for feeling this way: first, few of us were ever actually taught how to clean…we were just told to do it and left to our own devices. Second, contemplating cleaning a whole house…or in some cases, a whole room…can be a frightening experience if you don’t have the confidence that you know how to clean the space efficiently. In other words, if you don’t have a plan, the job looks a lot bigger than it really is!

But there are ways to break even the most overwhelming task into small, manageable chunks that are within your comfort level.

Making a plan, setting your goals
If making a plan seems overwhelming, too, take heart in knowing that the plan doesn’t need to be very specific, detailed, or even comprehensive. There is a simple basic plan that you can use as the starting point of your own: set yourself a series of goals and accomplish them one at a time.

For some people, even this may feel overwhelming. If the idea of making a plan has you thinking “I don’t know how to do that!” then simply make one goal, accomplish it, and then make another one. And the goal you make can be as simple and as small as “dust the blinds in the front window of this room.”

The secret, you see, is to set achievable goals. And the definition of “achievable” is as individual as the person setting the goal. You know the goal you have set is achievable when your gut says “I can do that!” Monitor your feelings: if your mind tells you the goal is achievable but you still feel overwhelmed, then the goal is really too ambitious. Don’t let ideas of “should” or “must” distract you…be true to your feelings and keep reducing the goal to smaller and simpler until you have that “I can do that!” feeling and start there.

Practical matters
Now that you know how to set goals that you can handle, you can move on to the practical matters. The first thing you must do is decide which room you will begin with. You will be most successful if you choose the room that requires the least amount of work. That’s because such a room will allow you to finish more quickly, giving you a feeling of accomplishment much quicker than if you choose a room that needs a large amount of attention. And that feeling of accomplishment is important because it has the psychological effect of making you feel like a winner…you got it done!...which encourages you to continue with your tasks.

Bathrooms and kitchens require a special set of cleaning techniques (which we will eventually cover), so it is best to select something less challenging to begin with. A bedroom, or even an entry hall or closet will be a great starting point, although a study, living room or dining room will serve as well. Choose your room, gather up your cleaning materials, and go to the door of the room.

Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in
You have already cleared the clutter and debris, you’ve assembled your cleaning supplies, and you’ve chosen a room, and you’ve set a goal…so now it is time to actually get going.

The first rules of cleaning:
1. Wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting wet, dirty, or stained. Pant legs should be at the ankle or higher so they don’t drag over wet floors, shoes should be waterproof (like rubber flip-flops, Crocs, or those neoprene gardening shoes). No dangly jewellery, and unless it is waterproof, no watch. It’s a good idea to leave your rings in a safe place, as well.

2. Do dry work before wet. This means you dust and sweep before you mop and polish.

3. Look around the room and choose a task. This will be your first goal, to accomplish that task. Remember to monitor your gut feeling. If you reduce the goal to a small, achievable task and still feel overwhelmed because you feel like the rest of the work is hanging over your head, get a pencil and paper and write down each thing you see that needs to be done. Once they are written down, you have a concrete plan and you are now in control of the work, it is no longer a huge, amorphous undertaking looming over your head. You can now choose something on the list as your first goal, knowing you can choose as many or as few as you want to do in the course of the day. You are in control now.

4. You can only accomplish one goal at a time, so focus on the one you have chosen to the exclusion of others. So, if you have chosen dusting the blinds as your first goal, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the dirty windows you find beneath them…you can make those windows a subsequent goal after the blinds are done (write it on the list if you want).

First decision
Let’s assume your first goal is to dust the blinds in your bedroom. You take a cloth dampened with water (so it will collect the dust rather than scatter it into the air so it can land elsewhere) and with the blinds closed you wipe the slats from side to side. Now, you reverse the direction of the blinds so you can see the other side and, with a clean spot on the damp cloth, repeat the process. Then, just to make sure you’ve got it all, you wipe the horizontal header at the top, you wipe the cords that raise and lower the blinds, and you wipe the wand that you use to twist the blinds open or closed. Done!

You are now at a decision point: you can change to another task in the same room or, if you are feeling confident about dusting blinds, you can go to other rooms and repeat your success. There is no right or wrong choice here, you don’t have to completely clean one room before you move on to another (with the exception of kitchen and bath, which will be discussed later). Some people crave the big satisfaction jolt of standing in the doorway of a spotless room while others revel in the constant stream of little successes. Choose whatever feels right for you, but stick with the task you have chosen so you are on track to accomplishing your goal.

The How-To
So, you’ve made your decisions and your choices, you have a plan and the job doesn’t seem so daunting anymore, but there is just one more little problem…you don’t know how to actually clean. Or maybe you do, but the way you know how to do it is just so time-consuming and arduous.

In the next instalment we will look at some techniques (and plans) for cleaning a room…or a whole house…with the least amount of time and effort expended.

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