When I was first married, a good friend invited us over for Shabbos. Nechuma works multiple jobs, has six children, and always produces the most lavish Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. When I asked her what her trick was, she told me: “A house always looks nice as long as it is clean.” I took her words to heart, and now, with my own growing family, a full time job and numerous social obligations, I manage to keep my house clean and presentable without the help of a cleaning lady.
How is this possible you ask? It’s simple. I have a cleaning schedule and I stick with it.
On Motzei Shabbos I clean up from Shabbos – polish the silver if necessary, load the dishwasher, and change my linen. On Sunday, I clean all the bedrooms, the upstairs bathroom, vacuum and empty the dishwasher. Wednesday is for cleaning the living room, dining, mudroom and shopping for groceries for Shabbos. If time allows, I also put up the soup. On Thursday I cook for Shabbos. On Friday, I set the table, clean the kitchen and bathroom and change the kids’ linen.
This schedule works for me – based on my work schedule and other responsibilities. Some days I don’t get to a specific task, so I give myself two days to do each chore. This schedule only works if I maintain my daily general clean up: do at least one load of laundry, fold clothes and iron as necessary, clean up after breakfast and dinner, and prepare for the morrow. One of my pet peeves is a dirty bathroom, so I keep cleaning supplies near each bathroom and clean them every other day or so.
To figure out a schedule that works for you, take into account your own household needs and preferences. Write down what needs to be done minimally once a day, once a week, and once a month. Then, if you have time or extra help, keep a list of things (sort baby clothes, go through toys etc.) that are waiting to be done and tackle them. Look for shortcuts wherever possible: keep multiple sets of cleaning supplies near easily dirtied areas and if you don’t have a dishwasher, consider using paper, even on Shabbos. Have three or four hampers (whites, darks, towels and dry cleaning) set up in one room – spray stains before the clothes go into the hampers and teach your kids to separate and spray their own clothes.
Don’t forget, there are other people who live in the house with you – so delegate as much as possible. Although it may seem easier to do a job yourself then ask your husband to do it, persistent reminders will eventually get the job done. I like to send a daily text – “passports plz” – until the deed is done. It took two months, but eventually, our passports were renewed.
Get kids in action! Use when/then incentives. For example, when all the toys are picked up, then we can go play outside. Children as young as eighteen months old can be taught to put toys away and put dishes in the sink. My nineteen-month-old son can wipe up his own messes (with help, of course). My four-year-old can set the table and put away clean dishes from the dishwasher. She also makes her own bed and puts away her clothes. When giving children a task to complete, clean with them and lavish tremendous amounts of positive reinforcement such as hugs, kisses, profuse thanks and articulating how much nicer the room looks now that there is so much room to play.
My daughter has this habit of sending me out of the room to “make me a surprise.” She puts away all the items that are out, makes beds, folds pajamas and fixes whatever else needs straightening. All this from the tender age of three and half! When I asked my sister, a therapist, if this OCD-like behavior was something I should be concerned about, she asked me what my reaction is after the surprise. “Well” I said, “I swing her around in a huge hug, we do a clean-up dance, everyone claps for her, and she gets a treat.”
“In that case” my sister said, “her behavior is perfectly normal based on your reaction, because you encourage it with positive reinforcement.”
Apparently, kids will do anything for attention!
As the Marvelous Midos Machine DVD playing on repeat in my house sings, “Don’t push off for tomorrow what you can do today.” Every night, before retiring for some much needed relaxation, look around and see if there is one more task you can do in five minutes or less, such as cleaning the stove or washing the dishes. Five minutes here, and another five minutes there, and before you know it, your house is clean.