I was re-reading a book called Home Comforts yesterday. The author was a lawyer, but really likes being a homemaker better. She approaches it from a professional point of view.
One of the things I found fascinating was something she said in her early chapters — that when you try to organize your home, you need to decide on what you consider an acceptable baseline.
This isn’t what someone else thinks is an acceptable baseline, but what is okay and makes YOU happy. She comments that one of the things she does that is utterly contrary to what a 1950s-trained homemaker would do is allow her child to keep a project in progress out. Everything else needed to be put away, but while the kid is assembling that Lego Helm’s Deep (I pick that as a fairly involved project) putting the toys away doesn’t include putting away that half-built model in her home.
It was an interesting thread to pull.
I think a lot of people who struggle with keeping their homes without shame do is pick a standard that isn’t THEIRS. They don’t have a baseline that’s okay with them. They just see pictures from magazines and homemaking blogs without giving a single thought to how they actually live.
I struggled with this a lot. The house would get untidy and I’d marathon clean so that it was “perfect” then it would get messy and so on.
My baseline isn’t “perfect” (does that exist outside of a staged home for sale?). I was thinking about that as I was tidying a few things away to dust this morning. I had some random stuff that had piled on the dresser in the past few days. You know, things that are certainly out of place but haven’t reached the “mess” threshold in my mind yet. I had a coathanger, a nightgown, my blood glucose meter and sharps bin, a health pamphlet, my Kindle, a water bottle, and a custard cup I’d been using to have a snack of nuts. Staged for a photograph? No. Able to put away quickly enough that dusting didn’t seem like an overwhelming chore? Oh yes.
It was my baseline. It was acceptable to me. I know that FlyLady urges people to try to keep their homes in such a condition that it’s less than fifteen minutes worth of messy — meaning that you could put away clutter in fifteen minutes or less.
That’s not a bad baseline, either. But you know, you could choose anything you wanted, as long as it’s a standard you thought about. It’s the thinking about that’s important.
For instance… Mail on the counter. Is that okay? For my household, it sure seems to be. In tidying up for my Clean All the Things day, yeah, I did toss and shred some mail and file some stuff to take care of. So, a few pieces of mail on the counter is dandy. It gets taken care of in a timely manner.
What about laundry? Some people have a Re-wear Chair. This is a place they set out clothes that they’ve worn, but don’t want to put back in drawers or a closet. Other people have a rule that if it’s clean enough to re-wear, it’s clean enough to put away. What’s your rule?
The idea, and I really liked it, is to set some Official Standard in your mind. Do dishes have to be washed and put away? Just washed and in the drying rack? At least on to soak? What’s YOUR standard and baseline that’s really okay with how you live?
The UFYH author, Rachel Hoffman, encourages anyone sharing space to think about this and have it spelled out. While she’s right that it’s good for anyone living with someone else, I think it’s also good for agreements with oneself.
I also think that setting the bar too high for whatever you genuinely have time for is counter-productive. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to hit that bar and won’t do anything. I strongly discourage anyone from setting a standard that would appear in a staged shot for a magazine.
The home is a dynamic place. You LIVE there. Setting an acceptable standard that means you could have some judgy person drop in and have nothing to judge is silly, counter-productive, and frankly pointless. The home should be a safe space, and you need to think about what the environment is that makes you feel safe. That’s going to be different for different people.
I was going to include a picture from my own home and decided not to, as it’s not the point of this little musing. What’s the standard that makes YOU happy and comfortable? My house doesn’t count.