Laundry and the Pursuit of Absolute Zero

I have been trying to tidy my house since the week before Christmas. I say trying. I have been tidying my house since before Christmas – I do generally tidy my house on a daily basis, just never enough to keep it looking tidy all of the time, or even most of the time. The week before Christmas I had the following goal: to get all of the laundry done and put away, all of the washing up done, and to have the house in a general orderly way before we went to stay for a few nights at my cousins’ on Boxing Day. What actually happened was that we spent all of Boxing Day morning/early afternoon packing and trying to tidy and in the process systematically destroyed any semblance of tidiness that was left after the Christmas Day “tornado.” We left for my cousins’ house with almost all of the washing up done (small victory); the living room strewn with wrapping paper, toys, presents, sweets and chocolate (luckily the dog was going to be staying elsewhere), and bits of cardboard from opening all the new Hotwheels toys; and all the laundry in the house washed and… dumped in a huge, mountain-like pile on my bed.

Ever since we got back home I have been organising and tidying, as much as is possible with two small children, and pursuing the holy grail of getting the house in a perfect state so that all I have to do on a daily basis is to maintain the tidy, instead of battle the mess. I am not the world’s tidiest person, not by a long shot; I probably fall into the “my house is clean but messy” category. If something looks dirty, I clean it: bathrooms, toilets, floors, tables, kitchen counters, etc. But general clutter piles up around me: laundry, paperwork, toys, random things without a designated home other than “that pile over there.”

I don’t like to live in mess, it stresses me out, but mess seems to accumulate in our house. When we lived in America we had a lovely house with a garden. At times I pine for that house – more spacious than where we are living now in the UK (sans garden) – but then I remind myself of the mess and clutter that accumulated there too, and how I was constantly in a love/hate relationship with the house – I used to think that there was never enough storage, which explained the clutter. I have now come to realise that the problem is not storage, or lack of it, but a combination of too much stuff, a lack of effort on my part (in America my husband used to work and then come home and do the dishes and make dinner – those days are gone, I try a lot harder now), and a lack of rules/systems to maintain a tidy house.

I have been trying to think of a word to describe my new pursuit and the best I can come up with is “absolute zero.” I am not a maths whizz; far from it. I actually want to work my way through a couple of KS2/KS3 textbooks so I can keep up with M when he starts school (I did get an ‘A’ in GCSE maths but that was a long time ago now and whatever knowledge I crammed into my brain has been replaced with a general sense of anxiety when faced with mathematical concepts). So I have no real idea what “absolute zero” means (thinking about it, it may be a science concept instead… something to do with temperature… I could Google it but that would belie a sophisticated understanding of sciencey/mathsey concepts that I sadly do not currently possess). Either way, I have named my attempts to organise the house “the quest for absolute zero.”

It doesn’t seem entirely possible for there to be no laundry at all in my house (L sees to this if nothing else – the laundry seems to have quadrupled since he was born!) but I have, finally, got the laundry to the point where I am doing one load at a time (washing/drying/putting away) so it doesn’t build up. Not a revelation to most people I know, but I have finally realised that it is much easier/less stressful to do this than to procrastinate (my natural state) until the laundry resembles Mt. Everest.

Likewise with the washing up. I am trying my very best to make sure all the washing up is done either before/after each meal so that nothing piles up. Not that I never used to wash up, but there would always be the residual things that wouldn’t fit in the drainer, so now I am trying to keep it to manageable proportions.

I am very proud of my achievement with the laundry (if you had seen the mountainous pile on my bed on Boxing Day you would understand why). I have also cleared out about six bags of clothes/linens and dropped them off at a charity shop. I decided to be ruthless because the house isn’t getting any bigger and more storage was not going to magically materialise, so something had to give. I buy most of my clothes from charity shops anyway so it is not like I was throwing out priceless possessions. This past weekend my husband finally put the “pile of random crap” on the landing up the attic, and we organised our memorable stuff into plastic boxes to protect it from attic mould. I also achieved another victory in the battle for absolute zero – the kitchen table, half of which is perpetually cluttered with anything and everything that people (mainly me) set down on it. Come mealtimes I would just shove this onto one half of the table to there was space to eat, and so the pile grew. The table is now completely cleared off and all members of the household are under strict instructions to keep it that way.

My next task is to sort out the giant pile of paperwork (I started this while pregnant but then L was born and I have not had time for it what with all the other things). I have labelled folders waiting to go. The theory again is to get the paperwork down to absolute zero and then every piece of paper that comes in this door (dog-chewed or otherwise) will. get. put. in. the. right. folder. We have been here many times before (labelled folders are my specialty), but this time I will crack it.

The plan is that by getting the house to a state of absolute zero, I will not have to spend a lot of time to maintain it, and can instead play with the kids and generally enjoy life, rather than looking in despair at the various piles of clutter and wishing life didn’t consist of perpetual tidying and getting nowhere.

For the record, my husband does not expect this from me – he loved me just fine when the house was a mess and has always done at least, if not more than, his fair share of washing up, cooking, and child care. Having said that, the messy house doesn’t stress him out like it does me; I think if we had a game of chicken with cleaning the bathroom it would be a good few months before he thought it needed doing. But he does find it stressful when I get stressed about the state of the house. So I figure if I can come up with a system to manage the house, I will be less stressed and we will all be happier.

We’ll see how long it lasts!

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Burnt Supper

British/American, postgraduate, wife, mother, dog-owner

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