I’ve never really found domestic duties to be my forte. Way back when in high school I was the nightly dishwasher and occasionally I was asked to dust and vacuum. Growing up we didn’t have a cleaning routine, just cleaned as needed, and I cleaned whatever it was I was asked to help clean. Looking back, household duties and chores were not a primary concern.
I wasn’t really taught these things… not in the organized/ routine/ orderly fashioned type of a way. It was more of a when things have to get done we’ll do them.
As a roommate in the college dorms I did my share of sweeping the carpet (which means vacuuming in NW Ohio speak), and keeping the micro-fridge tidy. And when I moved into an apartment with a roommate we cleaned the bathroom when it got dirty, and kept our kitchen and living space tidy. But there was no one to tell us that vacuuming should be done at least weekly and that the dishes have to be washed, dried, and put away before bed so you can wake up to a clean kitchen. I don’t think we even had a mop.
Fast forward to living as a newly married couple with a newborn; I was tired and I felt like I could never keep up with anything. I was behind in laundry. I was cleaning dishes just to be able to eat off of the dishes. And finances were so unorganized, we were constantly being assessed late fees because we just couldn’t keep up.
It was during that time that I needed a simple way to remember what I was responsible for. How was I supposed to manage the household if I couldn’t even remember to put the clothes in the dryer?
I found that there are five basic elements to managing a home. These are the things that if you can manage to one day make habits out of accomplishing them then the rest of household management is easy peasy.
If you are going through a season of life where newborns and toddlers are at the center of your world or you’re experiencing a season of chaos or crisis then doing The Basic Five will help to keep your life in maintenance mode.
Think of it like this: “I have a free moment, what do I need to get done today?” And go down the list. Paper, Food, Dishes, Laundry, and Floors.
Paper: This is primarily any paper that comes into the house, like mail. It’s also anything you may need to tend to at your desk, like bills. Keep the paperwork type stuff tended to and that’s one underlying stress that won’t overcome you.
Food: I didn’t have to worry about cooking so much in my young adult life because I worked at a restaurant, subsequently I ate that food, about 5 or 6 times a week. Or I went to the college cafeteria where food was ready for me. As a new mom no longer working, I needed to be the one to prepare the food not only for myself but for my family.
That’s when I learned that we eat everyday (I didn’t have to think about it before). And I learned that knowing what your dinner will be the night before by meal planning will allow your day to be free from thinking about said dinner. Because trying to figure out what to eat at dinnertime with cranky kids and a hungry husband is no fun.
Dishes: We use dishes everyday so it’s natural that this is one of the Basic Five. As I said earlier, I am not a natural at the home upkeep. I learned this trick from my aunt. I realized, when she was visiting with my mom one time, that immediately after every meal she would swoop in and wash the dishes (and it never took up much time). But dishes weren’t a priority, I was too busy visiting to worry about such things.
But after a few days of waking up to a clean kitchen something clicked. I realized that it wasn’t magic. It was a pretty easy concept. Do the dishes after you eat. And you’ll have a clean and tidy kitchen. Nice!
Enlist help from the hubby and kids. Make it a relaxing time for yourself and wash while listening to your favorite podcast or playlist of music. Or race yourself, see how quickly you can clean them, you’ll be surprised.
Laundry: Admittedly, this is my least favorite part of home management. If you know me, you know that my dislike for doing the laundry shows because there are two mountains in my laundry room, usually. One of clean clothes in front of the dryer awaiting their return to their drawers and closets. Another mountain of dirty clothes awaiting their turn in the washer. So, I haven’t quite mastered this, but it is part of the Basic Five because you need clean clothes.
When you are just trying to keep your head above water I understand that it’s so easy to forget that a load went into the wash or there are clothes waiting in the dryer ready to go back to their drawers. Even in regular life when you don’t feel like you’re drowning, it can be tough to remember… especially when it’s not your favorite chore on the block.
But when you keep the Basic Five in mind when you’re thinking “okay, what do I need to do next?” or “what’s on the to do list today?” then things like laundry don’t fall through the cracks. And you won’t have smelly clothes because you didn’t leave them in the washer for two days.
If you make it your mission to fold and put away clothes before starting the next load, then you’ll be a step ahead. Do this one piece at a time throughout the day. It takes five minutes to gather and put one load in the washer. Walk away. The next time you go through your Basic Five list, move it to the dryer. Going through the list again, fold and put away the clothes. Look at the Basic Five list again and you can gather and put another load into the washer. If you keep washing load after load, something will interrupt your flow and rhythm in your day and before you know it: Mount Laundry.
Floors: I would say floors are the least important on the Basic Five list, but still important to be on the list. So if you’re having an especially rough week, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t mop. However, if you have little ones who are crawling and getting into everything, having a clean floor will make things easier.
When I talk about floors being on this list it not only means vacuuming, sweeping and mopping, but doing a “five minute pick up” a few times a day. Often with little ones they leave toys in their path, or dump out the whole box of blocks. It’s just simple maintenance to clear the floor every so often. Of course as they grow they help you to put away their things, and eventually they’ll do it on their own.
The idea of the Basic Five is to keep you moving and to help you maintain the basic parts of keeping house. Go through the list when you have a few minutes. And go through the list in those small pockets of time you get throughout the day. Paper, no bills to pay today… Food, we’re having xyz and the meat is thawing… Dishes, I’ll just wash up these breakfast bowls real quick… Laundry, okay it’s time to move the wash to the dryer… Floors, the kitchen could use a sweeping.
When you’re in that season of little ones (or any tough life season) there is rarely a rhythm that won’t get interrupted and then “mommy brain” (or there’s just so-much-chaos-happening brain) sneaks in to make everything foggy. During these early years of motherhood I had a whiteboard in my kitchen and it listed these Basic Five.
It was my reminder of those things that need to be done daily. It kept me afloat. Eventually, I learned to turn these Basic Five into habits and now that the season of babies and toddlers are gone I can move onto bigger projects… and I don’t have to think about what’s next on the home management to do list.