Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Secret Weapon

My secret weapon is Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. Shall we say inspiration? Reference manual? Encouragement? Cheryl Mendelson has a “passion for domesticity,” something she kept secret for many years until she decided to write a book about “how a home works, not how it looks.” This book doesn’t have craft projects in it, or  suggestions for interior design. It is an 884 page manual on how to house-keep with sensible directions and scientific and historical background presented with  the wit of someone who knows  that not everyone likes to do housework and who understands that there is more than one  right way to do things.

Last week I was reading Chapter 2, “Easing into a Routine,” (which I’ve never read before despite  having owned the book for almost ten years now). Reading is an excellent way to avoid  doing things you’re not sure you want to do (or are intimidated by, e.g. chores that have been put off for several weeks). But as I finished the chapter I discovered that I felt absolutely inspired and motivated. Cheryl describes the exact experience I’ve been having since I stopped doing housework routinely three semesters ago!

An increasing number of households do housework without any system,  schedule, or routine,   more or less reacting to each situation as it  arises. This makes things harder, not easier. ... In  nonsystematic  housekeeping, chores are tended to only when the resources of one of the  household’s systems are exhausted: ... when it is the dinner  hour and the cabinet is bare; when    dirt and disorder are beyond  tolerating. When you keep house like this, domestic frustrations and  discomfort begin to be felt long before you reach the point where you  decide to do   something about them. ... Moreover, the amount of work  is more than it would have been had   there been daily tending to chores; everything has become worse than it would have been. And worst of all, the only time you get to experience anything like a well-kept house is immediately after the emergency response measures are taken.”

She also described what I have been struggling with since I finished  school and no longer have homework as a priority:

Cleaning, laundry, and other chores are far harder after you have let them go  for two weeks; the energy you must summon to tackle them becomes greater the longer you have procrastinated...

And she offered hope:

But a tired working person is often able to do things that are routine and habitual. No thinking is required; minimal inertia must be overcome.”

She so precisely described my situation and experience that I am amazed! What I particularly love is that she makes it seem feasible to get back into the routine of “systematic housekeeping” and explains how doing chores can be easy and satisfying. You must get the book (at least check it out from the library) and read the first two chapters, I think there would be copyright problems if I tried to quote them in their entirety here.

I started to implement some of her suggestions. After only three days I  can already feel (and see) the difference. Up until a couple weeks  ago I would do whatever chore seemed to need it most each day (depending on my level of energy and motivation). But I often ran into a problem. “If you have no system, you have to reinvent your housekeeping or debate what to do first every time you do it, and the required mental effort is a major obstacle, especially when you are tired.” After I read Chapter 2 I made a schedule for myself with a list of daily chores (e.g. straighten the bathroom, wipe counters) and a list of which larger chores I’ll do on each weekday (e.g. Wednesday is take-out-all-the-trashes day because that is the day we need to remember to take the trash can out to the street. And Thursday is pick up the house day so that Friday can be vacuum-the-house day.)

I haven’t scheduled all of the chores yet, and I am severely intimidated at the prospect of dusting, but the bathroom and the kitchen have looked pretty good for the past three days. I am starting to think the tub needs to be scrubbed, but instead of spending energy trying to decide if I should spend my energy cleaning the tub or vacuuming, I already know what my priorities are. Yay!

I love my secret weapon. It is one of the best Christmas presents I ever got.

Mendelson, Cheryl. Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. Scribner: New York (1999). ISBN: 0-684-81465-X. All quotes from page 20.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Finding purpose

Now that I have graduated from college I am going through a transition. Normally a college graduate’s transition involves looking for a job. But that isn’t what I’m doing. I’m working on redefining myself as a Stay-At-Home-Wife (SAHW) in her third trimester. (This isn’t to say that I don’t think I should be looking for a job, I just don’t have a good sense of what my employment priorities and parameters are yet.)

One of the things I’ve been struggling with is how to be a productive person and a contributing member of the family while I stay home all day. My husband spends more than forty hours a week working to bring home money to pay our bills and to feed me (the hungry, but picky pregnant lady). And he cooks. What am I doing? How do I make valuable contributions with my time too?

Lost Boy often points out that I’m growing him a friend. So one of my main focuses is taking care of myself so that our baby will be as healthy as possible. This is sometimes a major challenge. Eating enough food is often more than I can handle, though I am confident that the food I eat is nutritionally smart. (Lost Boy helps out a lot; he makes me smoothies regularly.) But, let’s not talk about my pre-natal vitamins. I am quite sure I get plenty of sleep, but I know I need to increase my level of activity. Lost Boy and I go for walks, but not every day. This past week I assembled a swim suit and got a community pool schedule so that I can go to the pool (cool water + buoyancy = happy pregnant lady) to stay cool and practice swimming. I still want to incorporate yoga into my activity schedule, but community yoga is expensive and I haven’t found my yoga-at-home niche yet. I’m making progress, but still have a lot to work on.

 Aside from taking care of myself-and-baby, some of my SAHW efforts go toward taking care of Lost Boy. I like to make sure he has clean clothes (especially clean work clothes). I haven’t started ironing his clothes yet, but I sometimes think I should. For example, when I don’t fold the clothes right away and his shirts get all wrinkly... When he is at home (and I’m awake) I try to spend as much time with him as possible (Quality Time is his love language). Now that school is out we are reading books together again. When he is at work he likes it when I call him to read to him or to chat (I need to work on that one). And I try to kiss him often, even when I’m feeling nauseous.

Another way that I am seeking to find purpose is through house work. This goal easily breaks down into chores, but what I really mean is home care. Care of the home. For Lost Boy, a house is just a place to sleep unless I’m there. But for me a place needs to be taken care of (by me) in order for me to feel at home. I haven’t done chores regularly for three semesters now. While my grades were better when I didn’t do chores, I really missed the orderliness that comes from regular housekeeping. I’ve discovered that when you aren’t in the routine of keeping house, the prospect of getting into the routine can be rather intimidating. But it seems like now is a good time to get back into the routine of doing chores. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Less clicking. More Finding.

Lost Boy and I got to be the Official Photographers at my bro- and sis-in law's wedding a little while ago. We took HUNDREDS of pictures. I wouldn't be surprised if we took 1000 pictures. Have you ever tried to sort through that many pictures and decide which ones to post, which ones you like best, which ones to print, and which ones to send to family members? It can be overwhelming.

We've been trying to sort them into some semblance of manageable order, but what we were ending up with were folders within folders containing files with a mixture of useless names like "IMG_348" and "camera2_495." Dividing the pictures into folders labeled "vows," "guests at wedding," "guests at reception," and "cake cutting" helped combine similar pictures into easy-to-find places, but the random file names were bugging me. So was the fact that once we combined images from three different flash cards the numbering system on the files wasn't helpful anymore.

I did a Google search on "how to change multiple files names at once" and discovered that there is a way to rename lots of files in Windows XP all at once. But there are some limitations. I dug a little further and found something wonderful!

Alex Fauland's easy-to-use file renaming program.

I installed it and opened the program side by side with the folder all the wedding pictures are in (right-click on the taskbar and select 'Tile Windows Vertically). I looked at the pictures in thumbnail format so I could see what was in them and then I just dragged and dropped the pictures I wanted to rename into the A.F.5 program window. Then I renamed them useful things like "Bride's Feet in the Grass_01" through "Bride's Feet in the Grass_14", or "Rings_01" through "Rings_11." So now, instead of having three to five folders in the Feet, Shoes, and Rings folder we just have about 50 images, clearly labeled. Sorting by name now puts all the similar ones together.

Less clicking, more finding.