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  • The Household Control Journal – Baby Step #1: Gather as you go

    I first learned the concept of a “control journal” from Flylady, who recommends making one for your daily routines to help get you and your home organized. I haven’t made one of those yet, but I’ve started making a different kind – one that has all the information my husband would need if something happened to me.

    Since I’m the “Chief Family Officer,” it probably comes as no surprise that I manage most of our household. I pay the bills, manage our investments, register the kids for their activities, and so on. My husband is well aware of all aspects – that is to say, he knows we have various accounts, but doesn’t know the various passwords and logins I’ve set up.

    So a household control journal is my way of organizing all of this information – bank accounts, bills, investments, school stuff, activities and anything else my husband would have to hunt for if the unthinkable happened.

    It’s an overwhelming project, and one I’ve put off for a long time because of that. So I’m starting with baby steps (another Flylady concept), and a very doable first task: Gather information as it crosses my desk or desktop.

    As I file bills, or log in to pay them online, I enter the relevant information into a word processor document on my computer. A spreadsheet might be better but it’s more complicated to set up. We’ll see how it goes – I may end up transferring the info to a spreadsheet later, but for now, the simple text document is working. At least I’m making some progress on my control journal. My goal is to have it done by the end of the year, and then I will update it annually.

    And hopefully, we’ll never actually need it.

    Daily Worth
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    My Housecleaning Strategy for 2012

    In the middle of last year, I shared my latest housecleaning system, which involved a list of tasks that were to be completed weekly, monthly, or annually. The system had been working well for me at the time, but it’s failed to be a long-term solution for me.

    So I have new plans for 2012. The main one is to do one weekly cleaning task per day – something like cleaning a bathroom, mopping, etc. My theory is that this should keep the house in pretty good order most of the time, especially since I’ll keep up with my weekly home blessing hour, which will take care of things like vacuuming.

    The other part of my strategy comes into play with my 52 projects this year. Some of my weekly projects will involve decluttering – not only will the house feel better with less stuff in it, it will be easier to clean. Also, as Flylady frequently points out, you can’t organize clutter. Other weekly projects will involve the “bigger” housecleaning tasks, like steam cleaning the carpet and cleaning the blinds in each room.

    I’m optimistic that this two-prong strategy will get and keep my house in company-ready condition at all times. (I’ll give you an update in a few months to let you know how it’s working out.)

    Working on my home instead of shopping

    These last few weeks, I’ve been feeling reluctant about going shopping, even when the deals are good. I finally realized that I didn’t like the idea of bringing more stuff into the house, even when it’s stuff that I know we will use, when I feel like there’s too much stuff in the house already.

    So I’ve been concentrating on getting my house in order and I feel better for it. In the last week, I’ve filed three months and shredded three bags worth of papers. I’ve thrown out stuff we don’t use. I’ve scrubbed my foyer floor and gotten it cleaner than it’s been in years.

    I keep looking around for more stuff to get rid of, but a lot of what I see is stuff that needs to be used up. So that’s part of what’s keeping me from wanting to shop too – we already have so much, and even a rock bottom price isn’t enough to lure me into a store. Pretty much all the shopping that I’ve been doing has been for perishables, or to replace things that we’ve used up.

    I don’t know if this is a cyclical thing or if I’m going to feel this way long term now. Either way, though, I’m okay with it, even if it does end up costing us a little more money in the long run. I’ll always have some extra stuff around, and maybe once I’ve gotten rid of stuff, I’ll find that I have a greater storage capacity.

    The important thing, though, is that I want my home to be a peaceful haven. And if that means not stocking a lot of extra stuff, then I’ll keep my shopping to a minimum.

    Prepare for the weekend with a Weekly Home Blessing Hour

    The most valuable thing I’ve learned from FlyLady is that I don’t have to clean my house perfectly to make a difference. One of the ways FlyLady teaches this lesson is through the Weekly Home Blessing Hour, which is “the time FlyLady spends slipshod cleaning her home” by vacuuming, dusting, mopping, polishing mirrors and doors, purging magazines, changing the sheets, and emptying the trash.

    My favorite part of this is the vacuuming because, as she puts it, you only vacuum the middles – i.e., the middle of the floors. “Just the middles” has been my mantra more than once when I haven’t felt like vacuuming.

    FlyLady does her Weekly Home Blessing Hour on Mondays; I’ve been trying to get in the habit of doing mine on Fridays, so that my house is ready for the weekend, which is when we spend the most time together in it as a family. My habit is very much a work in progress, but I try to at least vacuum and clear the floors and tables. I find that this makes the house as a whole look and feel clean, especially when you first walk in. And that’s always a good feeling.

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    My New Housecleaning System (Work in Progress)

    Ever since our oldest child was born, I’ve struggled with the housecleaning. I can keep our house clean enough, but the house never feels really clean to me. I neglect anything that’s not day to day, like the blinds, the baseboards, etc. And I struggle to get all of the day to day done, like the vacuuming, the bathrooms, the kitchen floor, etc.

    The only things I really have a handle on are the laundry and the kitchen sink. The laundry, because I spend enough time at home to do it all. And the sink, because I’ve never been the type to let dishes pile up overnight, and because of Flylady‘s first lesson of housecleaning: Shine your sink.

    I’ve mentioned Flylady before as someone who gives great advice on cleaning your house. I get a little put out by all the product pushing they do in their daily emails (testimonial after testimonial about how wonderful their water bottles and scrubbers are). But I read the emails regularly because their basic premise is sound and inspiring. I love the message that housecleaning done imperfectly still blesses my family, and there are helpful tidbits that I pick up on.

    Like this one: A couple of months ago, there was a note from a “Flybaby” who said that she never knows what she’s going to feel up to doing when she gets home from work, so she keeps a list of her weekly cleaning chores and crosses them off as they get done.

    I thought that was brilliant – and so in the last few weeks, I’ve created my own list. There’s a section for weekly chores, like vacuuming, the bathrooms, etc. There’s a section for monthly chores like more detailed vacuuming (with the hose), a donation trip to Goodwill or the Salvation Army (decluttering!), scrubbing the dish rack, etc. And there’s a section for less frequent chores like oiling my wood counter tops (twice per year), cleaning the blinds in each room, etc.

    I printed off the list and slid it into a sheet protector which I taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet (I don’t really need visitors knowing that I haven’t cleaned the blinds in the family room yet this year). I use a dry erase marker to cross off activities, and I can wipe the marks off as needed (weekly, monthly, and so on).

    This system is working for me because I can see what’s been done and what’s left to be done, and I really enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off. Plus I don’t have a nagging feeling in my head of “I need to do that” – it’s on the list and I’ll get to it.

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    Ten Tips for Decluttering Your House

    As I mentioned last week, I’ve been decluttering like crazy. But the wonderful thing is, I haven’t driven myself crazy doing it. Instead, I’ve embraced the Flylady tenet that you can do a lot in a little bit of time, and that you don’t need to be perfect. Here are some concrete tips that I’ve been following that have helped me get a lot done:

    1. Start small, and keep it small. I want to declutter my house from top to bottom, but that’s an overwhelming task. What’s manageable is decluttering one shelf, one box or one drawer at a time. Even one file at a time, which is how I’ve been going through my filing cabinet. It also means that I can declutter even when I have only five minutes to kill before I leave the house.

    2. Plan ahead on how to re-organize. Planning ahead will help you figure out what to keep, what to toss, and how to arrange the space as you purge.

    3. But don’t get caught up in perfectionism. Sometimes you just can’t figure out what the space should look like, or how it should function as you’re working on it. And that’s okay. I’ve been decluttering boxes by pulling out the things that I know I can get rid of. Since I don’t yet know what I’m going to do with the stuff that’s left, I just put it back in the box and stick the box back where it was. Eventually, I’ll figure out what to do with that stuff and it will be easier to put away because there won’t be unnecessary extras that I have to weed out.

    4. Use three groups: Keep, Donate, Toss. As you purge, separate your things into three piles: Keep, Donate and Toss. The Keep pile should be put away as soon as you’re done purging, even if, as I just said, it goes right back into the space. Keep it out of the way for now and find a permanent home for it later if you need to. The Toss pile should find its way into the trash bin immediately. For the Donate pile, you’ll need to find a system that works for you.

    5. Don’t procrastinate on the donating and tossing. As mentioned above, the Toss pile should leave your home immediately. I keep the Donate pile around for a while until I can create an itemized list for tax purposes, but I’ve learned not to wait too long or the Donate pile itself becomes an energy drain. If possible, plan a regular monthly or weekly run to Goodwill, or schedule a pick up so you have a deadline.

    6. Set boundaries on what you’re going to keep. Before you start purging, decide on the reasons something makes it into the Keep pile. Among the questions I ask are: Do I need this for legal reasons? (E.g., tax documents should be kept for at least seven years.) How likely will I need this? (I have a bunch of kitchen gadgets that I may not use often but will definitely use again, which makes them keepers.) Can I get another one? (I keep only a few extra towels and sheets, on the theory that it’s easy to get more if I end up needing them.) How many do I need? (I finally realized that I don’t need a hundred unmatched card envelopes!)

    7. Do little projects when inspiration strikes. On the spur of the moment, I have taken fifteen minutes to clean out dresser drawers, a box on my desk, a book shelf, etc. And I felt great afterwards.

    8. Shred as you go, or have a place for paper clutter. I am purging a lot of paper clutter, much of which needs to be shredded because it contains personal information. After Alex was born, I started keeping my shredder in a closet for safety reasons, so now I have a box under my desk for papers that need to be shredded. Every so often – preferably when the kids aren’t home – I plug in the shredder and shred a bunch of papers at once. It’s not a particularly fun task, but I can do it while watching TV, and it feels good to get all of those papers out of the house.

    9. Reward yourself. It always helps to have something to look forward to, so whether it’s sitting down with a cup of tea and a magazine, or buying something you love for your newly decluttered closet, plan to reward yourself when you’re done.

    10. Keep the end in mind. Having less stuff means your house is easier to clean, you can bless others with what you no longer want, you have less stress, your house is more comfortable and cleaner for your family, etc. I’m also finding that it makes me think twice about buying more things – even things that we will eventually use, like toiletries. I have a good stockpile thanks to The Drugstore Game, so I’ve decided that I can wait for absolute rock bottom prices (which often means free) on just about everything.