In Other Words, My Baby Steps Homemaking Journey
My homemaking journey has been one of baby steps and backsliding, but along the way, I’ve discovered a few tiny tweaks that have made a big difference in my quest for a happy home.
If you are naturally a neat person who loves creating a beautiful home, this post may not be for you. If “Martha Stewart” is your middle name, you do not need to read on. You may be like my best friend in graduate school who would wake up at 6:00 am to vacuum because she had two cats and couldn’t concentrate in a house with cat hair. She frequently repainted rooms just for the joy of redecorating and regularly purged her home of extraneous clutter. In contrast, I never saw 6:00 am on my clock unless I had been up all night. I also did most of my studying at home, but I had no trouble curling up with a stack of books while dust bunnies frolicked with mounds of clothes and piles of dishes fermented in the sink.
Having a messy house didn’t bother me (or so I thought).
Even though my husband and I bought our own home a few years after we got married, homemaking wasn’t something I really owned as part of my grown-up job description. Things started to change for me when Shara came over to help me reorganize our bedrooms to make room for our second baby. Sometime around Zoe’s birth, I realized that I had been subconsciously waiting for my fairy godmother to appear and magically put my house in order. With a baby and a toddler and my husband working about eighty hours a week, I finally realized that no one else was going to clean my house for me.
Little by little, my mindset toward my home changed.
I started paying more attention to my surroundings and reading books about organizing and homemaking. Over the years, I’ve tried a few different cleaning systems and organizing programs with varying degrees of success, but small habit changes have helped the most.
Tweak #1: Make the bed.
If you google “making the bed,” you will find that happiness experts, habit gurus like James Clear and Charles Duhigg, homemaking bloggers, and even four-star admirals all recommend making the bed each day. I’m pretty sure every single self-help book I have read in the last ten years recommends making the bed, so I don’t remember when I first decided to try it, but I do know that this new habit has stuck with me because it takes less than a minute, and gives me happy feelings throughout the day.
I do not make the bed the way my grandmother taught me or the way they do in the army. No crisp hospital corners. I pull up the sheets, smooth out the comforter and place the pillows at the top. Voila! For the rest of the day, looking at my bed makes me feel like, “Yay, me! I accomplished something today!” Even if the rest of my bedroom is a disaster, the bed is an oasis of visual calm.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, writes that simple habits like bed-making can have a domino effect on the rest of your day. One small positive action can create a chain reaction of positive actions and eventually change your self-identity. For me, making the bed switches my self-talk from “procrastinating girl who doesn’t care because I have more important things to do” to “girl who creates a home with thankfulness and intentionality.”
If you’re not a fan of making the bed, that’s okay. One scientific study suggests that airing out the bed by leaving it unmade kills millions of dust mites and other allergens. If you choose to air your bed out, you can look at it and tell yourself, “Yay, me! I’m decimating allergens!” Either way, making a conscious choice and following through will start your day with one tiny positive action that takes almost no effort and reinforces positive thoughts throughout the day.
Tweak #2: Wash the dishes.
In One Year to an Organized Life, Regina Leeds lays out a plan that will help you systematically organize every room of your house, in addition to your schedule and your finances. It’s a wonderful plan, but it takes a whole year, and I did not stick with it long enough for it to transform my life.
What did transform my thinking is that in each chapter, she identifies two small habits that help maintain each space in your home, and she motivates the reader with the idea of creating a nurturing space. For example, in the chapter on the kitchen, she suggests that after you wash the dinner dishes, you can turn off the overhead lights, but leave on a soft light on the counter, so that if you come back into the kitchen for a snack later in the evening, the kitchen will have an atmosphere that nurtures you.
The idea of a nurturing space really speaks to me. Some of my friends are motivated to create beauty in their homes. For others, the idea of creating calm and order is what motivates them, but it’s so helpful to me to imagine a nurturing space. I am not striving for a perfect space. I’m instead working towards a home that cares for and encourages my family and me.
FlyLady taught me to shine my sink each day, but Regina Leeds helped the habit stick by inspiring me to maintain a nurturing space. So my second tweak is that almost every night, I (or my husband or my daughters) wash the dishes, shine the sink, and clear the kitchen counters because this tiny tweak helps me maintain a nurturing home. In the morning, when I enter the kitchen in a fog of sleep to make my coffee, a clear kitchen counter and sink is the gift my clear-headed evening self gave to my groggy morning self.
Tweak #3: Listen to podcasts. Nourish your mind while you work.
When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I became overwhelmed by the thought of adding another child to our family. I would find myself at the kitchen sink, repeating words like this in my head: “I can’t do this. I’m so overwhelmed.”
In so many ways during that pregnancy and the birth of my fourth baby, God showed me that when I am weak, he is strong. Five years later, I can see that my son Luke is one of the best gifts God has given our family.
Back then, however, in the midst of pregnancy-induced exhaustion and runaway emotions, I needed to fill my mind with better thoughts. I started listening to podcasts while washing dishes, folding laundry, and cleaning bathrooms. Today, I still sometimes find negative or untrue thoughts looping inside my mind when I am in the midst of a mundane task, so I still need this tweak.
Podcasts, audiobooks, and music are wonderful for filling the mind with true and hopeful thoughts. As a wise teacher once said, “The mind feeds on ideas.” Whatever podcasts you choose, I think they need to have enough depth to give your mind something to chew on. Like our bodies, our minds need a varied and nutritious diet.
These three tiny tweaks are not rocket science, huh? They are so small that they take very little effort to implement, and once they have become habitual, they take no thought at all. I could have named this post “The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Homemaking.”
As I write this, it is May 2020. In Ohio, we have been under our governor’s orders to stay home for over seven weeks. My homemaking is in a funk. Normally, we host a gathering at our house about once a month, which is a great motivator for me to mop my floors and put things away semi-regularly. While we have all been stuck at home this spring, my messy habits have re-emerged, and I have let things pile up.
It’s time for me to adopt some new tiny tweaks. In my next post, I will share some mini-but-mighty homemaking tips from friends. In the meantime, please share your favorite tiny habits in the comments!
About the Author:
Anne Ryan lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, four children and two dogs. She loves coffee, reading, and the outdoors.