Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Organizer

I just put the scheduled last load of laundry in the dryer, made sure the planned chili beans were turned on to cook for supper, and reserved the library books for us to pick up next week for the following week of school. In a few minutes I'll set us all onto our list of afternoon chores.

I'm not sure I can handle this level of organization.

For most of the past, my approach to domestic duties has been:
1. Is there food to eat?
2. Is there anything clean to wear, should need arise?
3. Then go to bed, finally!

Over the last couple of years that stage has gradually faded, but with drastic life changes happening every six weeks or so, I've stayed entirely on the defensive. However, I now find myself with a house to run, children old enough to hire, and a lack of any dramatic life-changing events for over a month! It is time to try being organized.

I don't like reading about other people's organizational ideas. I find this advice usually written by two kinds of people:

1. People who are so naturally organized that they have absolutely nothing to say to those of more random inclinations. I remember reading one book prattling about the need for customizing your plan to suit you, "After all, some people think dusting needs to be done every day while others think once a week is sufficient." Um, yes. Or perhaps, once a year, right before putting up the Christmas decorations.

2. People who are somewhat random, but who have forgotten that the main reason they are so much more organized than they were ten years ago is that their children are ten years older than they were ten years ago. The laziest teenager has nothing on the mess-generating capacity of a toddler trying to be helpful.

Thus, people will assure you that if you just do a little bit every day, things will never get out of hand. This may be true for some people. It is not true if you have two three-year-olds. It's definitely not true if you have a tendency to say, "Oh sure, why not?" to children's ideas of what to do and only later realize that you have just officially endorsed the plan to paper the entire house with catalog cut-outs. A house with small children goes from neat to out-of-hand in three minutes flat.

And the trouble is, if I'm following a real housekeeping schedule and *trying*, I actually get annoyed by this. If I'm just waltzing along and cleaning when I feel like it, I don't really care that I never quite get all the way to neat. If I mop for an occasion, then the floor is mopped for that occasion and we can all stay out of the mud puddles until the occasion is over and then mud away. If I mop because it's Mopping Day, then I suddenly turn into a neat freak who wants to duct-tape the children to the ceiling where they won't touch anything.

Which is another reason why I don't follow other people's organizing advice. At least if I make up my own housekeeping schedule, I can have all the fun of designing a schedule. Planning is something I'm good at. Making beautiful charts. Lining everything up. It's innocent fun, and so what if I never follow it? Whereas if I followed someone else's plan, I'd miss out on the only fun part and move straight to feeling guilty.

There really is only one thing that's holding me to a schedule thus far, and that is that it's easier and more fair to get children to help if there's a definite plan for them versus Mother suffering from sporadic bouts of wailing and guilt-tripping, interspersed by letting them run wild.

After considering the different schools of thought on Children and Work and Money, we decided to come up with our own system that would make things as complicated as possible. So they have a baseline allowance that they get just for existing, and they also have jobs (mostly pertaining to meals) that they have to do if they want to continue to exist. Then they have jobs they can do for hire, if they want to make enough money to actually do anything with, things that add to the niceties of life like folded clothes and clean floors. But to keep these jobs available to be done, I have to make sure the prerequisites are in place--that there actually is clean laundry to fold in manageable quantities, and that we can locate precisely where we last left the floor. Which means sticking to the schedule.

Some are born organized, some achieve organization, and some have organization thrust upon them. When the children leave home, I'm going to sweep the floors when I *feel* like sweeping the floor, and not before!


Wendy said...

Absolutely true, every word!

the Joneses said...

If you ever wrote a book on organizing, I'd buy it. Assuming you could ever find your notes to write, and assuming I could remember to buy it when it came out.

Related to Organized People #1 are the people who simply love creating organizing systems. They buy dozens of baskets and make hand-lettered tags for each one. They color-code their clothes hangers. They don't realize that systems don't mean fun and games to everyone, and by everyone, I mean Me.

-- SJ

Rachelle said...

I am naturally inclined toward organization except where housework is concerned. So while I was organized from the beginning of a semester and never completely missed that a paper was due (unlike my classmates who would demand the professor remind them of deadlines) I tend to fall apart at running a house. (This is me: "Mother suffering from sporadic bouts of wailing and guilt-tripping, interspersed by letting them run wild.") So thanks for this.... Someday, I say, it will be easier. And I have a daughter who likes to organize cupboards.