Help Me

Everyone wants an Alice. Mike and Carol Brady had a lot of kids and responsibility, sure, but they had Alice. Not only did she cook and clean, but she co-parented those Brady kids while simultaneously carrying on a heated relationship with Sam the Butcher (ahem, she had her own entrance in that room off the kitchen. I'm just saying...).

I want an Alice.

Since that's not going to happen anytime soon, I'm left to tend to my house. This usually involves a good deal of procrastination, followed by frenzied bursts of cleaning and family initiatives to get all the kids involved in the process. These initiatives last until the next bout of procrastination, and there I am with a sink full of dishes again.

My favorite chores, defined:

Laundry

I've mentioned in earlier posts that we have a laundry problem in our house. The issue is defining 'dirty'. An article of clothing is not dirty unless and until it is worn for the better part of a day, or the wearer is involved in an activity that creates sweat. Clothing does not get dirty when it is worn for fewer than 30 seconds.

Towels are another controversial item. We come from a generation of towel re-users. We used a towel, hung it up and used it again the next day. Kids do not understand this concept. They use a towel once, leave it in a heap on the floor and forget about it. We can nag until the cows come home...they can't get it figured out. I am seriously considering putting a  dead bolt on the linen closet door and assigning towels at the beginning of each week (like in prison).

The other problem with laundry is the folding part. I can sort, stick in the washer and switch to the dryer, but it all bottlenecks after that. I HATE folding laundry. Also? I hate putting everything away after it gets folded. We have three girls who are close in age and all of their stuff looks the same. I never know what belongs to whom, so I end up sticking it in one of the girls' bedrooms and there it sits. The girls live off the folded laundry pile for a week or so until everything ends up back in the hamper. I don't think a single piece in their wardrobe has ever seen the inside of a drawer.

Dishes

I grew up in a house without a dishwasher. My mother hand washed the dishes after every single meal. She kept a tidy house (translation: OCD) so a dirty dish didn't stay in the sink for very long. Even the marathon dish washing sessions - like after Thanksgiving - were handled efficiently and with little delay. I am baffled.

Flash forward to now and I have a very fancy dishwasher that does the hard work for me, yet I still normally have a sink full of dishes. Even after cleaning up from dinner, it's not long before a straggler makes its way to the sink or the boys get a burst of energy and bring out all the dirty dishes from their room (it always happens right after I scrub the sink with Comet - can they smell it? Are they mocking me?).

We have one of those 3-section sinks with the garbage disposal in the middle. It never fails that the nastiest, crustiest, leftover foodiest bowl gets dumped in the non-garbage disposal side and is then quickly camouflaged by other innocuous dishes (like water glasses), so no one knows the extent of the mess underneath. At first glance it looks like an innocent pile of properly rinsed dishes. It's not until the next morning (shut up - I don't want to hear it) when we tackle the pile that we realize there are chunks of chicken and cornbread cemented to the bowl, sink and other dishes. Yummy.

Dishwasher or no dishwasher, there is much manual labor involved with dishes and Alice (and my mother) made it look easy.

De-Cluttering

There is junk everywhere in my house. Schoolwork and writing implements, chargers for every device imaginable...there is not one flat surface that doesn't hold a pile of junk. We have cleaned out our garage twice in the last year and donated loads of items to Amvets (Note: don't buy a family ping-pong table for Christmas. You will give it away within one year and ping-pong looks like way more fun than it actually is), yet our garage clutter is like Homer Simpson's beard - get rid of it and it just comes right back again.

Then there is the condition of the kids' rooms. The collection of items, when written in list form, is almost funny. Let's take my youngest daughter's room:

- 5 little candles in flowered porcelain containers shaped like hearts (she's not allowed to light them)

- 3 tutus (2 pink, 1 green)

- Book 3 in the Harry Potter series (which she's not currently reading)

- a Hawaiian-themed fake flower arrangement (which looks like it should be in the waiting room of a dentist's office)

- 8 stuffed animals (one of which is a large-mouthed bass)

- My tall UGG boots (I'm going to kill her)

- a roll of pink curling ribbon

- one string of Christmas lights

- 3 dirty water glasses

- the last 4 outfits she wore/tried on (on the floor)

- no pillows (?)

What do these items have in common? None of them are necessities. None of them will have an impact on her daily life or come in useful during a natural disaster. They are impediments to her goal (my goal) of having a clean room.

I should get up there with a big black trash bag and thin it out. Sometime soon.

Organization of Paperwork

I mentioned the existence of piles of schoolwork. What's worse? Piles of adultwork. We get a six-inch pile of mail daily at our house. This includes the usual suspects: bills, catalogs, promotional mailers and local neighborhood papers...and bills...and more bills. We also run a business out of our home, so there's mail for that too. Sometimes I want to have a bonfire out front and burn it all, but then responsibility takes over (oh, responsibility, you mock me) and I dutifully sift through the pile, sorting and prioritizing as I go.

Then the pile sits there. For like a week.

That's 6 6-inch piles of mail strewn about my kitchen counter (sorted!). Multiply that by months and years, and suddenly this whole idea of a Julie Morgenstern-type coming over to mend my ways doesn't seem so far-reaching. The Container Store was made for people like me - I keep peeking out the front window looking for the Hoarders film crew. We even have an office dedicated to adult paperwork, yet it's everywhere in our house.

Speaking of the office, the to-be-filed pile taunts me...and as I sit here writing this I can see a stack of candy necklaces (a recent promotion for our business) that I have no idea what to do with. Even my email inbox is cluttered.

Closets

I'm coming right out (not of the closet, just making a declarative statement) with this: I don't wear half the clothes in my closet. In fact, some of the clothes are so out of style that I'm sure they'll be coming back any day now. I actually have a full-length leopard print gown (it's prettier than it sounds) that I wore to opening night of the Chicago Lyric Opera THIRTEEN YEARS AGO - and it's still taking up a prominent space in my closet. I'm not going to wear it again. Ever. I don't even like the opera. Yet there it continues to hang.

Then there is the variety of sizes represented in my closet. I have clothing ranging from size 0 to size 10 (I'm not telling which ones fit right now). I am deathly afraid to throw anything away because my skinniest days could still be ahead of me (OK Perry Mason, that's a clue).

I generally wear the same 3-4 items all the time (jeans, screen-printed t-shirt from Target, repeat), so the rest of the clothes are just there because I probably paid too much for them, have an emotional attachment to them (Isaac Mizrahi LBD - we had some good times) or I truly believe at some point they'll get worn. Also, what's more depressing then an empty closet? If I give everything away that I don't wear, I'll have 2 pairs of pants, some workout clothes and maybe 6 shirts.

Have you ever flipped through Architectural Digest? One common theme in all the featured homes is that everything appears to have a place. I heard a comedian joke once that you never see a bottle of Palmolive sitting on the sink of a house in an Architectural Digest photo spread. That minimalist, clean vibe used to seem a bit cold and uninviting to me. These days, however, the clutter and disarray that is a constant presence in my home is dragging me down. I long for the day when I can walk into a house that has only what I need (along with an assortment of artfully chosen well-staged accessories so it's kind of fancy...oh, and a flat screen).

My goal? I want only as many dishes as I need to serve 8, only as many outifits as I need to necessitate twice-weekly laundry days, and only as many responsibilities as are required to keep the mail down to 1-2 items per week.

Either that, or I want an Alice.

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Tags: and, cleaning, clutter, de-clutter, household, housewives, life, times

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