Spring cleaning in a whirlwind

Spring is a beautiful time to clean, but if you live in a whirlwind of family life, you’ve probably found that your work gets undone fairly quickly … and fairly regularly.

So how do we consistently make our homes into that blissful haven of “a place for everything and everything in its place”?

Below are seven steps to spring cleaning in a whirlwind, and by making these steps into regular routines, we can’t help but become more goal-oriented, productive, and creative.

Step One: Identify the vision and list it as a Current Project to review weekly.

A few weeks ago, I created a white board titled, “Perry Family – Project De-Junk”:

This was my vision (because a gal can dream, right?):

  • Each room, closet, and cupboard BEAUTIFUL
  • Donations ready for pick-up
  • Attic and garage storage complete

I also listed the order in which I would conquer the house–starting with the Master closet and ending with the garage.

Then I wrote “De-junk the House” on my Current Projects List so I would be sure to review and prioritize it each week until I finished.

I try to stay on top the clutter each day, but I’ve found that if I can do a focused purge of the entire house three times a year, I just breathe better.  (I know you understand.)

Step Two: Calendar the de-junking.

We can’t stop the whirlwind for a month while we dig out of the clutter, but we can clear our calendars of the non-essentials and schedule one or two rooms per week (more if we’re feeling ultra-motivated, less if we’re feeling overwhelmed).

Here’s a sample calendar for “evening de-junkers” from one of my favorite clutter management books: “It’s Here . . . Somewhere.” You can see how they note which room will be organized each night (and the dinner plans, as well). I loved this:

Step Three: Follow this process for each room:

  • Divide the room into several smaller sections, and then work clock-wise. In our kitchen, I do the fridge, pantry, bookshelves, and then each cupboard separately.
  • Take everything out of one section at a time, and then put back only the best items. Ask, “Does this bless my home?” and “Is this where I go to find this item?”
  • Anything that doesn’t positively answer the questions above goes to the trash, into a basket labeled, “Somewhere Else,” or to charity. The “Somewhere Else” items will be distributed to the rooms where they do belong, and the charitable donations can be put into a big pile in the garage and scheduled for pick-up.

(My 9-year-old daughter helped me make the labels.)

Step Four: Involve the children.

While cleaning my closet, I found tons of baby supplies and maternity clothes that I simply (and sadly) don’t need anymore. My children gathered with me on the floor of my bedroom, helped me sort, and played with the pacifiers we’d tucked away:

Yes, it takes longer to involve the family. Yes, children are sometimes frustrating. But this is teaching them vital skills. Their college roommates and future spouses will thank us.

Step Five: Use context-based Next Actions Lists to track additional tasks.

Whenever I de-clutter my home, I uncover about a zillion things that need to be done. (That is why we procrastinate . . . because reality is sometimes painful, right?)

I keep a notepad with me to record these new tasks:

Then I identify the “Next Action” required to move each task toward completion.

For example, one item on my notepad was to spray-paint the light fixture in my Master bathroom.  It is embarrassingly rusty, and my friend Marci suggested I simply give it a coat of spray paint.  If I knew what kind of paint to buy, my Next Action would be an errand to Home Depot, but I need Marci’s expertise, so I added “Call Marci” to my Phone Call list.

Each of my Next Actions can typically be organized into one the following five contexts:

  • Phone Calls
  • At Home Work
  • Computer Work
  • Errands
  • Agendas (things to discuss with a family member or friend)

By keeping these lists up-to-date, it’s simple to focus my free time on the tasks that will move me toward my goals.

Step Six: Create a maintenance plan using a Routines and Responsibilities List.

Once I clean a room, I identify what my family and I will need to do in order to keep it looking that way (a “10-minute tidy” before bedtime, straightening the coat closet each week, streamlining each child’s wardrobe once a month, etc.). Then I add those tasks to my daily, weekly, or monthly Routines and Responsibilities Lists.

Here’s my monthly zone checklist, patterned after The FlyLady. I printed and hole-punched it to fit in my paper planner.

We definitely don’t keep up with every single task on our list, but we do what we can, and in spite of the whirlwind, I’m amazed at how well the house stays organized (and how it totally improves my mood).

Step Seven: Don’t give up.

This is hard work, but it’s not impossible. Living in a whirlwind might be our reality, but if we tackle spring cleaning like a serious project and make it a regular routine, it helps us to remember that this whirlwind is actually our favorite place to be.

QUESTION: What helps you stay on top of the clutter–even when you’re surrounded by a whirlwind of family life?

CHALLENGE: Take two minutes to create your “Spring Cleaning” vision.  Then make it a current project and start taking baby steps toward your goal.

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