Holiday Housekeeping without the Hyperventilation

It’s not just me that’s bipolar in my life. My house is, too. When I’m up, the house looks pretty good. The furniture is still cat-scratched (the living room) and dog destroyed (the family room) but every thing has a home and everything is in its home. Not only do I get the ordinary stuff done, but am brave enough to enter the EPA Superfund Site my daughter’s bedroom and spend an hour putting away clothes and stacking Pillow Pets in the closet.

But when I’m down, the place is trashed. You can’t sit in the cat-scratched arm-chair in the living room because its arms are laden with things that need to be taken somewhere else. You can’t eat on the kitchen table because it’s covered with homework papers, half-drunk cans of soda, empty potato chip bags, dog collars, magazines, and bills.

I know lots of other people live in similar disarray and I should just chill about it. But I can’t. I get more and more anxious the messier the house is. It gets to where the one place that should feel safe gives makes me want to run to somewhere safe.

When I lived alone, my apartments were clean and uncluttered. But now there are three other people and their stuff is everywhere. I tried keeping up with the clutter but all it got me was resentment. In frustration, I would explode and everyone towed the “put your things away” line—for a little while.

How I like to keep a table. See below for an alternate method.

How I like to keep a table. See below for an alternate method.

“Why,” I asked my husband, “does the putting away only happen when I get fed up?” His reply sounds lame, but it’s true. My standards are too high. I really do have a “Do it my way or die” attitude toward home maintenance. This is, as he pointed out, a disincentive to pitch in. Why bother when Mom isn’t going to be happy no matter what we do?

So, as in all things, I searched the Internet for an answer to my housekeeping quandary.

I found FlyLady, a woman who suffered a debilitating depression (I could relate to that!), got better (more sisterhood) and realized her house was a disaster that was feeding her sense of worthlessness. CHAOS, she called it: Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. She did two things: she got over needing perfection and developed routines to keep the CHAOS under control. Oh, and she self-published a book about it. Yes, I realize that’s three.

Fly Lady’s rules are simple: get dressed to shoes every morning, keep your kitchen sink clean, and develop routines. I signed on to be a “Fly Baby” and get regular encouragement in the form of emails. Soon, I learned Fly Lady’s idea of regular is every five minutes. My inbox was inundated with messages to clear off a hot spot (place where piles of paper accumulate) or run to another room and find 29 things to throw away. Though my home was getting cleaner as I established routines, my anxiety was going through the roof trying to get through the emails and do all the missions.

So, I flew away from Fly Lady and soon discovered Clean My Space, which purports to be the Cleanest Place On The Internet. If someone could clean up the Internet, I reasoned, they could certainly help me clean up.

The Cleanest Place on the Internet is owned by Melissa Maker, a young (childless) woman who is constantly put together. At my desk, in my slippers and threadbare jeans (I ditched the shoes when I ditched Fly Lady), I hated Melissa immediately. But she had some good ideas and she’s way laid back about motivation.

Unfortunately, since most of Clean My Space is in the form of video, I spent so much time learning how to clean my space that I ran out of time to clean my space. But I found the rah-rah-you-can-do-this motivation calming when my house had me doing deep breathing exercises every time I ventured from my bed.

How I like to keep my bed

How I like to keep my bed

Then, I watched a video about cleaning floors, having recently installed wood floors that I had no idea how to maintain. I was intrigued until Melissa said these words about cleaning up stubborn spots, “Don’t obsess about this!” Oh, Melissa, you silly woman, obsessing is the thing I do best!

The Holidays are a having people over extravaganza for us from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to Christmas, and my inner Mr. Carson demands the house be spotless. This year, I’m thankful that I’ve found some strategies that keep me pretty sane while keeping the CHAOS at a minimum.

  • I have a how-to-do-the-holidays binder. I have seen people look askance at it, but I don’t care. In it is everything I need to get me through December, from the recipe for turkey brine through receipts for every present I buy.IMG_2191
  • I have routines and, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit, I have apps on my iPad that keep me following them. When I complete a task, I touch it and get rewarded with a gold star. On good days, I try to see how many gold stars I can get before 9 a.m. Down days? The list pulls me up long enough that I don’t feel completely useless.


    Don’t you need to be reminded to brush your teeth? And pick up the dog poop?

  • I learned to selectively lower my standards. I have places I can go to get a peek at how organization my way looks. Seeing the sheets and pillow cases stacked neatly in the linen closet is as calming as meditation. Seriously.

    organized linen closet

    I swear there are fitted sheets in there.
    Of course, I learned from Martha.

  • My husband clears his clutter when company’s coming. Otherwise, I live with his insistence that the dining room table be his home office.
messy dining room table

My husband’s “desk”

  • I don’t bother with the upstairs. No one’s going up there and if they do, I’ll withhold their slice of my pecan pie.

Short of celebrating at someone else’s house, how do you handle the pre-holiday clean up? What are your best tips on clearing the chaos without getting crazier crazy? Share in the comments!

11 responses to “Holiday Housekeeping without the Hyperventilation

  1. I have certain areas that I keep as clean as possible at all times, and t hen other places are total chaos. One thing that’s been working lately for us is have a child assigned a room of the house (other than their own) and at the end of the night, they have to go do their chore of picking up what doesn’t belong and take it to the appropriate room. This takes care of the front room (where people might accidentally pop in) and the kitchen/dining area (the room I have to have clean to stay sane). It’s working pretty good and my kids are only 7 and 4 and they are doing great at it. This has become routine with them, so if it’s a disaster midday, oh well, I know when I lay down at night to go to bed, it will be picked up at least. I can so relate to the feelings of anxiety and blowing up when it gets to be too much. That is me to a T. 🙂


  2. I wish my kids were that cooperative. Mine are 18 and 11. Both of them think that if something isn’t theirs, then they don’t have to put it away. I point out to them that I put away everyone’s things, but to no avail. I like that idea, though and maybe I’ll see how they feel. I, too, have to have the kitchen clean.


  3. I have learned that no matter what size your kitchen counter is, your family will cover it with junk on a daily basis. I have no solutions except to go into the occasional frenzy and clean it off. Mostly I am just relocating the junk. It’s depressing.

    You mentioned the childless woman with organizing tips. I would give her about as much credibility as the single male author who recommended that I go into my room for an hour every day and not move a muscle!

    We’re moms, our kids are messy, our husbands are clutterers, our life is messy. I cope with the mess by going into another room, wearing slippers so I don’t notice the crumbs on the floor, or just going to bed and reading a good book.


  4. I’m pretty lucky right at the moment because my four yr old is anxious to buy gifts for her family for Christmas. Her school’s PTO sponsors a “Santa land” where students can buy gifts for $2 each. This has given me an awesome opportunity to teach my daughter about earning money. And she LOVES money. I made her a list of chores she can do and how much she can earn for each. It ranges from folding wash clothes and matching socks for a quarter to picking up toys and vacuuming up my shepherd’s hair tumbleweeds. Its been great but her motivation may break my bank! I wonder if she’ll settle for payment in quarters in dimes when she’s 10. I can dream.


    • My husband pays our daughter to match socks! I do the laundry but hate matching socks. He’s hopeless at it cause he thinks every color is black. And my daughter LOVES matching socks and getting money. Win/win. I love those holiday fairs the schools have. It’s great for the kids to shop on their own, even if you get a strawberry scented pencil as a gift.


      • I’ll take a pencil that smells like dog poop (which my daughter would totally buy right now because poop seems to be the funniest thing that exists) if it means someone else picking up toys and matching socks!


    • Another FlyBaby! It was valuable for a while, wasn’t it? And then I started getting a little sick of all the purple puddles and the incessant positive mental additude. Oh! And the “LOLs”. I have never seen so many LOLs in a single post as in one of FlyLady’s! You have to feel ok about the cat-scratched furniture. What choice do you have? Of course, we gave our cat back to the Humane Society, but not because of the furniture!


  5. I am a very inconsistent housekeeper. My husband jokes that when I decide to clean the house, I freakin’ clean it…like balls to the walls organizing closets, scrubbing grout, etc. But most of the time, I’m just trying to keep the house from smelling bad because of dishes in the sink too long or trash that needs to be taken out. I do wish I had a two story house though, because we always had that rule growing up that the upstairs didn’t count when company came over. But our house now is a ranch with a very open floor plan…it’s kind of bitch sometimes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s