After Rachel's kind & encouraging comment on my blog post the other day, it got me thinking about our routine - because some people are really helped by routine, and I am definitely one of them! Call me a control-freak, but I don't like the feeling of chaos that comes from not having any sense of order. I'm not obsessive about it - I just like to have a loose structure to our days/ weeks, that is loose enough to be flexible (eg we don't do everything the same every day) but structured enough for us to have an idea of where each day is going. The boys appear to like it too, but whether that is because Mummy is more chilled within a structure or because they actually prefer it themselves, I'm not sure... probably a bit of both.
We have put two main things in place since the summer break...
The first one was to do with my feeling like the housework (or lack of getting it done) was out of control: a really messy house makes me feel more stressed, not least because it adds to my unwritten list of 'things to do' that I carry around subconsciously in my head. Once I've written it all down it usually helps me to see what I need to do, but at times I have procrastinated on writing the list down because of the irrational fear that it could turn out to be worse on paper than in my head! Anyway, one purchase of a Fly Lady book later (actually I still haven't read it, as it took a couple of days to arrive, by which time I was already in the zone for a good sort-out & getting to grips with a routine, and had made a start! *raises eyes at self*), and two car boot sales later, the house is looking less cluttered, although we still have more boxes of "junk-that-needs-sorting" than I would like. It is generally maintainable though, as long as we keep on top of it - and that is the first change we put in place. Every morning (though we can be flexible if we need to get up & go out quickly) we make sure any left over laundry from the day before is put away, and we make beds & quickly tidy bedrooms of any toys played with first thing. Once downstairs Eldest empties the dishwasher while Middle and Youngest help me with the next load of laundry (and there is always a load of laundry) that needs doing, before we all have breakfast. After breakfast we clear the kichen, and then we are free to have fun. At the end of the day we clear the kitchen again after tea and make sure the lounge is tidy before we go upstairs. The boys also tidy their rooms again if necessary before bed (Middle and Youngest can only do this with me present, coaching them). I know it all sounds oh-so-obvious written down, but this has really changed things for me! It's the keeping on top of it that stops it building into unbearable pressure. And if it sounds too uptight to the laid-back ones among you, maybe it is, although I have to say I don't feel anywhere near as uptight as I did when the house was a tip! And don't get me wrong, we don't live in perfect neatness: I do have children - three boys in fact - so neatness doesn't get a look in! But it is liveable-in mess; I no longer feel like an e-coli outbreak is imminent!
The second thing that we put in place was a rule. I try to avoid too many rules (although some are necessary - eg 'no hitting your brother with a weapon') - but this was one that we trialed and turned out to make such a huge difference that we're sticking with it. It's the "No TV or computers before lunch" rule - for me as well as them, when it comes to my laptop. It really has been hugely helpful. The boys know that in the mornings they have my full presence, and they can focus on the more productive stuff that they want to explore/ learn about (eg creating, making, painting, baking, experimenting, reading, playing etc)... and the afternoon is free for more passive stuff such as screen time, if they want it (they don't always), such as watching TV programmes they have recorded (usually science quizzes or wildlife documentaries), and even playing on Wii games (with a time limit). The only exception is that they are allowed to switch on the family computer for MathsWhizz/ Reading Eggs - one hour max. each during the mornings. And it has really helped me to know that my morning is my time to indulge in focusing on the boys and having fun learning with them - and the afternoon is generally freer to blog/ do some online planning or research/ do the odd housework job etc while being aware of what the boys are up to but not so 'involved'.
Not only have these two changes helped me to be calmer, an unexpected result (obvious if you think about it) was that we've been able to achieve more. That wasn't the goal: I was just trying to get to grips with everything that needed doing, but I'm so happy about the result that I thought I would share it here. I'm sure even a couple of 'small' changes like these really aren't for everyone - but the subject of messy houses comes up so often on HE forums, I though it was worth sharing, and asking the question, is there a small change would make our lives more manageable? For people who do need a little routine, it doesn't have to take a massive shift in the way we 'do' HE, just one or two changes.
PS Disclaimer: I have not arrived, my house is not immaculate, I do not have the answers or a program that everyone should follow. It just doesn't feel at the moment like we're about to drown in chaos, and if I can encourage even one person in that, I'l be happy :)
PPS As I commented to someone the other day, if your youngest child is less than three, it is my personal opinion that you may as well give up on trying to stay on top of the tidying - they are just miniature whirlwinds who generate mess effortlessly but need full-on attention every minute they're awake. If you have an energetic toddler, it may be as well to give yourself permission to completely ignore the mess for another couple of years. Clean the nasty germ-zones once they're in bed, but stuff the rest! At least, that's the advice I wish someone had given to me!