When our three children were small, I ran our household by the Crash Crisis system. Every time I took on a special project, the household unraveled into a giant mess. I would spend a couple days making costumes for a children’s musical, and then spend the next week fighting depression while I tried to dig out of a disaster zone and get the household back on track.
Fortunately, when we began home schooling, I learned a better system: the Minimum Maintenance (MM) system described in Totally Organized, by Bonnie McCullough.
The heart of the system is recognizing that “keeping up is easier than catching up.”
“Every house has a minimum daily requirement to keep it running smoothly,” McCullough explains. Once you know which jobs must be done and which can be skipped, you need to accept your home’s minimum requirement and see that it gets done. You don’t have to do it all, but someone in the household has to oversee the process.
For most families, the minimum daily requirement includes
- keeping up with laundry
- meals and meal cleanup
- keeping down the accumulation of clutter
For me the heart of MM is McCullough’s clutter solution: spending a focused five minutes picking up each room in the house (10 or 15 minutes in the kitchen) before leaving the house or starting any projects. McCullough recommends that you use a timer and wear an apron or shirt with pockets. Start by picking up the biggest items first, and then work down to the smaller items that can be collected in a basket or pockets.
It’s amazing how much work you can accomplish in five minutes.
“Work fast and don’t clean too deeply,” McCullough says. “When you see jobs that need doing, jot them down on a project list for later, during cleaning time.”
“Never feel so defeated by a tornado-struck room that needs several hours work that you don’t do anything at all,” she warns. “Just a few minutes in the room will keep it from getting worse.”
Begin your pick up routine by keeping in mind the “First Impression Principle,” McCullough suggests. “This means when you enter a building, if the first impression is one of neatness, you assume the whole building is clean. Most people don’t notice smudges on a windowsill, they notice clutter.” So decide what a caller at your door sees first, and start by picking up that area.
This simple routine made a huge difference for me. In our home, each of the children was responsible to do three focused, five minute pick ups (their bedroom, plus two other rooms) before starting the school day. (The kitchen was equivalent to two rooms and got a 10-minute pick up.)
That helped us start lessons in a tidy house instead of trying to work in a mess. When we left the house early for a field trip, it felt good to walk in the door later to a neat living room.
Of course we had plenty of lapses, and the house could get badly cluttered during the day, with everyone home most of the time.
But MM taught me that when my house felt out of control, I could get fast results and feel much better if I focused on it for even 30 minutes. If the kids pitched in, the whole house could look dramatically better in only 10 or 15 minutes.
This pick up time can be modified according to an individual’s preferences and needs. You can set the timer for five minutes to work room by room, or set the timer for 30 minutes and run all over the house picking up. If you have small children, you can do it in five minute bites.
Houses do need cleaning. You can’t give that up entirely. But throughout the year you can make what you have cleaned stay looking nice longer by using this clutter solution. And it’s a great help during the holiday season. As long as you keep up with your minimum essentials, you can put your house “on hold” for quite a while in order to take time for special Thanksgiving and Christmas projects and holiday events.
© Becky Cerling Powers 2003
Do not publish without attribution
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