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How a Naturally Messy Mom Learned to Let Go of Perfectionism and Find Joy in Keeping Her House "Clean Enough" - The 85% Principle

Danielle Dent-Breen's picture
mom learning to clean house

Are you naturally a messy person? Do you find yourself more often than not in a state of chaos around your home? Do you have dishes in your sink? Dirty laundry in the floor? Spots on the bathroom mirrors? If I were to ring your doorbell right now, would you answer? I am all too-familiar with this scenario, because I, too, am a naturally messy person. Keep reading to learn how I changed my way of thinking, and now manage to (mostly) stay on top of my household chores.


How did it get so bad?
There are some people who are truly not bothered by a messy house. These people can live in complete and utter squalor, and have no trouble with it whatsoever. You may be thinking as you read this, “that sounds just like my children!” While it may be true that kids are perfectly content living in a perpetual pig-sty, I don’t believe that they are the people I am speaking of. While my kids are definitely MESSY, when their rooms are messy, it is more likely that they are not future featured guests on “Hoarders”, but that I have failed to stay on top of the expectations I have set for their rooms. It is our job, as parents, to instill a love of orderliness and peace. And even though my kids whine and complain when I insist they clean…they thrive and LOVE it when their rooms are tidy.

I suspect, however, that if you were one of those people who was truly a hoarder, and thrived on chaos, you would not be reading this blog. In fact, I would imagine that you are most likely part of the other 95%...a person, like myself, who desires order in her home, but finds it difficult to maintain. I have found that many of the people who I know who struggle to keep their house clean and orderly, do so because they are perfectionists. That’s right. Contrary to outward appearances, most people who find themselves living in a state of disordered chaos do so because they are in a constant state of overwhelm. People like us are “big picture” people, who find that a messy house causes serious emotional distress, but struggle to know where to actually begin
Accepting Less-than perfect
As a perfectionist person, I can assure you, I understand this problem. For years, I would struggle with cleaning my house, only to find that I would work all day and never really “get the job done”. I would start cleaning my kitchen, and in the process of doing the dishes, I would notice that the cabinet doors were really looking dirty. I would stop doing the dishes, get out the Murphy’s Oil Soap, and start scrubbing down the fronts of all the cabinets. As I was doing this, I would inevitably open a junk drawer, and notice that it was full and completely disorganized, and suddenly I would be lost in yet another project…organizing that junk drawer. I would then become almost hyper-focused on that drawer, trying to find the “perfect” system that would keep it from ever looking like that again. This meant, of course, that some items that I found in the drawer could not be returned to the drawer, and so they would be scattered all over my counter tops or a corner of the kitchen floor. Soon, I would discover that several hours had passed, and my kitchen actually looked WORSE than when I had started. No wonder I was overwhelmed!

Several years ago, I read an amazing and life-changing book, The Messie Manual: The Procrastinator’s Guide To Good Housekeeping, by Sandra Felton. In this book, I saw myself, and I realized that I was not alone! One of the simplest and most revolutionary ideas I gained from the book was the idea that my house does NOT have to be perfect. We live here. My goal is now to have every room of the house at 85% clean, all of the time. We are not, after all, preparing for a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens. As a busy homeschooling, blogging, volunteering, fun-having mom, I am simply striving for balance, and the ability to have friends over on a moment’s notice. Read on for practical tips on how I accomplished just that.

The Non-negotiable Cleaning Tasks to do Every Single Day
There are certain tasks that should be done every single day. Establishing these habits for yourself AND your children will set the tone for orderliness and peace in your home, and will definitely make an instantaneous and noticeable difference.

1. Make your bed. When you get out of bed, take one to two minutes to straighten your bedding. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Remember, our goal here is that 85% mark. If this task takes you more than one to two minutes, simplify. Consider cutting back on the decorative “fluff”—the 10 unnecessary throw pillows and the coverlet arranged “just right” at the foot of the bed. It is perfectly acceptable to make your bed with only a fitted sheet, pillow cases and a comforter. If you don’t want the drudgery of washing the comforter each week, consider using a removable, washable duvet cover. Skip the bedding sets that require a trip to the dry cleaner. Those are not designed for people like us!

2. Do ONE load of laundry. This includes washing, drying, folding or hanging, and putting everything away. In our house, I have taken this a bit further. I personally found that waiting until I have a full load of darks, whites, colors, towels, or delicates meant that I always seemed to feel “behind” on my laundry, and allowed far too many of our clothing items to sit for days on end before being washed. So now, each morning, I throw in ONE load of laundry…and this includes everything we have dirtied from the day before. I wash everything on the cold setting, and use Shout Color Catcher sheets in every wash to keep my whites white and my colors from bleeding. They really do work, and for me, it makes sense. No more giant baskets of clean clothes that never get put away. No more spending my entire Saturday in the laundry room. Each day I simply fold and put away the clean clothes that are in the dryer, transfer the wet clothes from the washer, and wash one load from the day before. In all, I invest approximately 10 minutes per day to laundry tasks, with the exception of days when I wash and change bedding.

3. Empty the dishwasher before breakfast. This task is always difficult for me to initiate, but in reality, it only takes about two minutes to remove all the clean dishes from the dishwasher and put them in the cabinets. If this is done first thing in the morning, then dirty dishes can be placed in the dishwasher throughout the day as they are used. Resist the urge to let the dirty dishes pile up in the sink, and train your children to put in their plates, cups, and silverware after each meal. Run the dishwasher and give the kitchen sink a quick wipe down each night right before you go to bed. Waking up to that shiny kitchen faucet really does help set the tone for an orderly day.

4. Wipe down the countertops, stove, and table. At least once a day, wipe off accidental spills, fingerprints, and all the unidentifiable kid goo. Staying on top of this task means less time invested in scrubbing off accumulated messes. This task should take less than five minutes of your time.

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5. Have children gather all toys and put them back in their place. Nobody can scatter a mess faster than our adorable little progeny. It’s enough to make a mom weep openly in her living room. Ask me how I know. In our house, we do a five-minute pick up blitz each night right before dinner, to help corral all of their belongings where they belong. If there are items that have been left out by adults, use this same five minutes to gather those items and put them where they belong.

That’s it! That wasn’t too bad, was it? The daily tasks above should take less than 30 minutes each day.

What about cleaning everything else?
Now, obviously, there are many other tasks that need attention in the home, right? This is where you will have to prioritize. Grab a cup of coffee, and make a list of all the tasks not listed above that need to be done in your home. Write down everything that you would like to have done in your perfect, orderly home. In my own house, I included everything from cleaning toilets and vacuuming the living room, to organizing the landing in our garage that easily becomes a “catch all” zone. Just write them all down, so you can see what needs to be done.

Next, prioritize those tasks based on your household needs and personal preferences. I have a son who can mess up a bathroom in a New York minute (moms of boys, you know what I’m talking about here!), so I clean toilets in our home twice weekly. I also wipe bathroom sinks twice a week, because again…a shiny faucet will make your overall house appear clean! It’s true! I make a list of what needs done weekly (or twice weekly), monthly, and quarterly. Go easy on yourself, and remember---we are aiming for 85% on most days.

Once the list is complete, divide up those tasks and assign them a day on which to be done. The key here is to be sure you are moving from room to room each day. If you clean the toilets one day, schedule cleaning mirrors on a different day. This ensures that the entire bathroom will look “mostly clean” every day. If all bathroom tasks are done on the same day, that bathroom can begin to look really dirty by the time that scheduled day rolls around again the next week.

I aim to complete my daily tasks, plus two or three “extra” cleaning tasks six days a week. I take it easier on Sundays as we like to spend that day together as a family. My children have Sundays off from their chores, as well. We are not perfect here, and there are days that we miss our tasks all together. But because I have a schedule, I can easily see what I have missed, and make an executive decision to either go back and make it up, or let that task wait until the next scheduled cleaning day. Whatever I decide, I feel at peace because I have made a conscious choice.

How do I organize my cleaning list?
I purchased a cheap little flip photo album—the kind we used to hold 4x6 photos back in the day when we actually printed out our photos instead of storing them on our phones or in the cloud. I wrote my tasks on a larger sized 4x6 index card and slipped one into each sleeve. I have a card in front that includes each of my daily tasks. Immediately behind the daily tasks card, I have 6 additional cards that list my “extra” cleaning tasks for each day. These are followed by a card that lists monthly tasks, and another card listing quarterly tasks.

Each day, I can simply mark off the tasks that are completed with a dry erase marker. Once the check marks are completed for the day, I can rest, knowing that I am DONE for the day.

Give Yourself Grace!
Know that there will be days that you don’t get everything done. Children get sick. Playdates and fieldtrips will take precedence. Life will happen. But if you can implement these simple strategies, you can find balance, have more time for the things you love, and live your life in a more joyful place.