Is your messy house making you sick? The doctor is in! Learn the source behind your housekeeping ills, along with the prescription to fix them
Symptoms: Piles of clean baby clothes on the changing table, spilling onto the floor; drawers overstuffed with clothing of all baby sizes, cloth diapers, receiving blankets, and small pacifiers; toys for three-month-olds jamming the shelves, blocking the one-year-old’s toys.
Source of Infection: Mommy is not keeping up with baby’s new stages. Unlike older children — whose closets need an overhaul maybe one to two times a year — a baby grows and develops in leaps and bounds, and his clothing and toys of the current stage quickly become obsolete.
Diagnosis: There is no proper hand-me-down storage system set up in this home.
The result of this common ailment is that the changing table becomes a useless storage unit for old baby clothes, and there is no room to store the clothing and toys in current use. Even folding laundry becomes pointless since the pile will topple over as soon as it hits the changing table. There is also no proper place to change diapers, so Mommy’s back hurts regularly from bending over her bed. Mommy needs to reevaluate her baby’s stage on a regular basis, and declutter and reorganize accordingly.
Prescription: Find an appropriate place to store hand-me downs — often, the basement, the tops or backs of closets, or under the beds. This is not enough, however. You also need a systematic and effortless way to process the baby’s quick advancement from one stage to the next in the room itself. The solution is to set aside space in the baby’s room, ideally two drawers at the bottom of the changing table. (If that’s not enough space, use two large boxes under the crib.) The first should house clothing in the size the baby is growing into, while the second receives clothing the baby is growing out of. As soon as Mommy sees an outfit is too small, she tosses it into the “too small” box. When that becomes full, it is moved to her hand-me-down storage location, and now the “growing into” box graduates to become the “too small” box, and the process continues.
Symptoms: Piles and piles of neatly folded, clean clothes in the laundry room, slowly spreading to the upstairs steps, the dining room table, the living room couch... The laundry is getting done and even folded, but it’s not getting put away. The kids have to search through the piles each morning to find what they need, often toppling the clean laundry to the floor to be washed again. Daddy, who doesn’t have the time to go digging, typically leaves the house wearing mismatched socks, hoping no one notices.
Source of Infection: The laundry room is downstairs and the clothing belongs upstairs in the bedroom closets. There is no convenient strategy to put the clothes away where they belong.
Diagnosis: There are two problems going on: 1) Whether conscious or subconscious, Mommy thinks she’s done with the laundry as soon as it’s folded. She needs to make a brain switch. 2) No one naturally does anything that is inconvenient, so the kids (or Daddy) shlepping piles of clean laundry up the stairs is not going to simply happen — a plan must be put in place.
Prescription: If relocating the laundry room upstairs is an option, that would be preferred. It’s easier to get clothing into the laundry and then back into the closets when everything is on one floor. Another unconventional idea is to create an official clothing center in the laundry room and store the family’s clothing there. Each evening the kids can pick out their clothes and bring them up to their rooms. These two choices are less likely to happen since both require an investment of space and money. The most realistic strategy is to set up a stackable or sliding basket system in the laundry room, with an open front for easy access, and store each child’s folded clean laundry (or each bedroom’s clean laundry) in their assigned basket. At an allocated time during the week, each child is responsible for putting his pile away in his room. At the very worst, it’s easier for them to find clothes in the morning in their baskets.
If it is not feasible to ask every child to do this, this job — putting everyone’s laundry away — can be assigned to a specific child or to your cleaning help. The sorted baskets make the job more manageable, and also keep your laundry room functional until the clothing is returned to the closet.
Symptoms: Doubles and triples of products in use, paper goods, and excess kitchen supplies are spread out in random cabinets all over the kitchen. Lonely papers make their way to piles in the corner of the counter; Sarala’s brush and ponytail holders lie next to the forks and peelers in the milchig drawer. The homemaker can’t find what she is looking for — and doesn’t feel like looking. It’s easier to go out and buy more! Her spacious, remodeled, up-to-date kitchen is not nearly as functional as it could be.
Source of Infection: The homemaker never thought through where she should keep each item in her kitchen. Since there is so much space, it didn’t matter initially; she just found an empty spot, dumped something in, and closed the drawer. Currently, all the cabinets are pretty full and it’s hard to find what she needs on a regular basis.
Diagnosis: There were two points at which this ailment could have been circumvented. In the planning stage, the designer should have asked her about her kitchen needs and planned the cabinets accordingly. Many kitchen designers’ main concerns are the “latest look” and design, not necessarily the client’s specific requirements. The client, often unaware of her needs, is only too happy to pass on this hassle to someone else.
The second point at which this ailment could have been prevented was when the client set up her kitchen. Strategic placement decisions should have been made based on use and need, not simply on wherever there is space. Dumping items into the available open space has a limit even in the biggest kitchens.
Prescription: If you didn’t do it then, do it now. Start by creating a list of all the needs you would like your kitchen to fill. Kitchens provide far more than just meal preparation. By acknowledging and creating space for all the activities that occur regularly in your kitchen — along with eliminating objects not regularly used (even if they typically belong in a kitchen) — you will create a more functional kitchen.
Besides for the obvious pots, pans, and ingredients, you may need a drink station (including hot drinks, cold drinks, baby formula, bottles, and sippy cups), a table-setting station (including paper goods, placemats, bentshers, etc.), a paper management cabinet (an organized spot for all the active papers dumped on the counter daily) and maybe even a “launchpad” for leaving the house (including brush and ponytail holders to fix your little one’s hair, bus tickets, keys, and cellphones, etc.).
List in hand, sort through cabinet by cabinet, drawer by drawer, getting rid of the junk and combining items and products that belong together to create logical space for all the standard and peripheral uses of your kitchen. Last, make conscious decisions where you would like to keep each item based on frequency of use. If you’re into labels, label the different cabinets so family members will catch on quickly to your new system.
Symptoms: Hand-me-downs and suitcases stuffed in the corner or in the back of the closet. Last week’s clean laundry in a mound on the edge of the bed waiting to be folded (or washed again). Sarala and Chaim’s old report cards and artwork stuffed in the closet, next to a beautiful family picture waiting to be hung. (By whom??? When???) Moishy’s Lego airplane, which he worked so hard to build and doesn’t want anyone to break, safely on top of Mommy’s dresser (i.e., on top of her jewelry, tichels, and makeup).
Source of Infection: Mommy uses her bedroom as the catch-all place for all items she doesn’t know where to store. Since others don’t often visit her bedroom, it’s the ideal place to hide unfolded laundry, projects waiting to happen, and save kid’s treasures from siblings, among other random belongings. This infection is particularly contagious during the final straightening up before lichtbentshen.
Diagnosis: This could be the result of an especially small apartment with not enough space for the people living in it. It could also be from general lack of order in the home. Many times this type of occurence is found in a home where Mommy doesn’t value herself enough and gives away all her space to others.
Prescription: Whether a psychological issue or not, the first step is always technical: Create more space around the home for all the extras in the master bedroom. Clear out a high shelf in the kids’ room so Moishy has a spot for his airplane and other treasures. Take the time to analyze your laundry system and the space you have available to do your laundry. Maybe by de-junking your laundry room, you can create more work space there to sort and fold. Create memory binders for each child to store their favorite pictures and report cards in their own bedrooms.
Once the technical treatment has been successful, add some aesthetic touches to your bedroom like new curtains or a pretty plant, and create a room you enjoy relaxing in.
Symptoms: Numerous half-used and empty bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash strewn around the perimeters of the bathtub — his, hers, the kids, and the ones no one likes. Dissolving bars of soap next to a few newly opened ones. Mildewy bathtub and mold-growing bath toys, 20 toothbrushes, and five half-used toothpastes (for a family of eight).
Source of Infection: Through basic daily maintenance (toilets and sinks), the bathrooms are kept sanitary, yet there is a lack of daily bathroom management due to Mommy’s (or cleaning help’s) lack of awareness of the family’s bathroom habits.
Diagnosis: Mommy is unaware that 15-year-old Chani likes to use a fresh bar of soap with every shower and also doesn’t like when her toothbrush touches someone else’s so she often takes a new one (without throwing out the old one). Rivka, 17, switched shampoos since she heard Brand X was better, but the old bottles are half-full so they remain in the shower. Oh, and she often washes her loose hairs down the drain, clogging up the bathtub. Four-year-old Shlomo fills up all his squirt toys with water and doesn’t empty them when the bath is over, hence the moldy toys and mildew growing under them (and under/behind all the shampoo bottles). The boys come home every few weeks with a new tube of toothpaste from the hygienist who visited the school that day to heighten their awareness of teeth cleanliness, hence the extra tubes of toothpaste by the sink.
Prescription: The first antidote is awareness — simply pay more attention to what’s going on in your bathroom. If you’re unsure, ask: “Rivka, do you use this shampoo anymore?” “Chani, does using the family’s soap bother you?” “Shlomo, which are your favorite bath toys?”
Next, come up with preventive medicine — Chani should own her personal bar of soap and keep it with her toothbrush in her own place, away from the family’s bathroom gear. Limit Shlomo’s toys to a few open cups and strainers that don’t retain water to avoid the mold and mildew. Show the boys where the extra toothpastes go.
Setting up family bathroom regulations is another form of preventive medicine. For example, don’t open a new bottle of shampoo/box of tissues/bar of soap until the old one is finished. Clean your hair out of the shower before you leave the bathroom, etc.
Symptoms: Assorted building toys are strewn all over the floor, mixed all together. Board game pieces in a heap cover the kiddie table. Crayon marks dot the walls. Baby toys no one uses anymore are neatly lined up on the bottom shelves. The top shelves are stuffed with… hmmm, what’s up there again?
Source of Infection: This playroom is not set up for the current children who play in it. The dynamic of the home changed but the playroom remained the same. No longer inviting, it has been converted to an oversized toy dumpster.
Diagnosis: Baby Dovid has graduated to “Dovid the Dumper”. He has too much access to all the building toys and crayons, which never used to be a problem for his five-year-old sister. The baby toys take up precious space in the toy closet, which should be used for the toys people in the house actually play with, like board games. Those are in a heap on the table because their home is too high, making it hard for the kids to reach and put away. Storing them on lower shelves behind closed doors might work better.
Take a look at those top shelves — there are probably some great toddler toys — the car garage, the tool box, some art projects you forgot about — which make less of a mess than the accessible building toys. Consider storing the baby toys up there.
Prescription: A successful playroom needs to be re-evaluated and reorganized at least once a year. Ages and stages are constantly changing in our homes, and new toys and fads are continuously swamping the playroom on a regular basis. To make it work, the toys in current use should be placed in easy-to-reach places for the children using them… except Dovid the Dumper. Within his reach, keep only the toys you don’t mind him accessing without your supervision.
Only one building toy should be accessible and the rest should be out of reach (locked in a closet or on a high shelf). Rid your playroom of broken toys and games with missing pieces on a regular basis to create more room for new ones. Consider lending out or donating toys not in use, or removing them from the playroom completely and putting them into storage.
If you want your toy closets to look stunning (like those unrealistic pictures in Ikea magazines, where kids don’t play with toys!), transfer all your toys into stackable containers. You’ll double the space in your closet since the original boxes are usually oversized, and the toys can be easily retrieved and returned.
Yael Wiesner, founder of the “Yael Wiesner Professional Organizing Team,” is the author of “How Does SHE Manage?” (Feldheim 2012, 2016) and teaches women worldwide to manage their homes through her home management teleconference courses.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 579)
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