A lot of homesteading bloggers spend a lot of time talking about how they keep their home. Maybe it’s so that they’ll have something to write about in the winter. Maybe it’s because some homesteader types are also June Cleaver, good housewife, often slightly creepy religious types, and they just love their cleaning as part of their traditional gender roles. I have stated before that I don’t want to dwell on that topic, partly because it’s boring as hell (cleaning sucks), and partly because it always seems to end up sounding slightly sexist. But I’ll let you in on a little secret; it’s also because I suck balls at it.
Seriously, I have no business giving anyone advice on how to keep their house clean. Some days I’m pretty sure I’m only two steps shy of CPS-taking-my-kids levels of mess. For reference, here is a picture of my kitchen on a good day.
And this is a picture of my sink after spending an hour doing dishes that same day.
This is the story of how I emptied the sink that day.
I suck at all cleaning. It’s not just the kitchen, it’s everywhere. When I was a kid, my mom used to just say in exasperation “I guess you just like living in filth!” when she couldn’t motivate me to keep tidy. Actually that’s not true at all. I hate being in a mess. I honestly think I might hate it more than she does. It’s just that I am so disgusted by it, I don’t want to look at it and I don’t want to touch it. Cleaning a mess requires that you both look at it and touch it. You see my conundrum?
The kitchen is the worst though, it’s my own personal cleaning hell. Of all the messes, this is the one that disgusts me the most. It’s not just mess, like the rest of the house, it’s got old food sitting in the sink or spilled on the counters. There are piles of dishes crusted in stuff that is starting to rot and stink. In the summer, there are flies. And if I don’t stay on top of everything, which I have a really hard time doing because eww, I can think of about a million things I’d rather touch than that, those flies will lay eggs in the sink/dishes/rotting food mess and oh good god, then you’re on the puke train to maggot town.
For me, doing dishes is like plunging my arms into a five gallon bucket filled to the brim with old vomit from multiple strangers. Sure, you might see that bucket of old vomit there, but you’ll probably avoid going anywhere near it if you possibly can. You’ll probably look at it, then try to forget you ever saw anything so horrific, then try to live your life like you are normal, knowing deep down inside you will never be the same again. You certainly would not see the bucket of vomit and say “Hey, I should clean that up! Let me go stick my arms in it!” No, you would get the hell away as fast as possible. That’s me with dishes. If I were rich enough, I would literally abandon my home and just move to an entirely new one and stock it with entirely new shit rather than have to do dishes. But I’m not rich. Not even close.
This matter is made even worse by the fact that I actually kind of like to cook. So if I want to do the thing I like, I have to tackle the thing I loathe with all the fiber of my being. Sometimes that motivates me, but more often than not it does not. I’ll just warm up something easy like chicken nuggets because I don’t want to have to clean before I cook. When I do clean, by the time I am done I’m too disgusted and exhausted to cook. So chicken nuggets it is again! But eventually, we start running out of silverware and plates and bowls, and then I know that there is no way to continue to avoid doing dishes.
(It’s at this point that I know you are all wondering why, if dishes are so revolting to me, I don’t just use paper plates. Because I care about the environment, okay? Disposable shit is terrible for the environment. It’s a waste of resources and burns fossil fuels to create over and over and over again and just fills up good land with garbage, land that could be used for homes or farms or nature preserves. Also, that aforementioned bit about not being rich. The cost of disposable stuff adds up over time, and there’s just other things I’d rather spend my money on. And it’s not like plates are the only dishes we use. They don’t make disposable frying pans or stock pots, so no matter what, I’m going to have dishes to do. Unless we keep living on microwaved chicken nuggets …)
It was on just such a day that I took those photos. I spent 5 hours cleaning that kitchen that day (with a couple of short breaks), and I did a lot of thinking. I thought about how much I hated doing dishes, about how they got so piled up so quickly, about what would make it less disgusting for me. I found myself thinking what I had thought many times before, that if everyone in the house would just rinse their dishes before putting them in the sink, this would be a much easier task for me on so many levels.
But how do I get people to rinse their dishes? I have asked many, many times, and it just doesn’t happen. After the first load of dishes, I decided to go make some signs to hang up by the sink to remind everyone in my family to rinse their dishes when they put them in the sink. I designed them in Photoshop (I took a Photoshop class this semester, see how I’m putting it to good use?) and laminated them by covering them in packing tape, then hung them up over the sink. I felt pretty smug. But as I set to work on the next load of dishes to put into the dishwasher, I knew that the signs would just be ignored, much like my nagging requests always had been. Nagging wasn’t the answer.
No one would really remember to rinse their dishes, because the consequences of not rinsing the dishes didn’t impact them. It only impacted me. That’s when I realized that the only way to get people to care about how hard the dishes beast was for me, and to care about how to make doing the dishes easier, is if the burden of doing the dishes were shared evenly amongst us all.
What did I really want from my dishes routine?
When I thought about what I really wanted from my dishes routine, and my house cleaning routine in general, I wanted to not be over whelmed by it. I wanted us all to do the right thing right away, like rinsing dishes, picking up clutter, putting our clothes away, etc. I wanted it done before it piled up into an enormous task, and I needed as much help establishing those habits as everyone else in the house.
I want my kids to learn how to keep their houses clean when they are grown ups, so they have an easier time with stuff as adults than I have. I want them to have the knowledge to do shit around here so I don’t feel like everyone’s maid. And I want them to develop and utilize these skills in an environment that was as pleasant as possible, with minimal yelling and shaming. Lots of parents think that if they yell and shame kids over whatever habit they want them to change, then there will be a breaking point where they will make the change, and no more yelling and shaming is needed, but it has never been my experience that this is what actually happens. I knew that once yelling and shaming started, there would be no end to it. So I wanted to accomplish all of this without any yelling and nagging. Yelling and nagging wouldn’t work.
I needed a system in which responsibility is equally divided amongst all house members, and in which the consequences of not pulling your weight came back to bite you in the butt. From experiencing real consequences, rather than verbal abuse from me, I figured my kids (as well as Jeremy and myself) would stand a better chance of actually learning good habits to help clean the house. That’s when I came up with this idea for running my home sort of like a communist nation. This would be sort of a Socialist Housekeeping Regime.
The Socialist Housekeeping Regime
Socialism is “a social and economic system characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production, as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system.” How does this translate to housekeeping?
The idea is that as members of this home, we can all in some way claim equal owner ship of it and what is produced by it. Similarly, we all have equal responsibilities for the running of the home, the more we each contribute to our collective home, the more we are each able to reap from it. As much as is practical, we should treat each other as respected equals in this home (understanding, of course, that parents have certain responsibilities in teaching, guiding, and providing for the health, safety, and wellbeing of children, which may necessitate occasional switching to more authoritative roles), and expect the same treatment from everyone else.
From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs
Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly what Marx would have wanted me to take from that statement, but work with me here. Everyone in the Rocking Homestead should be pulling their own weight to contribute to the running of the household, to the best of their abilities. This means it is unrealistic of me to expect Freja to be able to do dishes, but she can help me pick up around the house and get dirty laundry into the basement. Right now, I was focused on the dishes though, and Elijah, Jeremy, and I were all equally capable of doing the dishes. The thing to do was to decide how to divide up the responsibility of dishes between us all evenly.
I ended up coming up with the following rules.
- All dishes must be rinsed before being placed in the sink
- All household members over the age of 6 will take turns doing dishes. Each person will be responsible for dishes for one day.
- On that day, you will be responsible for making sure all the dishes are in the dishwasher, all the counters and the stove top is wiped down, and the table is wiped down. No dirty dishes may be out around the house.
- If you neglect your dishes duty for the day, you will be on dishes duty the next day, and every following day, until you complete the dishes for that day and all previous days.
- Once a month the microwave must be cleaned. All household members over the age of 6 will take turns doing the microwave. The microwave will be cleaned on the last weekend of the month.
- Daddy and Elijah will retain responsibility over the trash. The trash must be taken out at least once a week.
- Mommy will retain responsibility over the compost and sweeping and mopping the floors. Sweeping must be done once a week. Mopping must be done at least once a month (on the last weekend of the month). Compost must be done once a week.
- All mail will be brought directly into the kitchen and placed in the wire basket on the table.
- Every Saturday, the mail will be sorted and dealt with. Anything that needs to be filed will be filed. Everything that needs to be paid will be paid. Anything that needs response will be responded to.
- If children would like to earn extra money, they can take over one of the parent’s chores for the day. Children will be paid $1 for every chore they take from the parents.
- The rotation for all chores will go as follows: Mommy, Daddy, Elijah (until other children come of age)
These rules work perfectly because there is a built in system of checks and balances that ensure we are each equally responsible for how the kitchen is kept throughout each day, week, and month. We all get breaks from kitchen chores regularly so that the task of keeping the kitchen clean is never a daily, terrible, burden for anyone. And if you slack off, there are natural consequences. If you don’t rinse your dish and screw another person doing the dishes, it’s not always me nagging, and maybe it will be easier to remember if you are forced to think about how others are counting on you the same way you’re counting on them on your dishes day. It sets a schedule for everything that needs to be done. It’s simple, manageable, and fair.
This also means that each of us should be getting something out of the work we are putting into the household. Obviously, we will be getting a more pleasant environment, more home cooked meals, and more time for fun activities if we keep up on this, but I feel like everyone participating in household maintenance should be participating in household finances as well. We cannot currently afford to give Elijah an allowance, but once I am working again (hopefully by this spring), I intend to budget an allowance for Elijah. I decided to start it at $5 a week.
After perfecting these rules in my brain while completing my third load of dishes that day, I typed them up and did something I have only ever seen done in cheesy tv shows and movies. I called a Family Meeting. If I wanted everyone to be fully invested in this plan, if I wanted it to be a true Socialist Housekeeping Regime, we needed to make this decision as a family. At this point the rules were just a proposal.
I called us all together and explained what my problem was. I was having trouble keeping up with everyone’s dishes, and was growing resentful of the fact that it was mostly my burden. I wanted to split up the responsibility between all of us so that we could make sure they were getting done consistently. That would mean there would never be a ton of dishes to do, and all of us would be guaranteed breaks from doing dishes. I read my proposed rules and asked what everyone thought.
There was some discussion, but the rules were fairly quickly agreed to. They were fair and balanced. We then discussed how we could implement similar rules for doing laundry, and possibly other household chores, but we didn’t nail anything down. I wanted to focus on the kitchen first. The rules were hung up on the fridge for us all to admire, and the cycle began that day. I decided that under a Socialist Housekeeping Regime, family meetings would probably have to be a regular occurence. These family meetings would be a chance for everyone to check in, inform us all of any issues or needs, and discuss possible amendments and additions to rules in order to improve the running of the household. They would also foster respect and equality amongst family members, skills I also want my children to possess as they grow older.
How is it all working out
It’s been about a month since we implemented these rules, and it actually hasn’t been bad. It’s reasonable for there to be a learning curve. A few chores have been slipping by the way side (sweeping, wiping the counters), and over Thanksgiving weekend we fell off the wagon entirely. But when we’ve fallen off the wagon, we just start over again from the beginning, and it’s my day. Not a big deal. Elijah had needed a lot of help as he learns to do the dishes, but I expect that to taper off over time. Over all, I’d say this new housekeeping regime has been a success, though I do intend to check in with it on a regular basis, and I’ll let you know about it. Stay tuned to see how it works out, and how we implement it for our next biggest overwhelming chore, laundry.
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