How We Do It: Organizing Our Homes

23 January 2018

Y’all are making this series everything I dreamed of and more, so please, keep chiming in! To catch up any new gals: Nancy Ray and I are writing an eight-part series every Tuesday in January and February covering “how we do it” in eight different areas: the rhythms, habits, and routines that help us get things done and make the space and time for what matters most. You can read more of the backstory here.

How We Do It

Today’s topic is organization in our homes. With each post so far I’ve shared a few general thoughts before diving into specifics, and today, I wanted to start with the concept of emotional labor. Have y’all read some of the essays that have circled in the last few months? (This was a big one.) They’ve seemed to really resonate with people. Here’s an excerpt in case you’re not familiar:

Then I tried to gingerly explain the concept of emotional labor: that I was the manager of the household, and that being manager was a lot of thankless work. Delegating work to other people, i.e. telling him to do something he should instinctively know to do, is exhausting… He restated that all I ever needed to do was ask him for help, but therein lies the problem. I don’t want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.

Bearing the brunt of all this emotional labor in a household is frustrating. It’s frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation… It is difficult to model an egalitarian household for my children when it is clear that I am the household manager, tasked with delegating any and all household responsibilities, or taking on the full load myself.

Here’s the thing: I am unequivocally the household manager in our home. I also don’t find this to be particularly onerous, unreasonable, or unenjoyable. To me, it makes sense that one person would be the point person for information, household organization, and task assignment. And in my marriage, it makes sense that it would be me — because I naturally enjoy it more than John (one of my StrengthsFinder strengths is Input, so I like knowing all the things!); because I work fewer hours than he does; and because I mostly work from home (so it’s easier to do things like call for an appointment over lunch without needing to find a private space from coworkers).

Perhaps I’m happy to be the manager because my work in that role IS seen and appreciated. Perhaps it’s because my husband not only willingly chips in whenever asked but also takes initiative. Perhaps it’s because I’m a realist. Mostly, though, I think it’s because I consider it a privilege. I have exactly the family I’ve dreamed of, and I feel so lucky to be able to take care of them in a million small ways every day. It’s a privilege to help our family run smoothly as a wife and a mama. In a way, it’s been what I’ve been waiting for all my life.

I also want to acknowledge that if you are the household manager but DON’T enjoy your role – perhaps because you’re not appreciated for it, or you’re working more paid hours than your spouse – I hope that you can find a solution that works for your marriage! Just because women most often take on this role doesn’t mean that they HAVE to by natural law or that it can’t be split more equally. The most important thing is finding a solution that works for everyone.

Okay! Enough with the philosophical :) I thought I’d start my tactical tips with cleaning and a few basic household routines, since y’all were intrigued by my claims in my first post! As you’ll see below, we do clean, just perhaps not as often as most people? I don’t know, y’all tell me how we stack up! :) Here’s our typical schedule:

Unload and load dishwasher
Wipe down kitchen counters
Tidy main rooms, including processing mail (after June goes to bed)
Pack lunches for the next day

Every weekend:
Wash sheets and towels
Sweep and mop floor (with our Braava!)
Make menu and grocery shop

Every month:
Clean bathrooms
Deeper kitchen clean (microwave, stainless steel, cabinet fronts, etc.)

Various deep cleaning chores

John and I split these chores — we sat down and divided them up together equitably, based on our preferences, and we are always responsible for the same ones. I think knowing firmly who does each is key, because (in general) we just do them without nagging each other.

Other than sheets, we do laundry collaboratively during the week on an as-needed basis. I know it can be a headache for some people, but it just doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal for us – we just throw it in at some point in the evening whenever needed and tag-team moving it through the cycle of folding and back into the closets.

Another big part of keeping our household running smoothly is FOOD! I’ve written about meal planning before, but thought I’d offer an update since things have changed a bit since that 2013 post.

On Friday evening or Saturday morning, I sit down and plan out our meals for the week. Since our default is to make dinner at home, we first look at the calendar and figure out whether there are any days we know we’ll be dining out (maybe dinner at a friend’s house, or a day where we’re running around and don’t have time to cook). We also check to see whether we’re expecting guests any night. Once those are marked on the planning doc, we start filling in meals for the other nights. We pull ideas from Pinterest (meal boards here + here), from our collection of cook books, family recipes from my Kitchen Diary, and from my master recipe list on Google Docs.

Once we have our meals planned and they’re on our Lindsay Letters calendar, I put together a shopping list with any ingredients we need plus anything we’ve added to Alexa’s shopping list during the week. Though we used to shop at various stores in pursuit of the best deal, we’ve opted over the last year to only shop at Publix, which is maximally convenient but a bit more expensive. (We also were just gifted a Costco membership, and so have tentatively dipped a toe in there.) I usually shop during June’s nap on Saturday afternoon, though not always, as you can see below :)

Aside from these two big systems, what about the little random things that keep our household running smoothly? Here’s a list in no particular order:

1. I purge my clothes regularly while brushing my teeth. Yes, you heard that right :) While brushing my teeth, I choose my and June’s clothes for the next day, and that gives me time to consider what in my closet I haven’t worn in a long time. I know this sounds weird, but it works better for me than wholesale purges every few months! Less pressure if I’m only retiring one or two things at a time :)

2. We keep a donation box readily available. It’s in our bedroom, and any ready-to-be-retired clothes go straight into it, as well as any other unwanted clutter that needs to head to Goodwill. Once the box is full, I put it in my car!

3. I’m not afraid to re-gift things. This is not a source of guilt for me! It’s possible to genuinely appreciate a gift and also genuinely know that your home is not the best home for it. I only want to keep the best, the favorite, and the necessary (in the words of Emily Ley!), and to help do that, I freely let things flow to other loved ones. We have a spot in an upstairs closet where we keep these items, and regularly shop it for birthday, baby, shower, or “just because” presents.

4. With our cars, everything that goes in must come out. John is far better at this than I am, but the goal is that every time we get out of the car, everything that’s not supposed to be in there comes out with us: trash, water bottles, receipts, gloves, etc. This is an easy way to keep our cars clutter-free!

5. Our air filters come automatically. FilterEasy sends us two new filters every quarter at prices and quality comparable to buying at the store. We’ve always bought the super strong ones to keep dust and pet hair at bay, so this is an easy hack for something we were already doing. Bonus: they’re a start-up based in Raleigh! :)

6. Our frequently-used products are on stand-by. In addition to Alexa mentioned above, we have a few Amazon Dash buttons placed around the house for easy reorders: razor blades in a bathroom drawer, rinse aid under the kitchen sink, and Chlorox toilet wand refills in the bathroom. This is the future, people.

7. We store lawn care info in a Google Doc. It’s an easy way to track things like when we reseeded our lawn, how many bags of mulch we used, and when things germinated. I’d love to start another one where we can keep snapshots of the info cards that come with each of our plants!

As with all of these posts, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface – so if there’s something you’re curious about, don’t hesitate to ask! Otherwise, I would love to hear your thoughts on our cleaning rhythms!! I have the sense that other people clean more often, but perhaps that’s not accurate!

P.S. Don’t miss Nancy’s post here!

The rest of the series:
Time: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Finances: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Home: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Personal Lives: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Work: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Relationships: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Kids: Em’s post and Nancy’s post

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January 23, 2018 11:00 am

Of all the things that peeked my interest in this post, one of the top random ones was “what are chlorox toilet wands?” And now I feel like I need them! Haha!

January 24, 2018 2:10 pm
Reply to  Em

I had never heard of them! What a great invention. I just ordered some on Amazon

January 25, 2018 2:13 pm
Reply to  Gillian

For another perspective, I “invested” (splurged? all of $15 each) on oxo toilet bowl brushes for each bathroom, which are designed to dry thoroughly and clean very well. So far, about 9 months in I’m very happy with!

Nichole W
January 23, 2018 11:27 am

You’re cleaning system is almost identical to ours, I always wondered how it compared to others! Unless one of us isn’t feeling well, I pretty much always cook dinner and my husband does the dishes. We’ve been doing this our whole marriage and it just works!

Bethany Howe
January 23, 2018 11:34 am

Trust me, you are not alone with the cleaning thing! My cleaning system looks almost identical to yours. I absolutely despise cleaning, and if we had the funds I would totally have a cleaning lady. Yes, for our two bedroom apartment, ha!

January 23, 2018 2:19 pm

I am in a very different season – just out of college and living with a roommate, but many of my established rhythms and routines are surprisingly similar to yours – except in regards to laundry and running/emptying a dishwasher, since we have neither in our current apartment! I mostly wanted to pop in the comments to share how much I am enjoying this series. I love hearing about how people get the necessary done to create margin for what matters most, so thank you for sharing!

January 23, 2018 3:07 pm

So, after I read your first post I felt guilty every time I cleaned my house. I was like WHAT AM I DO WRONG? I’M PROBABLY SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME CLEANING GAHHHH. As it turns out, we have the same cleaning routine. Actually, it sounds like you clean more than us because we will let dishes sit for a day depending on how we’re feeling. Anyway, I don’t think you can say you don’t clean that much, but rather a “normal” amount!

January 24, 2018 10:30 am
Reply to  Em

Yes, basic cleaning is totally my thing! I love dishes and vacuuming. I believe that cleaning regularly is the key. I once was a nanny for a family who NEVER cleaned. It was really terrible (dishes everywhere, crumbs on counter, food left out, etc). Finally, they invested in a house cleaner who came twice monthly and it made all the difference!
Thanks for sharing and for the reply! I love that you tend to comments :)

January 23, 2018 3:17 pm

Man oh man, how others tackle seemingly mundane aspects of life is endlessly fascinating to me! I just love this series!

One of the realizations I’ve had over the past few years is in regards to the refrain “marriage is hard work.” Somewhat naively, I was certain this wouldn’t much apply to me since I met and married the right guy for me- it’s so easy for me to love him, to have fun with him, he’s my #1 in good times and in bad. In essence, I (somewhat smugly) thought that there would be no “work” for us. Ha! What I’ve realized is that the “work” for me is 50% being a good roommate, and 50% keeping my dang mouth shut when I am tempted to be critical or snippy. I tend to succeed more at the former than the latter :/

Regarding being a good roommate- we do something similar to what you describe in that we take 100% responsibility for certain tasks to reduce nagging. I do all the laundry, he takes care of all the trash and recycling, for example. One of the best things we ever did for our marriage was to sit down and write down EVERYTHING that goes into running our shared life. Then we divided it up. We included the emotional labor type tasks here too. This helped acknowledge all that the other does, and to feel acknowledged for what we do! This also forces you to agree on what work is important to both of you, and to define the type of life you want together.

January 23, 2018 4:34 pm

I love how you prefaced this series by saying you don’t clean much and now I’m ashamed because we clean WAY LESS! Hahaha! #needacleaninglady I am definitely checking out FilterEasy AND as a new amazon prime member/Alexa owner (#Christmas!), I’m totally looking into these futuristic automations!! :)

I also have to add, I read that article you referenced above, and WOW! I too am the household manager in our home and consider it a privilege most days. And having a wonderful husband who takes the time to appreciate and take some initiative definitely helps a lot! (It warmed my heart to read your paragraph on why you’re happy to be the manager, Em!) However, in this particular recent season of house renovations, it has been a LOT more time consuming and stressful due to the sheer volume of work that needs to be researched and delegated, decisions to be made, etc. so this concept of “emotional labor” was just fascinating!

January 23, 2018 4:37 pm

I’ve read a lot about “emotional labor.” I used to wonder why I’d feel drained from doing relatively easy tasks before/after work (paying the bills, picking up the living room). I was tired of being responsible for everything, mainly because I have the best memory and am the most detail-oriented one in my marriage. I dealt with this by first emailing those “emotional labor” articles to my husband (LOL), and we had several conversations about it. We outsourced cleaning to eliminate any “nagging” related to tidyness. And then I realized that I needed to RELAX. For instance, I love meal planning and cooking. But I’d get so caught up in it having to be done a certain way on a certain day that I would drive myself crazy. I had to start saying, “The kitchen will not blow up if you fail at meal planning for the week! You still have dried pasta in the pantry, and a pizza place down the street.”

January 23, 2018 9:19 pm

Your cleaning schedule is identical to ours! My husband and I both work full time and have an almost 2 year old daughter, so I was super curious to read this post! I will add that I keep Clorox wipes under the sinks in our bathrooms and will wipe down surfaces weekly to prolong a deep bathroom clean (especially during cold and flu season!), and I also keep a box of Swiffer dusting cloths in our linen closet and will dust bedrooms for a couple minutes for a quick fix. Like you said about the Clorox wands (which I also love!), they’re not the most environmentally-friendly and an extra expense, but they save time, help me stay ahead of the grime, and are much cheaper than a cleaning service!

[…] don’t forget to read Emily’s post on home organization! Last time I was at her house, I was eyeing her tupperware of party supplies in her closet. That […]

January 24, 2018 4:06 pm

I like everyone else, LOVE reading these posts about life hacks, and how everyone gets the mundane parts of life done. My cleaning schedule is much similar to yours too! And my friends think I clean a lot. ha! And in my relationship I manage most of the home things, while he plans the adventures outside of the home. This works so well for us because I enjoy meal planning and cleaning, and he sees it as one less decision for him to make. Can’t wait to read the other posts!

January 24, 2018 9:44 pm

GREAT POST! and great way to start it. I’m really appreciative of your delving into emotional labor. I’m curious – which tasks did you take and which ones did John take?
Also, do you clean in front of June or do you find other times in your week? It’s helpful to hear how another mom of a toddler fits in the pickup while also parenting. It can be so hard! And do you feed June the same meal you have and at the same time? You can ignore any of these questions that feel to personal!

January 24, 2018 11:27 pm

I think the problem with emotional labor is when it’s not recognized – when it’s just assumed that the woman will organize the household and if the husband “helps” he’s “helping” not doing his job as another household member. I think you explain it well, but I’m sure there are lots of women who love their homes and families who are treated like household management is a given part of their obligations and not recognized as genuine work that they contribute to the home.

January 25, 2018 12:31 am
Reply to  Monica

Also – I love that you recommended your mop. I have a roomba (it’s an off brand recommended by the Wirecutter and I bought it on black friday sale and it makes keeping my home in order SO MUCH EASIER. If you have the money to buy one, it’s my favorite home hack.)

January 25, 2018 2:30 pm

Love this series, like many have stated. I’m really intrigued by your notion of feeling privileged to care for your family. It’s turning some of my thinking on its head because like you, I have all that I ever wanted — husband, daughter, career (down to the car and kitchen island I imagined as a little girl!), and yet I often feel like I can’t keep up (and I’m a simplifier for sure!!).

What I didn’t expect and is “unique” is that my husband left his job and does a combo of watching our daughter and working from home starting his own business. I find I still do the bulk of home and child care things (feeding her, making her food, doing her laundry, bath time, bedtime, “lead” parent on weekends, most of the cleaning and organizing). Some of that is based on currently breastfeeding, him working before/after I’m at work, and because I’m innately the cleaner one and one to take charge. He’ll do what I ask of him, but not usually think of it on his own to do it (thanks to his upbringing, side tangent!). The few things we share/divide: doing our own laundry, him cleaning floors, me doing kitchen and bathrooms (we take the stance of if it seems dirty to you go ahead and clean it, otherwise the other person gets to decide the cadence it’s cleaned), him mowing the grass, me cleaning up/getting help for the landscaping as needed, he pays utilities, I oversee all other finances, short and long term. I have the tough dilemma of should he do more, even though he’s also doing child care? But then again I’m going to work, not to relax all day! It would be nice to not be the mental CEO of everything. This became a mental mind dump, but I wonder if anyone else is in a similar situation. Might be time for us to sit down and look at everythinggg and divide things up a bit more like you mention!

[…] Em’s post and Nancy’s post Finances: Em’s post and Nancy’s post Home: Emily’s post and Nancy’s post Personal Life: Em’s post and Nancy’s post TODAY: Em’s post on Work […]

Laura B
February 19, 2018 8:24 pm

If our about animal care/ Cleaning (litter boxes in your case) and also about trash/recycling/compost. Both areas are tricky in our house! Also, amazed at how organized you and John are (always!)

[…] Em’s post and Nancy’s post Finances: Em’s post and Nancy’s post Home: Emily’s post and Nancy’s post Personal Life: Em’s post and Nancy’s post Work:: Em’s post and […]