Ask Aviva: Messy Mommy

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11 Sep 2014

Dear Aviva,

I promised myself all summer that this year would be different for my kids and husband. They will not have to live in a messy house where mommy doesn’t know where anything is. But school is here, I am working slightly more hours, I am ready to give up but I really don’t want to throw in the towel! I know that everything will be smooth if I can get my house in order, but I can’t!

-Messy Mommy


Dear Messy Mommy,

I totally hear you. And not just because I am an empathic therapist, but because I have been there! I have also reformed, so I am very excited to help you get going with this.

First thing you need to know is you will never be on top of everything. And while I am not one to attest to this, since I am not by nature domestically organized, I did consult with a woman who is pre-wired to be. She said no matter what, she never feels like she is on top of everything. So that has to be built into the system. The forgiveness piece and letting go of perfection is part of our quest for order. As you improve, you will have much less that fits into the category of “I can’t be on top of that now,” but you will never have everything done. We have to remember that you are responsible for so much. You wear the hats of wife, mother, worker, friend, neighbor and you only have one head! What you can do is focus on the small things that are within your reach and give it your best. Ok, let’s get started:

Equipment. No matter how motivated you are, and no matter how hard you try, you will not get it together without the proper equipment. So go out and buy a small carton to hold the piles of mail and important papers that are flying everywhere. Contain the clutter so it doesn’t intrude on your living room and get to it later. You need bins or pretty boxes so your phone charger doesn’t get tangled in Barbie’s hair.

Other necessary equipment are cleaning supplies. Even if you have domestic help, you need to be ready to get your hands dirty when she is not around.

I also include home décor in the equipment section because if you want a beautiful home you need at least offer hints of beautiful things.

Support. You will also need small boosts of outside support. If it is a friend or relative who is inspiring, observe how she or he operates and mimic it at home. Many, many people worldwide have benefited from the website The Fly Lady has an entire regimen for turning CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) into order. Some tips are strange but surprisingly helpful (like clean your kitchen sinks until they shine). While others are obvious but give you direction.

Pace. With all of your frustration, and all of your motivation, you will have to take things really slow if you want this to last. The point isn’t the result of a clean house, the point is changing your habits to sustain it. To truly change, you have to go really slow and form new habits over time. You have to focus on the one thing that you are working on and ignore the mess just past the room’s threshold.

Focus. Start with one room. The most important are your kitchen or bedroom. First, scan for things that don’t belong in that room and put them in a pile. Then, clean! Do the dishes, or make the bed. Mop or vacuum. Once everything is clean, it will still look messy. So go back to that pile of things that don’t belong in the room and put it all away (or find places for it). Now is the time to be heartless and say goodbye to the things that you don’t need.

And if this is all too much work, then start with just one cabinet, or a bookshelf.

Prepare. A nightly routine to prepare for tomorrow includes straightening up the house (which should not be too hard because you have gotten rid of clutter or have a place for it), and preparing at least one thing for the next day. You can pick out your outfit or pack up lunches to put yourself ahead of the game for tomorrow.

Restore. Train yourself and your family to put the room back to how it was before you leave it.

Reward. In order to maintain this in a lasting way, you will need rewards. Instead of attaching yourself to your tablet all night, tell yourself that you can relax with it only after you meet a certain (attainable) goal. When you meet big goals, splurge on personal rewards. They may be frivolous but you deserve to celebrate! Plus, from a behaviorist’s point of view, they will condition you to keep up the good work. So get that facial or costume jewelry. Take a nap, or even plan a short getaway. (Although you may find that the best place to be is your beautiful, smoothly run home.)

You will know that you have finally arrived when you kiss your kid for making her bed only to discover that she has no idea what you are talking about since you’re the one who made it.


The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.