February 13th, 2016 | Published in this mortal coil
At some point in my writing career — at some point around the time I was responsible for turning in a regular column on some real 101-level home networking and security topics — I came to a realization that was, as always, nicely encapsulated by an XKCD:
Realizing that was pretty liberating! Suddenly I wasn’t worried so much about whether what I was writing about was new or novel: My website wasn’t meant for people who needed constant novelty, and the people who were reading my columns were really just trying to make sense of the most basic stuff: How do I protect my new wireless network? How do I protect my privacy? When people talk about privacy and Google, what are they concerned about and should I be, too? How do I move this file from my desktop to my laptop?
Once I stopped writing the column and spent more time as an editor for my bullpen, I carried that along with me. My writers were all really smart, cutting edge sorts of people, and some of them would get wrapped around the axle trying to write about stuff that was new. But the audiences for all my sites were people who were coming to grips with technology and needed a confident voice to accomplish the basics plus some next-level stuff. So I’d coach the writers toward helping those people gain some level of conversance and basic mastery.
That’s all to go toward this particular blog entry, which is also sort of 101 stuff about life that I think I’ve figured out and maybe someone else hasn’t.
We recently adopted a practice we’re calling “Get-Right Saturday.” It works like this:
- We have a recurring event set up in the family’s reminders list. It triggers at 10:00 on Saturday morning, and it goes to our phones, tablets, and laptops via the iOS/OS X Reminders app.
- When the alarm goes off, we stop what we’re doing and spend 45 minutes or an hour picking up the house. Whatever pieces of mail got left on the table, or coats got draped on the kitchen chairs, or shoes that sort of shuffled away from the front door de-shoeing area get herded back to where they belong. We sweep, dust, vacuum, and clean the bathrooms. A load of laundry goes in the washing machine.
- Once we get tired of doing all this, we each drift back to whatever we were doing (or I go upstairs and work on the bills for a few minutes) and get on with our weekend.
I mean, no big deal. Not groundbreaking.
The thing that made it a breakthrough for us was stopping to examine things that were frustrating us very deeply about our household each week, because of the way our lives work:
- Al has a full-time job on the far east side. It’s a pretty engaging job with a lot of challenges.
- Ben’s going to a school way outside our neighborhood, and he does after-school stuff that can keep him until 5 or 5:30. Since we have one car, Al handles carpooling Ben and a few other kids from the neighborhood down to SE Burnside in the 20s, then back out to her job on SE 120.
- I’ve got a full-time job downtown. Since we have one car, I don’t have a lot of flexibility. I take the Max or I ride my bike, and my commute each way is pretty much an hour because I’ve got to either walk back and forth to the Max station, a mile from the house, or spend extra time changing/getting ready to ride my bike. Some days I’m up at 4:45 to make early meetings.
- I’ve got a few other cognitive challenges that make it pretty hard to not fall into something and forget about all the other things, which is a polite way of saying my housekeeping habits have slowly improved over the years from “catastrophic” to “shambolic.”
I’m not complaining at all. Neither of us do. We both love what we do. In one way or another, each of our jobs is something of a cause. Ben getting to go to a school that’s better for him is more important to us than the convenience of being able to pack him on a bus each day.
At the same time, we have to prioritize. Keeping up the house slips over the course of the week. There’s homework to help with, our days to talk about, books to read, news to follow, and on and on.
I used to do a little more over the course of the week when I worked at home. It was easier to take small breaks to pick up, do a few dishes, run laundry through, etc. We lost that when I started working in an office again, got it back briefly during a regretful period of home employment last fall, and lost it again in November.
About a month ago, we noticed how irritable the clutter was making us, so we talked about it and figured it out:
We were both raised in houses where there was a full-time breadwinner, and another parent who wasn’t working full-time through most of our childhoods. One of us had a housekeeper, and the other a mom who was fond of chore charts and training the children to do dishes, pretty much setting herself up as the shop supervisor for a small housekeeping workforce of underage laborers.
So, our expectations were informed by our upbringings, and our upbringings were about single-income households where one of the parents could spend more time just keeping things up (or managing the children to keep things up, or making sure the housekeeper was keeping things up).
They were also informed by the people around us. We know all sorts of people, ranging from single-income households with children to dual-income child-free households. It’s natural to compare, and it bothered us that our house didn’t really feel “drop-in ready” most of the time. I mean, some of that’s the house: It’s got a relatively small open plan common area on the ground floor, and that’s where we spend most of our time. It doesn’t take much for that space to get out of control.
Our behavior toward the housekeeping was informed by the shape of our weeks. We’d get through the week, feel sort of greedy about our time to do whatever we had in mind for the weekend (which amounts to laundry, grocery shopping, getting haircuts, and going to movies), and we’d never really sync up on the stuff that was bothering us around the house.
That was making us both feel guilty, which was sort of a stupid way to feel given that our material conditions were different from the ones that created the measurements we were using to gauge our success at being grownups. It was also making one or the other of us pretty cranky about what wasn’t getting done.
Get-Right Saturday is great for a few reasons:
- The house has stabilized into a sort of baseline level of declutter that’s pretty good. Yeah, it drifts during the week, but we’ve beaten a lot of it back.
- When things do get a little out of hand during the week, we don’t get as anxious or guilty. We know we’ve got an hour of working on that coming up in a few days.
- We hold each other accountable to concentrate 3 people hours on the house.
That 10 a.m. start time gives us enough time to get up, get breakfast, and sit around reading or playing games for a little while before starting. When the hour’s over, we still have most of the day ahead of us to do whatever we were planning to do.
Like I said, probably not new to a lot of people, but maybe new to a few people.
We were also raised with what I’ve come to think of as “American-sized” laundry baskets. I don’t know the exact dimensions, but I can confidently say that each one holds 1.5 – 2 standard washing machine loads of laundry. If you’re the type who is visually cued to deal with laundry, and not the type to decide laundry day is actually a few days, American-sized baskets are the devil: They hold enough to mean you’re going to get into a couple of loads worth, which means laundry becomes a bigger chore by instance.
We recently decided we needed a few more sorting baskets for the laundry area, so on our next trip to Ikea we picked up some of their baskets. We noticed they were small when we bought them. Since they were meant as a sort of holding tank for laundry we wanted to get out of the way so each of us could play through the machines on the weekends, we didn’t mind that they weren’t meant to hold a standard North American laundry basket worth of stuff. We did kind of make fun of them, though, in an ironic way.
“These laundry baskets are fine for your Northern European social democracies and possibly Canadians, but they do not support our more expansive American needs.”
So, anyhow, what we discovered after two weeks was that the smaller Ikea baskets hold a single load of laundry. When one is full + 8″, it’s ready for the washing machine. That means laundry’s a lot simpler. Less stuff stacking up in the laundry area, because a single load is going through with each basket, not 1.5 or 2. You just see that you’ve hit capacity, drag it downstairs, shuffle the Ikea-sized load in the dryer into a basket, shuffle the Ikea-sized load in the washer into the dryer, stick your stuff into the washer, and it’s like the Island of Sodor or something in its balletic synchronousness.
I super recommend them if you’re the type who’s disciplined enough to respond to a basket that is visibly full, but not organized enough to simply do the laundry weekly without the visible reminder.