Imagine this: dishes piled up, laundry tossed on the bedroom floor, backpacks abandoned in the middle of the kitchen.
Do you feel like your house is always messy?
What do these things have in common? Other than the fact that they contribute to a bit of a mess?
Well, these are all jobs half done.
Some of the dishes got washed; just not all. The backpacks were brought in the house; they just didn’t get hung up.
But Sarah, you may say, I don’t want to spend my entire day picking things up! I don’t want to be the crazy mom who runs after her kids demanding they clean their rooms!
I’m with you 100%. And I am that crazy mom too often. Full disclosure – I have this problem too! Please read on.
Why were all these tasks left undone?
Maybe something more interesting came along.
Maybe someone needed help while you were in the middle of opening the mail.
Maybe the phone rang.
Maybe there isn’t a good place to put backpacks.
Whatever the cause, these jobs were started and then not finished. (Affiliate links are present.)
So what’s the big deal with half-done jobs? Is housework ever done?
Actually when you leave a job half done, you are giving yourself twice the work. Washing dishes or opening the mail only takes a couple minutes, but if you stop it takes a bit of time to restart later.
I had been thinking that I was being productive by running around and picking up something here, putting away something there. But the house never felt picked up, never actually tidy. Reading the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up helped, but still…
It’s inertia – you need a little push to get started.
If you stop a chore or a household task, you have to give yourself another push to start again. Or maybe you don’t come back and finish up and the tasks (and laundry) start to pile up.
I only recently noticed this phenomenon while I was watching the Stress-free Homemaking course.
Erin and Holly were talking about how doing laundry from beginning to end is a cycle. When you start a second load of laundry before you complete the first one, you’ve broken the laundry cycle. Then it gets harder to complete the cycle (i.e. put away the first load of laundry).
This made a lot of sense for me.
So I’ve been paying attention and trying to finish what I start.
Plus, as I’ve been telling my kids, it’s just as easy to drop a shirt into the laundry basket as it is to drop it on the floor. Laundry is one of those crucial life skills for kids that make my life so much easier.
Really and truly – if you train yourself to finish what you started, you can have a tidier home with the same amount of work! Doesn’t that sound great?
So how does this work?
It’s 4 simple things:
- The less stuff you have, the easier it is to clean up what you do have.
- Train yourself (and your kids) to finish what you started.
- If you can’t finish, don’t start.
- If you must start and you get interrupted or you can’t finish a task, make sure you finish it when you can.
Let’s break this down.
1. The less stuff you have, the easier it is to clean up what you do have.
This is so simple, but it bears repeating – the time you spend decluttering pays off every day in less “stuff” to maintain. Less laundry, fewer toys underfoot, fewer dishes to wash, etc.
I’d estimate that every hour you spend decluttering saves you an hour a month on housework that you no longer need to do. That’s an investment that will keep paying off for years!
2. Train yourself to finish what you started.
This takes some work, but it’s not rocket science. Oh the bad habits I need to work on!
The kitchen is the main trouble area in my house. So I’ve been working on doing one task completely before I start another one. Wash all the dishes and put them away. Then clear off the counter and table. Then tackle any school papers. Don’t flit around doing random things in the kitchen without completing anything.
If you enlist your kids to help, they’ll be glad to “remind” you. “Mom, finish what you started!” Kids can be extra helpful like that (wink). But when they do, they’ll be reminding themselves of the lesson as well. And of course, make sure to praise them when you notice them finishing up their own tasks.
3. If you can’t finish, don’t start.
Yep – I’m telling you it’s better to leave the dishes in the sink (assuming you’ll get back to them later) rather than washing half of them. You might as well tackle them all at once.
This principle is not always realistic. You may choose to do part of a job, but at least you’ll still be thinking about how you can finish up later.
4. If you get interrupted or you can’t finish a task, make sure to finish it when you can.
This might just be the hardest “rule” of all. If you’ve got small kids (or any kids or a dog…), interruptions are probably happening every 5 minutes.
Teach your kids learn to wait. “Yes, I can get you a drink after we put away this laundry.” “We’ll find your book as soon as I finish loading the dishwasher.” “I’ll go outside with you when I finish reading my book.” (Side note: according to this book, French parents think waiting is a critical skill for kids and make sure they get lots of practice! In case you needed any permission…)
And when your interruption cannot wait (crying baby, toddler with Sharpie, the carpool is about to leave), just make a mental note to come back and finish up. We both know it’s going to happen, so don’t get frustrated. Instead, do your best to finish up when you can.
To make all of your household tasks easier, make sure you have systems in place.
Systems help you work faster and with less attention to detail. Systems let you work on autopilot. Autopilot is a useful setting for a busy mom!
Moms need systems like these:
- Managing household paperwork
- Somewhere to put the mail and keys (love this trendy wall-mounted holder)
- Designated places for backpacks, coats, and other paraphernalia that comes into the house
- A place for all the piles of shoes. This attractive bench and shoe rack is perfect for the entryway
- Chores for kids
- Tracking household expenses
- Bill paying and credit card management
“Finish what you started” isn’t meant to give you a guilt trip or to create extra work for you.
That is exactly the opposite of what I’m encouraging. I’m merely hoping to help you notice if you have this habit (like I do) of not finishing up. Once you notice the source of a problem, it’s easier to do something about it.
Don’t hope for miracles!
I’m not promising that your house will always be clean if you stick to this rule (although it will hopefully be neater!). Instead, what I’m saying is that you can have a cleaner house with less work if you start to pay attention to jobs left undone. And that’s a beautiful thing! In the coming weeks, I’m going to be talking about some more strategies to help you do more work in less time.
If your house is really messy, decluttering might be a lifesaver!
Lots of people crash and burn when they try to declutter because they’re making a few key mistakes. My book, Step-by-Step Decluttering, takes you by the hand and gives you a quick, manageable plan to declutter, even if you’ve failed in the past.