I loved the reactions to last week’s guest posts from Elisabeth Sharp McKetta and James Stead about their tiny house adventures. They wrote that having a very small house allowed them to spend time and money on other things: hobbies, travel, etc.
They are both minimalists and are temperamentally drawn to the small home concept. Stead even wrote of living in his Suburu at one point in life.
Some of us, on the other hand, like our space. More than a Suburu’s worth of space!
Alas, it generally follows that bigger homes do consume more time. Things must be cleaned and maintained. That said, even if you don’t want to live in a Suburu, there are ways to keep a not-so-small house from eating all of your time. Some of my favorite:
1. Care less. It costs money to outsource household chores, but it doesn’t cost anything to lower your standards! This is also the quickest way to achieve partner chore equality, a major point of contention in some households. If Party A spends more time on housework than Party B, equilibrium can be reached by Party B electing to do more. It can also be reached by Party A electing to do less.
One of these is much easier to achieve than the other.
In all seriousness, if you are the sort of person for whom “outer order leads to inner calm,” then you might need to create the equivalent of a tiny house: a sanctuary for yourself in one room that is pristine, with you making a conscious decision not to care so much about the rest of the house. Shut the door. Pretend the rest of your square footage doesn’t exist.
2. Set a time. Like email, housework can expand to fill all available space. You can guard against that by assigning a time limit to chores to force prioritization. For instance, you decide you will clean the house for 90 minutes on the weekend (ideally with all family members participating). If a given chore does not happen during that window, it was probably not critical. You could set a smaller window during the week (e.g. 20 minutes after dinner when different people are assigned to dishes, straightening up, etc.). Same thing for yard work. If you enjoy it, great. If not, set a timer and do what you can, so you don’t wind up spending your life weeding in spurts of three weeds at a time.
3. Make less mess. Easier said than done, right? You can’t keep a toddler from spilling Cheerios. But a few things can help, even in a larger house. Definitely own fewer things. Eighty decorative objects accumulate more dust than two. Our kids re-use cups (or water bottles) during the day. We take off shoes at the door (family members — no one else is required to). Simple meals use fewer dishes, and often taste as good as more elaborate ones. Food stays in the kitchen and dining room.
4. Give things a home. Mess is often a function of things being piled up places. If it is easy to put things away, you will. If it is not, you won’t.
5. Batch. I know that people think that doing a little here and there keeps things from adding up, but all activities require transition times. I am reminded of this every year when I add up my business expenses to do my taxes. I think hey, maybe I should have entered these all on my spreadsheets when I incurred the expenses. And then I see that I can do the whole thing in a few hours on one day when I am in spreadsheet mode as opposed to taking some time on many, many days to do this unpleasant task. Same thing with housework. I’m pretty sure that doing a small load of laundry every day is the route to madness. Do a few big loads at one point. Dump them all out somewhere and everyone comes claim their own stuff. Don’t patrol the wastebaskets nightly; do a big swing through getting anything that wasn’t full on the night before the trash goes out. Don’t run the dishwasher at the same time every day if it isn’t full. (Same thing with food prep: If you’re cooking a meal, double or triple the recipe and use the leftovers for lunches or another dinner.)
6. Stop doing errands. Bigger houses require many things. Shopping can be fun, but I’m not sure how many people find it fun to wander around a big box store looking for a certain kind of lightbulb that the store turns out not to carry. This is the sort of activity that can destroy a weekend. Order online what you can.
7. Outsource effectively. Paying to take chores off your plate can be a great way to spend less time on housework. However, I have found from studying time logs that many people don’t outsource in a way that buys them back hours. The most obvious method of outsourcing — paying to have a cleaning service come do stuff like dust your baseboards every two weeks — doesn’t save time if you weren’t dusting at that frequency before. You might have a cleaner house — which can be a good worth paying for — but that’s not the same thing as saving time. (Also, a lot of people clean before the cleaning service comes. Yes, this is about picking up stuff so surfaces can be cleaned, but right there it suggests that the time-savings isn’t always as big as imagined.)
Instead, analyze what does consume the most time, and figure out if you can offload that. For many people, these are frequent but smaller tasks, such as cleaning the kitchen and tidying common areas. These are more effectively outsourced to someone who is in your house frequently. This could be a family member (your kids!) It could be someone else. If you already have a payroll system set up for childcare, adding a part-time housekeeper (e.g. someone who comes for three hours three times per week) is a straightforward process. Alternately, a paid caregiver might be willing to take on these duties during available hours (e.g. an after-school sitter comes from 1:30-6 p.m. instead of from 3-6 p.m.and does house stuff during the time before the kids get home).
If you have a not-so-tiny house, how do you keep it from eating your time?