Dusting the cactus

Housekeeping 4Friday is housecleaning day, and this week as usual I spent a few minutes out on the front deck sweeping the ever-resilient cobwebs off the walls, railing wires and window ledges. Our front deck is also the home of a big potted cactus, which in turn is home to several spiders and their incessant webs. And, as is often the case, I found myself whisking off the cobwebs with my brush. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking. After all, what kind of person dusts a cactus?

Question #3 that we Shedders are asked is, “How does housekeeping work out?” Perhaps the question relates to our experience with crazed roommates in college days, because for some reason people have a deep concern about the housecleaning angle of things. (In case you’re curious, Questions #1 and #2 are, respectively, what do you do about meals, and what happens when you don’t agree about something?)

Think about it. Never in the history of the world have two or more people who shared a home had identical ways of viewing what’s important and what’s not in the cleanliness and tidiness of things. I defy you to find an exception.

There are six of us who live here, and as you might expect, standards differ. Perhaps they don’t differ all that dramatically, as we’re all housebroken: we generally pick up after ourselves, clean up the counter after making toast, wipe the spilled milk off the floor. But also as you might expect, every single one of us has pet peeves and pet customs. For example, I can’t bear cups being left in the sink, but have no qualms about leaving rinsed items in the dishrack. Any ant who challenges me to space in my kitchen is facing imminent doom; any spiders will be carefully removed to the great outdoors Cup in the sinkwhere their job is to search out mosquitoes and eliminate them. I reckon it’s time to dust the coffee table when you can write your name in it, but am compelled to remove the first flickering of cobweb from the bemused cactus.

In other words, there’s not a great deal of consistency within this one individual. What happens when the idiosyncrasies of six people hit the exponential curve? Housemates who shall remain nameless do leave their cups in the sink, get cranky about items left in the dishrack, protect ants fiercely, spray spiders on sight, and would roll their eyes clear into the back of their heads if they caught me dusting the cactus.

So given all the possible pitfalls, Question #3 is quite a sensible one. How DO we make housekeeping work?

Well, we cover it off in three different ways.

A few good structures

In the early days, we sat down and tried to establish some housekeeping accountabilities. This has evolved into a big date-driven spreadsheet that lists all the major housekeeping tasks (categorised by weekly, fortnightly, monthly, etc.) along with who has agreed to do them. This document is useful because it reminds us what we’ve agreed to, allows us to keep track of what we’ve done recently and what needs doing, and lets other people know what’s been done (in case it’s not obvious).

Another structure we use is a regular cleaning time, currently Friday mornings. You can do your cleaning any time you wish, but if you want to join in the fun and take advantage of group energy, Friday morning is the time to do it.

We also use a guideline for duration: roughly an hour and half. It’s just a guideline, and we often find ourselves happily stuck into something that eats up a few hours—but the guideline helps address the issue of fairness. Of course at our age, we’re far too mature to be concerned about such trivialities, but, well, you know, just in case.

Timely communication

There’s no getting around the miserable fact that nothing will work without communication, and its joyous corollary that anything can be worked out with communication.

When it’s just your partner, it’s easy: you can nag, whinge or shout. But with housemates, an extra bit of sophistication and skill is required. Some issues we handle (sensitively and professionally, of course) in our monthly house meetings; some are brought up over dinner; some we settle with one-on-one conversations.

Truth be told, we rarely have these conversations. Occasionally a health and safely issue will arise. Could you not leave your boots in the entrance to the door (where I trip over them)? Could you please put your crackers in an airtight container (so they don’t invite unwanted guests?)

But most issues get addressed through our final and most important way of dealing with them:

An accepting attitude

All of us Shedders have said at one time or other, in one way or other, that it’s the process of getting along, of accommodating differences, of practicing acceptance, that helps keep us flexible and strong. I know that if left entirely to my own devices, I would surely calcify. Life might be easier, but I’m not sure it would be good for me. When Fred’s cups are left in the sink (there are no Freds here; that’s how I’m protecting individual privacy), it’s a gentle reminder to me that there are more important things in life to worry about. It gives me a glimpse into Fred’s life and priorities, if I chose to take it. I can have an internal rant or I can practice some empathy. As the latter is the route to world peace, it’s not a bad thing to have the opportunity to practice it at the kitchen sink.

The importance of my opinions is just another thing I can work on Shedding.

I will, however, continue to dust the cactus.


Eve, Heather & Fiona

Eve, Heather & Fiona

For those of you who’ve been following the rise to fame of the Shedders:

Eve was recently contacted by Fiona Wyllie of ABC Radio in Port Macquarie, and she and I were interviewed last week on drive-time radio. Here’s a link to the session.

2 thoughts on “Dusting the cactus

  1. Heather, Sue and I recently had lunch with some friends,during the meal I looked around

    considering weather I could live with any of these couples,sorry it all looked too hard.

    My experience tells me,lead,follow or get out of the way.I don’t want to lead ,and if I

    did I’m sure they wouldn’t follow and I certainly wouldn’t/couldn’t follow.I feel you need

    one or two people with the skill to maintain the balance of the group,or maybe it’s just

    me who needs a bit of retraining.

    cheers Ian

  2. Your comment made me smile, Ian, and I think your caution is to be applauded! Sometimes it IS hard, but I’d have to say for the 9 years we’ve been co-householding, so far it’s come out heartily in favour of the adventure.

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