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Square Foot Cleaning


How do you clean..when you don't know where to start?!

I'm sure you are wondering, "What in the world is 'square foot cleaning?'  Well, it means exactly what it says...cleaning...one square foot at a time. It's my solution to a house that has 'run amuck'.  We all have times when things get out of control.  After years of doing morning routines (per FlyLady's advice), I rarely get in that position.  I declutter regularly.  But still, crisis do come...and with it...huge messes.  Sometimes it's a new baby, or a move (We've moved 22 times in 23 years!) or it's downsizing, or someone moving into your home, or like me..it's a relative passing away and you suddenly inherit their 'stuff'.

Or maybe you are like one dear relative of mine for whom cleaning is an emotional issue...there's just a mental block that you have never been able to get over.  This dear relative actually hired me to come make 'paths' through their house and get them somewhat functional again.  That's when I discovered this technique...cleaning..one square foot at time.  I walked in and literally did not know where to start.  She reminded me that she had told me it was 'bad'.  Loving her as I did, I gave a little smile and took a deep breath and told her that it was OK--I was fine--I just needed to get my bearings.  


I thought, I just need a cup of tea...and then I can figure out what to do.  But their water was heavy with chemicals which makes film on the top when you make tea...every glass and cup was dirty..the sink, dishwasher and counters were full of dirty dishes and I couldn't really get to the faucet to wash a cup.  The microwave was buried. 

I sent the relative to go buy me some water and ice. I spent the next six hours washing dishes, but I had to put the dishes from one of the sinks on the the floor so that I could have a square foot of clean space to work from.  As FlyLady puts it so well, the best place to start is the kitchen sink. It took an hour the next day to excavate the microwave and clean it.  It was surrounded by piles of stuff--but the microwave was beautiful!

I could not allow myself to worry about the whole house.  I made a decision to just establish one cubic square foot of clean so I could feel some sort of sense of accomplishment.  As goes the sink, so goes the kitchen. As goes the kitchen, so goes the house.  I felt like an army general establishing territory one foot at a time.   I didn't get the whole house clean--it would have taken several weeks. But I did get the kitchen and bathrooms working and the laundry on track. I cleared a place for sitting and the coffee table. I cleared the kitchen table and chairs--so they could use it for eating again.  And I discovered the piano and made it possible for them to sit and play music.  



The first square foot is the hardest.  There are so many decisions to make!  It can be very overwhelming, but you have to force yourself not to worry about the whole house---just that one square foot!

I use this same approach when helping my younger teen son to clean his room. He is truly ADHD. When I want to have him help clean--and I do make him help--I assign him one square foot at a time.  I train him to keep coming back to that spot and not get distracted.
 Here's how it works:
Step 1: Pick the easiest room first! Why? The idea is to give you cleaning success--fast! It may not seem efficient to keep going back to the same square foot of space rather than collecting all the trash or dishes, but we want motivation--not efficiency! 

Step 2: Pick any messy spot in the room and mentally box off 1 square foot of space.

Step 3: Pick up each item in that spot and put it away. If you don't have a place, get a box or bag to collect similar items  so that you can group them.
Step 4: Keep going until that square foot of space is perfectly clean. Ta Da! You've done it!  Now let's move over to the next square foot!


Let's put away a square foot of mess from my desk. Here is what my mental process is like.   First I pick up the  homemade wrist rest (sock with dry macaroni)and throw it away. I put the new gray wrist rest  (on the right) from Dad's house next to my lap top. There is a sympathy card on top of the pile--it goes to the sympathy box in the livingroom--or in a zip bag of scrapbook items.  There is Dad's bible--given to him by my step-mom's mother. I want to give it back to her, but I know I have lots of items from Dad's to be given to family members.  I start a box or bag to put all items like that into and set it near the back door.  The voltage meter came from Dad's and is a gift to my son.  I'll send a child to run it out to the carport to put in the box of tools we collected for him.
I pull out all the misc. wires and gadgets for my new Ipod Touch. I put them in one of the drawers of the new desk drawer divider.  My CD player is under that. It usually goes in the second drawer of my desk--so I put it there. There's a program to the funeral--into the sympathy box. (The funeral home provided this box.)  A CD is at the bttom of the stack and goes with the rest of my music CD's.  At the bottom of the stack are bills, which go into the bill holder.  The mouse belongs where it is, so I leave it.
Desk Before..

 Desk After...
Yes...this is tiresome, but in 10 minutes, I was done and a third of my desk was now clean! I actually started in the livingroom after taking the pictures above (two days ago) and got the whole livingroom clean before bedtime.  I didn't put it all away--some things went in boxes for going through later.  The boxes were fine--but the mess...clothes, shoes, glasses, chip bags etc were not fine!
In each picture, there is the same pile of misc.  All the items could be identified and put away. By yesterday evening, I had the living room, kitchen, and dining room all clean.  I woke up energetic this morning and ready to tackle the sewing room and desk.  I was so depressed when I started...but I talked myself into cleaning ONE SQUARE FOOT...and it worked!

We are almost back to normal already and you can be too!
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6 comments:

Trudy Callan said...

What a great system. You are amazing, Donna. I can't believe that you've already almost got your home in order after being gone so long. It seems impossible. I'll have to try to put this to use. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

Sewfast said...

Thanks for sharing your system Donna...I can see using it when things get out of control here!

Melissa said...

Cleaning, system? Heh. Not necessarily one square foot at a time but definitely one step at a time. And you are right, there is a definite psychosis to how people keep (or don't keep) their homes. Sometimes it is because of one, sometimes it is the manifestation of one. Regardless, we all have homes that need cleaning. Before I became a mom, I would leave most of the tidying to the Mr. during the week and then on Sundays I would turn the music up really loud and scrub away. Now that I am a mommmy, I just try and keep up. With super scrubbing coming when it cannot wait any more, and usually during naps.

On kids and their rooms, I found a book when I was a kid that taught you how to clean your room. Step by step. I think it would be really helpful to any child, but maybe especially one with ADHD. I recently found another copy in a thrift store that I am holding onto for Wednesday when she is old enough to use it...let me see if I can find a link for you. http://www.amazon.com/Clean-Your-Room-Survival-Kids/dp/094151000X tadaa. I cannot recommend it enough. Seems weird maybe but to this day I follow the steps to clean my room as a grown up.

Alright, I shall leave your comment box.
p.s. Welcome back to the blogosphere.

Donna said...

Hi Melissa, Thanks for the welcome! I can't tell you how glad I am to be home and blogging again! I felt compelled to share my dear relative's plight--I swear that it's genetic! Some of the family take after one side and hate cleaning--and the other side can't think in a mess!

I'll check out that book-Thanks!

School for Us said...

Thank you for sharing this! First of all, I can't imagine moving that many times! I have been married for 17 years - and we have lived in 2 houses. Growing up, we lived in 2 houses for 7 years or more each. So, I'm not much of a mover!

Anyway, my house has "piles" in various areas - especially school piles! I am feeling a bit overwhelmed about them (especially as I'm having family in a few days and one is almost OCD in her household cleanliness). Anyway, I'm trying to decide if I should tackle my house or let it be. I like your idea of square foot cleaning! Maybe I'll try a few spots tomorrow - or at least one. It'll make me feel better! (Today I did clean off a shelf where we keep plastic cups - they kept falling out on me and I knew I couldn't let her see that!)

Countrymama said...

I can relate to your post, too much. My house isn't filthy but it does get cluttered and I makes my day so much harder. On the other end, if it's all tidy I seem to have too much free time on my hands and think that I can slack..and so the cycle continues. I guess I'm just used to "panic cleaning" and I'd love to break the habit. It wasn't like this before we moved here, I used to ultra tidy and organized.

“There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again.” ~ Margaret Sangster
Welcome to Comin' Home! If you lived nearby, I'd invite you over to my neck of the woods for a nice long chat and a cup of tea out on the deck. But since we can't do that, I hope you'll stay and look around. I love learning new things and sharing what I learn with friends. Comin' Home is where I share tips from my many projects. Let's have some fun together! XO Donna

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