Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Busy Mom's Experiential Learning Program in Housework Management

One of the biggest perks of living in South Africa is access to affordable household help. It is one of the key reasons why, unlike many white South Africans of my generation, emigration holds no appeal for me.

If this arrangement seems a bit colonialist or antiquated or otherwise "not quite cricket" to you, blame it on my weird South African upbringing. Then go check out a few "Madam and Eve" cartoons here or on Facebook, and the "Ooh-eh-eh!" Omo washing powder ad.

My wonderful Domestic Worker (yes, in South Africa that's the 'official' job title) is nanny to Little Nunu (as well as Mr Pieman and Sweet-Pea during school holidays) and does most of our housework. She is also the finder-of-missing objects, queen of impeccable ironing, and general sanity saver. It is she who ensures that we don't end up on an episode of "Clean House" or "Hoarders" while Muna and I are off bringing home the bacon.

December Madness

A Mess
...and then December rolls around. Much as I love spending 3 weeks at home with my family instead of in traffic or at the office, I don't love spending it doing housework while my Domestic Goddess (that's my 'official' name for her) takes her very well-earned 3-week Christmas break.

You see, the downside of domestic help is that no-one is really in the habit of cleaning up after themselves. And nothing turns me into a screaming lunatic faster than A Mess...

When poor DG returns to work, I am wracked with guilt (and embarrassment) at the household horror that meets her eyes after she unlocks the door on her first morning back.

This means that I usually spend my Christmas holidays alternating between fits of frustrated rage and manic bouts of frenzied, self-righteous-but-inept tidying, scrubbing and laundering.

This year I decided that I was going to keep our house up to DG's standards or bust. My 3-week Experiential Learning Program in Housework Management taught me many things.


  1. "Just one small cap is enough!" promises notwithstanding, Omo Liquid's stain busting power is no match for that of Omo washing powder. DG was right. As usual.
  2. Shaking out wet clothes before hanging them on the line means fewer creases
  3. If I wash the bed linen early in the morning, it's dry by the time the second load of washing is done. This means that: 
  4. I have enough room on the washing line for all the laundry and don't need to drape it over my garden furniture to get it dry; and 
  5. I can put it straight back on the beds without disturbing any of the perfect piles of immaculately folded linen stowed in my linen cupboard - packed there with the precision of a military operation by DG.
    My carefully sorted laundry
  6. Sorting dry laundry into piles on based on the room and shelf where it belongs as I take it off the line is the most efficient way to do it.
  7. Absolutely nothing terrible happens if I leave washing on the line overnight... Who'd ever have thought it?! 

    ...and now for the cracker...

  8. Sweet-Pea can do laundry! Yup! On one of my "busy" days she actually volunteered to do it. After a little instruction on how to use the washing machine, my 9-year old daughter did all the laundry for our family of five. Washed, hung out to dry, taken down and lacked away. It was a Proud Mommy moment of note!


  1. A daily cleaning schedule helps. Like most things in life, having a clearly articulated plan helped me focus. I used this one.
  2. Sponge paint brushes make perfect book dusters.
  3. Dirt and dust get everywhere. And I mean everywhere. All this time I thought the dusty, cobwebby corners of my house were there because DG wasn't getting to them. Turns out it's because there are 5 people and two dogs tramping through our house every day. My apologies DG!
  4. Loose carpets are dirt traps. If you don't believe me, look under yours two days after you've scrubbed the floor underneath it. My one loose carpet has now been relegated to the dump - it was falling apart anyway.
  5. No more muck!
  6. Microfiber mops are proof that God exists and loves cleaners and janitors. Seriously. Whoever invented these wonders of the modern home deserves to have a comfy spot in Heaven reserved for them.
  7. The icky, sticky muck that collects on top of high-up kitchen cabinets comes off easily with a few squirts of "Clean Green" (or any other de-greasing cleaner). Prevent it building up again by laying newspaper trimmed to size on top of the cabinets. After that, it's simply a matter of replacing the paper every few months.

So, that's it. I think I passed my Housewife's learning program, but I am now well and truly ready to go back to office politics and project plans. Although I managed to keep my house clean with (a lot of) help from Muna and Sweet-Pea (and surprisingly few arguments) I am looking forward to DG's return in the way that desert travellers look forward to a glass of iced water.

What are your best tips for managing housework? Leave me a comment and let me know. Heaven knows, I need all the help I can get!

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