I know there are people in the world who keep a tidy kitchen with pristine counters, but I’m not one of them.
There are fliers from school next to the toaster and grimy spots on the stove. I do clean my kitchen every single day because — hygiene — and I don’t want my family to get food poisoning, but historically, clutter and the constant loading and unloading of the dishwasher have been hard for me to manage.
Last summer I saw a book called “Zone Cleaning for Kids: The Fun Way to Clean the House” by Jennie von Eggers and Marillee Flanagan. It promised pictures, checklists and step-by-step instructions. I realized the book was for a younger-than-40 audience, but I was lured by the promise of “fun,” so I bought myself a copy.
It’s six months later and my kids still haven’t read the book, but I’ve taken a lot of it to heart. The basic process of “zone cleaning” is to do one step at a time, which means that chores aren’t psychologically overwhelming.
I’m summarizing here, but cleaning the kitchen would look like this, starting from one end of the counter to the other:
1. Put all the dishes in the sink.
2. Put all the food away.
3. Put all the trash away.
4. Wash the dishes.
5. Wipe the counters.
After that’s done, Eggers and Flanagan advise kids to sweep the floor, straighten chairs, empty the wastebasket, and then do a day-of-the-week job like mop, wipe down the refrigerator or scrub chairs. I’m going to be honest and say I’m not advanced enough to do any of that. But the step-by-step pictures are inspiring.
Some of you might be wondering: “Jenny, how did you clean the kitchen before you read this children’s book?” That’s a valid question. I did all of those steps mixed up together. I’d put this away, put that away, wash this, scrub that and so forth until it felt like I was in a never-ending kitchen nightmare.
Following Eggers and Flanagan’s process however, gives me a sense of completion every few minutes. Boom! The dishes are in the sink. Zap! The food is put away. Yesssss! No more trash.
I’ve discovered that I can set the timer for 20 minutes and, by the time I hear the buzzer ring, my kitchen is usually clean. Taking this a step further, I can unload the dishwasher in three minutes flat — two minutes, if I load the plates and bowls the same direction.
Now might be a good time to confess (if you haven’t already guessed) that when I was in high school I took AP classes instead of practical subjects like home economics.
At least all that cramming for college taught me how to study. After reading “Zone Cleaning for Kids” multiple times and watching the accompanying DVD, I’m ready to tackle the living room.
Set the timer, Alexa, I’m on a cleaning rampage.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.