The Forcing Function

Sometimes, when my home gets really messy, my husband asks for us to host a dinner party as a forcing function to get us to clean the place up. It’s one of the most stressful things he says, because I immediately start to panic about the place being such a mess, and I absolutely hate to panic-clean. So lately I tend to squash that idea quick because it stresses me out, and leads to a stressful dinner party where the place is still not as clean as I’d like. It may work for him as a motivator, but for me it’s just too stressful.

I prefer to clean at my own pace.

But there is a minimum pace which must be maintained for a clean home (especially if it’s starting out messy.) It’s been said that if you want to see a dirty room you just stop cleaning it. It gets dirty on its own. So let’s say that negative clean is cleaning slower than the house is getting messy, and positive clean is cleaning fasting than the house is getting messy. Ideally, I’d like to always be in a positive clean state, so the house is getting continuously cleaner until I can maintain it more or less in top condition, and quickly recover from downtime. (Big events cause more clean-up, and illnesses mean messes can pile up.)

But only in the past year have I really moved from the negative clean into the positive clean. I’ve de-cluttered, organized, set up a nice seating area on my balcony and learned how to sew. I got the apartment to a level of clean which didn’t require dinner party as a forcing function, but let me just have one for fun!

I had some friends over for Thanksgiving, and it was so much fun! So easy to prepare food with my kitchen cleared up and organized. And then, so easy to clean up afterwards! Despite cooking way more dishes than I have ever prepared alone at a single time, it was the most successful party I’ve ever hosted, a milestone on my path to happy household management.


Tidying, Japanese Art?

I finished a book! Recently I decided I don’t read enough, and since reading allows me to be more deeply informed on any number of issues, I should read more. My first book, after that decision, still isn’t finished because it’s extremely tedious to read (some books are). I’m about halfway through. A few days ago I started another book, which has been an easy read. It’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.

Her method, briefly summarized, is to have a go at tidying just once–get rid of every single item in your home which doesn’t “spark joy”–and then, with very little left to organize, one’s house should remain “in order.” And if you do it right, you won’t start over-accumulating, and you’ll be motivated to put things back in their places.

It’s an interesting concept–how minimalistic do you want to go? Although there was quite a bit of weirdness in the book, from an Islamic perspective. From the sections about your personal shrine, and the proper care of talismans, to the way she advocates communing with the house and household objects. So the Japanese traditions play a heavy part in the book, and of course have tremendously influenced her background.

The real question is the usefulness of her method. I love that books like this one inspire me to discard things I don’t need. And reading it this week has been great timing, since I’ve been cleaning to prepare for Thanksgiving, when I’m planning to have a few friends over. I’ve been more eager to toss out things like a broken lamp which did nothing but “decorate” a side table, a nice simplehuman trashcan that we replaced with a nicer one, once my son was able to pull it over on himself, and a painting that I haven’t hung on the wall since we moved here almost two years ago.

Not sure if the book made the difference (I doubt it), but aside from the living room (toys, etc.) I’m really happy with how my home looks right now. Hope it keeps!

Any recommendations for good books on tidying or organizing the home?

My Homemaking Baby Step

Just a few years ago, my mind boggled at all the “simple” homemaking tasks that I couldn’t do. My drawers and closets were bursting with improperly stashed linens–I didn’t even know how to fold a fitted sheet! I’m still astonished I never learned how, since I definitely remember folding flat sheets at home before. But the internet is pretty nice about things like that… Buzzfeed abounds with lists of “hacks” for the home. That’s where I first saw the pictures for folding a fitted sheet. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what they meant, how to get from the first picture (hands at the elastic) to the second (all folded over).

And basically I didn’t care… I would just ball up the sheet and stuff it in the closet or on the shelf until it stayed put. That’s what I did until my son was born, and my mom and sister-in-law came to stay with me for a week. They were amazing, and helped clean and organize almost every room of my house! And when they were gone, I realized that… the fitted sheets had been folded! Seeing how convenient it now was to have them that way, and knowing it must be possible because someone in my own house had just done it, I decided to finally learn how.

A google search of “how to fold a fitted sheet” yields plenty of illustrations… but I still couldn’t make heads or tails of it. So I tried another route–the best way to learn anything, in my opinion. That’s youtube. I found a short video with a full demonstration, and voila! I knew how to fold a fitted sheet.

It was a simple task like that which made me feel like I couldn’t really be a homemaker, because I didn’t know how to do even simple tasks to take care of my home. But armed only with my resolve to learn, plus the internet, I mastered it in a cinch! (Okay, ‘mastered’ may be a bit of an exaggeration.) That was one of my first baby steps into homemaking, into realizing that I had what it takes.

I also learned that I could count on youtube for just about anything I needed to learn how to do.

A Worthwhile Occupation

It was pretty weird, the first time I selected “Homemaker” as my occupation. I had to come to terms with it. I asked myself, really what am I doing with myself? What do I do everyday? Why am I not working? (So I got a job for a little while… but meh.)

Nowadays, I don’t have that struggle in my mind. Now, I think of myself as doing a number of jobs that I would have to pay other people to do for me. For instance, cleaning, cooking, sewing, caring for my son.

Cleaning, from the little tasks like washing dishes, to bigger things like floors and carpets, is a job that many people actually get paid to do. And maybe one day I’ll be a rich lady who can quit cleaning and just hire a cleaning lady to stop by–or at least someone to help. For now, though, it’s one of my jobs. It’s not all-consuming, nor is it glamorous, but it does need to get done, and I’m the one who does it. Meanwhile, I’m not spending money on hiring someone to clean for me.

Cooking is an even more skilled occupation. If I weren’t cooking food at home for my family to eat (and I’ll admit… sometimes I don’t!) then I would be paying for someone else’s culinary skill. I might be paying for meals from fast food huts as well as fine dining… and all that food prepared by someone else costs more than cooking it at home. In many cases, it’s also not as healthy. So I’m saving money and taking care of my family.

Sewing is one of those odd skills–I tried to learn with my mom, and I should have when I had that chance. Right now, I’m just trying to learn the basics on my own, but now even simple things, like shortening a hem, are in my toolbox. So I don’t need to have pants dragging on the floor, I can fix them myself. I could have always taken them to a tailor, but once again there’s a job I don’t have to pay someone else to do.

But many households have a huge expense with their children–and that’s child care. What portion of a second salary goes solely to pay for day care, for parents of young children? If I were employed, then I would also have to pay someone to take care of my son during the day since I don’t have family nearby to help with that. But this is the most consuming task of my day–and it would be the most expensive to hire out. So again saving money, and also getting to have fun with my kiddo.

Taking care of my home is a responsibility, and even though undertaking it didn’t initially imbue me with pride, it’s nice to reflect on the individual tasks of my job, especially since they do overlap with a variety of professions. Now it’s time to sharpen my skills, I guess, so I’m more of a professional homemaker, than an amateur.

The Routine of Clean

Who likes cleaning? That’s right, a whole lot of nobody. At least, not me. Has anyone else had the amazing realization, after moving out of their parents’ home, that the consequences of not cleaning can literally pile up? They pile up on the dining table and kitchen counters, they pile up on the bathroom floor, the bedroom floor, and they start piling up on all available surfaces…

I moved out of my parents’ house in college, and I had some roommates. I never got the hang of doing laundry regularly, but I was pretty on top of the dishes. Because old dirty dishes… gross. But my roommate was also good about doing dishes, so our kitchen never spiraled out of control or anything, even if I got bogged down with something else.

But once I got married, I realized just how quickly the entire house can get out of control. And for five years now I’ve really really tried to keep it clean. And at some point removing dirty dishes from the table, washing pots and pans, running the dishwasher, all became part of a mindless routine, instead of out-of-the-way tasks I would put off as long as possible. That’s what I realized last night when I came home from a full-day Toastmasters conference.

It’s not like I left the place impeccably clean, but there weren’t any dirty dishes laying around, no dirty pans, and the dishwasher was empty. The dishwasher was still empty… but the sink was full, the stove was covered (with used pans), and there were plates and bowls in every room, on side tables, ottomans, chairs, and the dining table.

I was a tiny bit annoyed at all the dishes I was just about to have to clean up, but it took just a couple of minutes to get everything washed and put away, and I realized that I do this every day, and for the most part keep the dishes under control. So hooray! I’m a success!

A Halal Meat Home

Even after converting to Islam, I still followed an opinion that largely allowed meat even if it wasn’t dhabihah or halal, which is to say properly slaughtered according to Islam. But my husband insisted on hand-slaughtered halal meat, so after getting married, my home became a halal meat home; we only buy and cook halal meat.

It’s not a huge deal–we buy our meat from a local butcher shop, which does limit selection a little bit. And there are very few prepared meats or frozen meats we can buy. I guess that’s just more encouragement to eat healthier food at home, and avoid processed foods.

If Butterball does indeed sell certified halal turkeys (according to the video), or someone else does, then it means I might get to try making a turkey myself this Thanksgiving. (Is Thanksgiving halal?) Normally I’ve spent the day with my family in North Carolina, but this year I won’t be able to travel home. If I decide to celebrate it here, and invite some friends over, bring on the turkey!

When Recipes Aren’t Enough

My husband has told me many times how much he wants me to ‘get into cooking.’ When I first got married, I could barely cook only a handful of dishes. And most of what I could easily cook already or from a recipe was not healthy–cookies, cakes, etc. I really had very little experience cooking–and it’s taken a long time before I’ve been able to make any real progress toward being a better cook.

I really feel cooking is a responsibility I should be able to cover, most of the time. And especially recently, I’ve wanted to be able to prepare meals at home because they are healthy. And it works well with the recent healthy eating mantra, to “Eat real food,” because if I’m cooking myself I can control the ingredients. Thus I can avoid processed foods, added sugars, artificial ingredients, and even GMOs if I wish.

The challenge is learning how to cook. It seems like it should be simple, because cookbooks are everywhere. Cooking blogs are everywhere. There are blogs devoted to cooking, TV shows–entire channels!–and now even movies (Julie & Julia, anyone?) on the subject. But the abundance of recipes does not make it simple, not for a beginner. I need a bit more help.

For instance, I have wanted to learn how to cook a butternut squash soup. I’ve tried it a few times, different places, and have always enjoyed it. So I look up a recipe, like this fairly simple one, and set about collecting the ingredients. But for even such a simple recipe as this soup, I had two big problems on the ingredients list: (1) cubed butternut squash, and (2) chicken stock.

For the butternut squash, I obviously expected this to be an ingredient–but having never cooked it before myself, I didn’t know anything about it. Specifically, I didn’t know how to pick it, peel it, cut it, or even what to do with the seeds. That’s where Youtube came in very handy. I don’t always like to learn an entire recipe from Youtube, but something when it comes to something specific like how to cut a butternut squash, it’s the perfect solution. And sure enough, I found a short video explaining just that!

The other problematic ingredient was the chicken stock. As a beginner cook, I have never made chicken stock. I still don’t know how to do it. Now, chicken stock is one of those things you can buy already made, as is chicken broth. But since all the food I cook for my family is halal, I wasn’t comfortable buying pre-made chicken stock. So I looked up a few instructional videos and guides, but didn’t feel ready to give it a go yet. I decided to go ahead with the soup by substituting a vegetarian vegetable broth.

Unfortunately, I added a bit too much pepper, which overwhelms the flavor of the squash, but otherwise the dish turned out alright. I’d like to try again with proper chicken stock, once I’m ready to learn that lesson. One thing at a time. But if a recipe alone isn’t enough–a youtube instructional might fill in the gaps.

Any recommendations for youtube channels good for beginner cooks, looking to learn some basic skills? Share in the comments!