Left to Right


This is the chaos that is our living room Christmas morning. It is also a pretty fair approximation of the chaos that is my life on many more days than I care to admit. My aim is to be Archie, still and happy in the midst of all the chaos. My aim is also to have a chair to actually sit on so I can finish Claire Tomalin’s wonderful Jane Austen: A Life. And if there is a table where I can put a cup of tea without everything else on the table crashing to the floor, life is complete.

Only this morning, my husband was making enthusiastic noises about how aggressively he is going to attack his resolutions, possibly aided by the intervention of six cups of strong Sumatra. Me? I asked him to aggressively make me a cup of tea so I could lie in bed and read.

Which is where I still am, this beautiful New Year’s morning in northern California, where the light is so clean and the day is a little chilly, but not forbiddingly so. He got me the tea and then launched into a little speech in which he catalogued my fine qualities, which is a little unusual, so I think that must be the coffee at work. Anyway, among the fine qualities I was lauded for possessing, besides my ability to actually not move for hours in the morning even when he has had six cups of coffee and is trying to rouse me to clean up the living room, is that I taught him to clean the kitchen from left to right. Okay, so it is not exactly the same as, say, teaching someone the principles of physics or how to speak Italian, but it still counts.

Basically, this important cleaning principle involves beginning your task at a fixed point, (I choose left because I am, after all, socially and politically liberal, but this works equally well if you begin on the right — something that is not true in any other part of life), and not moving on to any other chaotic place until you have put that area to rights. Oh, and it is also important to wipe the crumbs off that section of the kitchen before you move on.

I have a few other tips for how to go about cleaning up the living room and the kitchen, and I give them to you, completely free of charge, but only if you promise to spend at least part of your day today doing the equivalent of lying around in the midst of the chaos on your little dog bed thing, only in your case it should be the sofa or an armchair. A hot beverage is recommended. Here they are:

–play your favorite rowdy music — loud is good. It gets you going, makes you feel less guilty when you consider how wrapping paper is an environmental shame and you really need to think of an alternative, and also gets children involved in rushing around the house, putting their new books on shelves and even maybe walking that sleepy dog.
–never leave the room without something in your hands, and always put that thing as close as possible to the place it goes — you don’t have to get it exactly where it goes, but if it is closer to its destination that is a good thing
–caffeine is good, but six cups of coffee is pushing it
–line up a little reward at the end — Lying around reading the Life of Jane Austen is currently recommended because it is incredibly interesting. My favorite thing so far was Tomalin’s observation that Austen’s father was wonderfully encouraging, that he let her read widely in his library and he did not censor her writing, even when, as an adolescent, the plays she wrote involved the exploits of women of doubtful character, who seemed not to be punished for running around wildly, but to enjoy themselves immensely. Given that he was a minister, this liberality is all the more remarkable.

Before you know it, the living room will look ready for lounding around in.

Here’s to a liberal, open-handed, tolerant, slightly less chaotic, and wildly fun 2008.


18 thoughts on “Left to Right

  1. Bloglily, this photo made me SO HAPPY because it just what our house/life/everything looks like. I’ve been despairing over it. Will be blogging about it soon. All your suggestions are great ones. Trying not to feel too overwhelmed.

    I’ve been in awe of this particular woman who has TEN CHILDREN and manages to be astoundingly organized. Her mantra seems to be something about “the next thing,” ie, don’t move on to the next thing until the thing you’re doing is done, ie stuff put away. We never, ever, ever do this and I think if we even tried it 50% of the time it would make an enormous difference.

    Anyway, I hope you get back to Jane Austen soon…….

  2. I just saved a very grumpy blog post to draft and then came here and this was more what I was wanting to write. This cheered me up vastly!

    (I’ll forgive your posting of my living room photo, although I still don’t understand how you got your dog in there. Must be a Photoshop thing?)

  3. I embrace the left-to-right principle, and I often start off this way. But I am eminently distractrable, and often get off track in the middle.
    Happy New Year!

  4. Will you come teach my husband? He frequently picks things up to “put away” and then just puts them back down in some random place, which drives me absolutely batty.

    I think the dog has the right idea.

  5. I agree with YogaMum — the dog has the right idea! Wish that could have been my day today, but alas, I had to — eeks! work!. Get Friday off for good behavior provided there aren’t random bits & bytes of data flying all over the office. I take immense pleasure in realizing that others houses sometimes look like mine. Afraid I’ll never get the Left-to-right technique down, though. I’ll be striving this year to do one thing at a time for short periods of time. Eventually, I’ll clear away the debris without doing an archeological dig.

  6. I this household, music is the key. We clean like nanobots. We put something rousing on, and everyone has to be in motion until some number of songs passes. Somehow almost everything migrates back to its proper spot and the house is straighter (even if the real cleaning remains). I’ve never worked left to right or right to left, but I’ll try it…after something less than 6 cups of coffee.

  7. Loved the photo, and yup, ours looked a lot like that. To be brutally honest, it still looks like that. I’ve just closed the door on it and moved into another room and left the boys to their gerbil cage existence. They truly do not seem to notice. I like the left to right cleaning principle. I tend to clean in small bursts as more than 10 minutes depresses me, and if one corner of any given room looks ok, well, you can just look at that bit, can’t you? The point of all this rambling is really to say a Very Happy New Year to you, dear Bloglily! Here’s to much more sharing of the madness that is family life and the joy that is sharing travels in the book world!

  8. BL,

    What an excellent picture! Love it! And the left to right cleaning sounds inspired! My cleaning is always full of good intention and ends with more ordered piles of paper and books!

    Hope the New Year treats you fantastically!

  9. Never leaving the room with something in your hands is something I practice and it works! That doesn’t mean my house is necessarily neat…Happy New Year, bloglily. You’re lovely. m

  10. Happy New Year, BlogLily. I love that your sitting-room looks like ours did on Christmas morning. Rewards, music and returning objects to their places are all good tips for making cleaning more of a pleasure than it deserves to be.

  11. I LOVE this picture! Our living room looked like that…and as soon as everyone left to go back to their own houses, we were so tired that we took ourselves to bed. It had been dark for hours and hours, but as I reached over to turn off the light, I caught a glimpse of the clock and it was only six-fifteen. In the evening. I had to ask myself if it wasn’t really six-fifteen in the morning. The next day I had to pick up most of the treasures and mail them to people who had left things behind. Overnight mail, yet. If I had just taught them all to clean from left to right when they were little…none of that standing in line and mailing after Christmas would have had to take place.

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