The Art of Purposeful Slacking

Confession: I’m not the world’s best homemaker.

I wish I were. Sometimes I torture myself by looking through magazines like Better Homes & Gardens or Good Housekeeping. HGTV is a great way to inspire self-flogging. Oh, and let’s not forget the perfect-hell-of-good-intentions known as Pinterest.

I don’t support the idea of expecting domestic perfection AT ALL, but the truth is that I absolutely adore a perfectly put together, decorated, organized home.

I also love the idea of schedules and routines and well-oiled systems and sticking to them.

I also love the idea of having the self-discipline to get off the computer and fold the flippin’ laundry, rather than seeing how many loads I can pile onto the laundry basket.

I just can’t do any of those things consistently. Believe me, I’ve tried.

I know there are some moms out there who manage to do it all and still achieve the domestic perfection that I and countless others (for some vague, undoubtedly first-world reason) aspire to. I know these domestic divas are out there because I’ve seen their lifestyle blogs, and we all know that everything on the Internet is true.

It’s okay, really. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m never going to be the perfect mother/housekeeper/professional. Some of that is due to sheer laziness (keepin’ it real, folks). But most of it is because I have other priorities, like educating my kids and pouring out my heart and soul to friends and strangers on this here website (Hi there, friends and strangers!).

But I still want to feel like I can have it all, y’all. For all of my lofty notions of detachment, I’m not immune to this perpetual, privileged plight of the modern, middle-class mother. Alas. But who’s got the time or energy to actually keep a perfect home and a life outside of that?

Not I. And I’m guessing not you, either.

Anyway, the point here (there really is one, I promise) is that I think the key to success in life is to go with your strengths. And what I’ve found I’m really good at is purposeful slacking. I’m pretty much an expert at cutting corners in places where no one will really notice, so that I can sorta-somewhat have the home I desire, at least on the surface.

In other words, I’m downright deft at disguising my domestic deficiencies. (And also adept at artfully applying alliteration. Wee! Aren’t words fun?)

If you promise not to judge, I’ll let you in on some of my secrets:

1) Don’t fold your kids’ laundry. They’re just going to dig through the drawer trying to find their favorite shirt anyway. Just give them their basket of clothes and let them put it away as they will. One of my older kids folds hers, the other is a tosser. I don’t care, as long as it’s out of the basket and off the floor. Some of the more OCD moms out there will freak at this suggestion, but when it comes to parenting, sanity trumps sanctimony, pretty much every time.

2) Don’t sort the laundry, either, unless you’re washing something new or bleaching something. I take out towels and sheets to wash on hot. Everything else gets tossed in together and no one is the wiser. The only time this has hurt me is when we did some tie-dying and threw the rinsed (but not yet washed) tie-dyed shirts in a load with some white tank tops.

3) Pink tank tops are cute, too.

4) Pretty baskets hide a myriad of housekeeping sins.

5) So do closets.


7) Seriously with the baskets. Keep a large, pretty basket with an attractive blanket in it in your main living space. Then, if you need to do a panicked, whirlwind, 15-second clean-up because you hear someone coming up your front steps, you can literally throw all of your errant stuff into the basket and cover it with the blanket. Then it just looks like you have a nice basket full of blankets in the corner. Sneaky, no?

8) A friend of mine said her mom taught her to always keep an empty cabinet in the kitchen to shove your piles when company comes over. Love it. Except we’ve never had the luxury of an empty cabinet.

9) The oven works for this in a pinch, though.

10) No decorative pillows on the bed. Good gracious, it took me way too many years to learn this. Just get a pretty-but-sturdy comforter or duvet and pull it up over your pillows. It takes me 10 seconds to make our bed. Five if my husband helps from the other side. Decorative pillows might only take a few more seconds, but as I said, I’m lazy. The thought of those few extra seconds makes me 100% less likely to make my bed. (I never said any of this made sense.)

11) Speaking of time, time your most dreaded household chores—the ones you tend to put off because you just can’t bring yourself to do them. I used to hate unloading the dishwasher. Then I timed it and realized that it takes THREE MINUTES, tops. Really? I was procrastinating something that took three minutes? Most chores don’t take as long as we think.

12) Except folding whites, which I hate most of all. All those freaking socks. But even that is more tedious than time consuming, and I’ve ingeniously passed that chore off onto my husband.

13) Speaking of which, consult with your spouse about which chores you each hate the most. Then agree to do those things each other hates. You’ll both be happier, not to mention more attractive. There’s seriously nothing sexier than a man folding and putting away laundry. Win win.

14) If you don’t have a spouse or significant other to share the chores, or if there are things both of you hate, make your kids do those things and call them “chores.” Sock sorting is actually fun for kids. Suckers.

15) If your kids are all under preschool age, just don’t even bother with any of this. If people expect parents with wee ones to have a spotless house or matching socks on their children, they need a strong dosage of reality.

16) If you need to get the kids up and out of the house early in the morning, put your toddlers and preschoolers to bed in whatever clothes they’re going to wear the next day. This doesn’t really work if your kids wear fancy clothes, but if you dress them in cheap t-shirts and comfy pants from Target, it works like a charm.

17) Long hair is easier to deal with than short hair. I know that seems counterintuitive, but I’ve had my hair long and short multiple times over the years, and short hair is infinitely more work.

18) The long/short hair rule doesn’t apply to little girls. On girls 11 or younger, long hair is an invitation for wailing and gnashing of teeth because it hurts so much to brush. Little girls’ heads are 110% sensitive nerve endings. I highly recommend a chin-length bob on little girls. It’s cute, girly, easy to brush, and doesn’t get too messed up when they sleep.

19) Don’t bathe your kids every day as a rule. Unless they’re outside playing in the dirt, kids only need to bathe a couple times a week, tops. The whole “nightly bath” idea  for pre-pubescent kids is kind of nutty if you ask me.

20) Unless a nightly bath somehow lulls your children to sleep. Anything that makes a child go to sleep should NEVER, EVER, EVER be compromised.

21) Use frozen peas to cool off your kids’ hot soup instead of ice cubes. Just pour them right from the bag in the freezer into their hot soup bowl. More veggies and they don’t water the soup down. (That’s not slacking, that’s just awesome advice.)

22) Flushable wipes. Not only are they the best invention for terrible wipers (which is pretty much every kid under six), but you can use them to wipe down the sink and toilet during a normal bathroom visit. Flush and done. Takes like ten seconds.

23) Speaking of wipes, always carry baby wipes, even after you no longer have a baby. Keep them in your car. Keep them in your purse. I kid you not, they are the best stain remover in the universe. They work wonders on carpet spots. Try it. You’ll be amazed.

24) Label things. Not because it actually helps you with organization (though it just might) but because it creates the illusion that you’re super organized. As someone genius once said, Perception is reality.” If you distract guests with your fancy labels, they’ll automatically think you’re all Martha Stewarty and might just overlook the smears your kids’ jam-hands left all over the table leg.

25) Sometimes we have finger food for dinner. Not like hot wings and french fries (not judging), but apples and peanut butter, carrots and hummus, grapes and cheese, that kind of thing. Super fast, super easy, super healthy. And the kids will eat it. I hate to cook, but I can chop an apple like a pro.

As I said, go with your strengths.

The trick is to let go of the things that slightly bug you and focus on the stuff that makes your head explode. For example, I care almost nada about wrinkles in clothes, having all of our socks match, or always having a hot meal on the table for dinner. But dirty dishes drive me to the brink of insanity.

You’d think my passion on that subject would translate to my family not leaving dirty dishes lying around. It doesn’t. But at least since I know that’s one of my peeves, I can focus my cleaning energy there instead of the laundry.

I’m sure I’m not the only purposeful slacker out there. If you have any tips for disguising your domestic deficiencies, please share. We domestic diva wannabes gotta stick together, man.

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 40

  1. I have a small spray bottle of water on the dryer, so if anyone has a wrinkled garment they actually want to look pressed, we just spray it when it first comes out of the dryer. Wrinkles are gone like magic!

  2. I dress the kids the night before school too sometimes! actually I do pretty much everything you do, except putting the blankets over the bin, genius!!!!

  3. I hope nobody ever gives my kids the idea to hide their clutter in the oven! That would lead to a huge melted plastic disaster, because there’s no way they’d remember to take it back out.

  4. What great encouragement for this homemaking slacker! My unmentionables drawer is a jumbled mess of things just tossed in and I could not care less.

    One word of caution – I used to be in love with flushable wipes as well but I’ve been informed that they wreck havoc on septic systems and public sewer systems because they don’t dissolve and clog everything up.

  5. Love your post! So much humour, self irony and really great tips! I don’t do almost any of the tricks you’ve mentioned! My kids learnt from early childhood to have “domestic” responsibilities and clean after themselves. They are boys 12 and 9 now. We also have for many years a schedule of chores each member of family is supposed to do during the week. It works, at least for us. I also have a rule: Never do things for children which children can do by themselves! If I know they can do it, they will do it!

  6. I have a laundry organizer (4 compartments on wheels) when it comes out of the dryer, goes into whoever’s slot and I’m done. They can leave it in there or whatever. Also because we ranch 50 miles from school, have 2 houses…to save $ I give them totes for clothes at one house instead of buying dresser.

  7. Excellent post. Here are mine:

    Throw it all together and wash it in cold – best domestic advice ever.

    No top sheets on beds. I never even considered pillows that aren’t for sleeping on.

    Sweeping a hard floor makes any room look 75% cleaner, instantly.

  8. I never considered not folding the kids clothes–almost all go on hangers, so we fold, take upstairs and then they unfold them to hang! Insanity.

    As for the blanket & cabinet hiding, I’m a pro. I have friends that actually think I keep my house clean-at all times. My problem is that once the piles are shoved away, I forget about them & then I need to buy a new basket so I can have a place to shove my piles.

  9. Loved this! I have always thought “why do I bother folding my kids clothes if they end up a mess in the dresser?” And I agree…nightly bath time is to excessive. Haha!

  10. Yup! I stopped folding the kids laundry a long time ago bc of this and have them put it away neatly, of course it ends up looking like a tornado hit their dressers in less than a day! I should stop folding my husband’s too! LMAO It ends up exactly the same as the kids. Every single time!

  11. Yes to #1!! I throw all their clothes in their respective drawers without folding now, learned that hack a long time ago along with books in their bookshelves! Grandparents will come over and organize their drawers and bookshelves muttering under their breath and I just laugh at the waste of time!

  12. even without children, figuring about what bugs you and sticking to those things are the key. I like getting into a made bed at night–so I make my bed without fail. I like my clothes folded in my drawers but my husband doesn’t care if his cycling clothes are jumbled, so that’s the way we roll. I love a sparkling clean house but settle for a picked-up house.

      1. When I used to ask if something I was wearing looked ok, the question was ALWAYS “Besides the wrinkles, does this look ok?”

  13. We live in a small house and have no intentions of “upgrading”. I don’t need, nor do I want more square footage to clean. I also never bother with making my bed. Thus, I don’t make my daughter either. How do we hide this? We close the bedroom doors when company comes.

  14. I think I may be in love with you right now ! I so agree with no 15 and with the no folding thing (which is a source of constant scolding from my mom as I come from a household where not only is everything folded but ironed. I kid you not. Even dish towels and underwear!) and I love 21. And all the rest

  15. This is quite possibly the best blog post I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few. Maybe it’s because of all the clever wit, but I think it’s probably more because every word is true–it hits me right where I live. Thanks for all the sage advice… and for keepin’ it real!

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  16. No kids for me yet, but I will keep this list handy for the future! My favorite skacker tips:
    1. don’t bother folding socks, just keep in a designated drawer or small laundry basket and find two of (roughly) the same color.
    2. Bowl of dinner is my specialty. Cook rice or pasta, add some veggies, add a protein, add some sauce. Minimal dishes and it hits the major food groups.
    3. Decorative boxes do the same as pretty baskets. I keep two big fancy cardboard storage boxes ($5 at IKEA!!) under my coffee table and throw stuff in them to “clean”.
    4. Keep a frozen skillet dinner or 15min easy emergency dinner on hand at all times. They even make healthy organic or vegan frozen dinners if you’re into that.
    5. Get a basket for shoes. Again, I’m kidless but it’s still a struggle to keep shoes in the closet so the ones I wear weekly stay in a basket by the door. Decorations!

  17. Bathing every day is totally overrated. However, laundry is not a big deal for me. I just wash everything on one day, and put it away the next… in a good week. Otherwise there’s a laundry room for the stray pieces. And finger food is a planned dinner once a week at my house. It’s called “kids night.” Definitely worth keeping.

    Oh, and my kids usually wear their same clothes to bed. Less laundry! Plus, some days they just wear it again the next day. I’m cool with that.

  18. This is my life. All of it. Loved it! Each of my kids get a basket, and all their clean laundry goes into it unfolded when I’m sorting. Then the clothes get put in drawers unfolded. I don’t iron, and we have never matched socks. And finger food dinners…yes. I like to pretend its tapas haha

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