I'll admit it - I'm a neat freak.
And having a dislike of house dirt while living in the country is, let's say, a bit of a challenge.
Dirt sitting in places it shouldn't be drives me crazy (dirt outside where it grows lovely things does not, fortunately!). Same goes for clutter. And I'm not ashamed of it, much to the chagrin of those around me who enjoy a more, shall we say 'lived in' approach to home care. There's just something that feels right to me about a clean, uncluttered house. Not everyone has the same obsession, and that's OK. I'm comfortable with my need for clean!
Now, living in a country house while building a self-sufficient lifestyle can invite a lot of dirt, muck and clutter - not so comfortable for someone who likes things orderly. Where we live on the west coast of Canada, it rains 1300 mm (51 inches) a year, more or less... mostly it feels like 'more'. That means a lot of mud and crud. Add to that my parents' dog (I do love you Katie!) bursting through the door looking for her favourite buddy, bringing sand and muddy paws in with her, and you've got a recipe for constant cleaning. Then there's the biggest challenge of living in a small rural home - the lack of 'space'. All those beekeeping books, Mother Earth News and Grit magazines have to go somewhere... not to mention all my son's dragons and dinosaurs. Without some attention paid to storage and organizing, the house could get incredibly cluttered incredibly quickly.
So how does a neat freak stay sane living in a country home, without spending hours a day cleaning or completely giving up, living in filth and tripping endlessly over stray tyrannosaurs?
There are definitely a few tricks, and I'd love to share a few of them with you. I've arranged them by topic based on the things I find myself cleaning and organizing most often in our cabin in the woods:
It goes without saying that a house surrounded by gardens and gravel will end up with dirt inside. But there is a way to keep it in check without having to haul out the vacuum every day. I've got a simple Asian broom (since I have no broom closet, this looks nicer in the corner than the plastic variety) I use to do a daily sweep, and have a few colorful cotton and hemp rugs in strategic spots on the floor that I can easily shake outside, then throw in the wash when they get dirty. I love wool rugs - I've got a few gorgeous ones in storage - but they're just not practical... unless you have a penchant for dry cleaning bills. And it goes without saying that shoes stay outside or go in the armoire - they're definitely not worn in the house, nor left strewn about by the front door. We'd be tripping over them, and the dirt would be everywhere. Finally, an effective, attractive doormat outside the front door - one that can be washed - makes a huge difference to the amount of dirt that ends up inside the house. With these tactics in place, I'm not constantly washing the floor, which is great, because there are so many other things I'd rather do with my time!
If there's one thing that shocked me about moving to a house in the country, it was the cobwebs. They seem to spring up instantaneously after vacuuming. In fact, last fall, we really didn't need Halloween decorations. The cobwebs appeared so quickly and so fiercely that it was all I could do to keep them from weaving themselves into new drapes. Leave the 'clearing' for two days and I was living on the set of a horror movie. So how does one battle the webs of armies of spiders you can't see? I guess you could get rid of the spiders, but I kind of like the fact they're on patrol, catching all the other bugs that could actually do damage (ants, moths, wood bugs). I won't use toxic insecticides, anyway, so I'm sort of stuck with them. The best way I've found to deal with the cobweb draperies is with one of those cylindrical dusters (wool or polyester) attached to a telescoping handle you can buy at most hardware stores. This allows me to reach up to the peak of the cathedral ceiling - way beyond where the vacuum can reach. Then I just vacuum the duster off after each clearing. The cylindrical duster works great for flat walls, but no so well on rough, hand-hewn logs, so for the walls I use the flat floor attachment on the vacuum. This keeps us pretty well cobweb free for most of the year - in the fall, I just have to do double duty... or pretend we live on a movie set.
Creepy crawlies creep a lot of people out. When we first moved into our cabin, we were finding cave crickets in the oddest places, and there were wood bugs everywhere. Maybe it was a 'spring' thing, but after living here for awhile, and allowing the spiders to do what spiders do, we seem to have less and less bugs. We do, however, get big brown house spiders that give me the willies. They have a habit of crawling on the ceiling right above the bed as we're going to sleep at night. Needless to say, I've become a bit of a spider wrangler - into a plastic bucket with a piece of cardstock to keep them from escaping and outside they go. Sealing up any insect access points, keeping food secure and ensuring there is no rot in your home will go a long way in keeping the bugs at bay. Finally, screen doors are critical in our mosquito infested corner of the world, and they keep out the flies and other flying bugs. I purchased some cheap wood screen doors that fit with the look of the cabin, and they've been more than adequate for the job. Living in the city, we just didn't have many bugs. Flies, and the odd ant, but that was about it. In the country, it's a whole other story.
I've written previously about mice in the house, so won't expand on it (you can read the original article Reducing Your Kitchen's Attraction Factor here). That said, do know that mice are ubiquitous in the country, and that they're actually sort of cute. Messy, but cute. Best way to keep them from making a mess in your house is to ensure anything edible is sealed up, vacuum regularly, check drawers and other places they might try to nest, and don't discourage predators like owls, hawks and other animals who like mouse snacks. Of course, if you have chickens, some of those predators may not be welcome, but that's a balancing act for another article. Some have suggested peppermint in sachets or peppermint essential oil in the corners mice frequent, but I haven't tried that yet.
If you're lucky enough to have a larger home in the country, this won't be as much of an issue, but even still, living on a homestead can mean collecting books, storing food, and keeping your toolshed stocked with extra handles and equipment. If you're a neat-freak like me, you need a plan and a method of keeping it all organized. Inside the cabin, we use baskets, armoires, and under-stair storage to keep small items both concealed and easily accessible. Outside, we built a new storage shed complete with hangers, racks and shelves for food and tool storage. Bottom line - the more stuff you have, the more time and energy it takes to look after it. I actually find it a blessing to live in a tiny home, as it keeps me from collecting stuff I don't need. That said, I do have some lovely furniture in storage I'd love to have room for... One day.
Even though keeping a country house clean and organized is a bit of a challenge, especially when storage space is at a premium, it's well worth the effort. And by following some of the tips listed above, it's easier than you might imagine.
Now, time for me to go remove the cobweb drapery from the ceiling fan.