Q. "This isn't a question, but a suggestion that may solve a problem I've read about in you column -- the problem of housewives who can't find the time to take care of themselves and their homes because of demands of their young children. They feel overwhelmed, disorganized and unable to get anything done.
"I had two children (and now have three) when I thought I was going to lose my mind, unable to accomplish anything. I had tried all sorts of things and finally tried a system called S.H.E. (Sidetracked Home Executives). It saved my sanity. I don't get everything done now but I get more done than before. (I'm getting this letter written!)
"It helps me organize my priorities and get things done and still have time with the kids. And the support stuff is great, with a newsletter, alumni clubs and new friends.
A. This letter brings back a lot of memories, and some aren't very old.
Some of us were born disorganized. We are the sort for whom a child and a kitchen spell chaos. It seemed impossible to do everything, but it didn't stop us from trying .
Stories were read almost for the asking; volunteer requests accepted like orders and the house needed an all-day blitz to get ready for company.
Slowly a system evolved, so that essentials got done and the rest were shared, delegated, minimized or if possible, ignored. The muddle-through method of homemaking triumphed again, because, to the disorganized, it is the only system that works.
That's why you letter brought a lot of skepticism, but being one who still believes in miracles, Parent's Almanac asked S.H.E. for its material. It's quite intriguing.
The young organization was invented by Pam Bruce and Peggy Jones of Vancouver, Wash., two sisters who once might have qualified for the Ms. Messy sweepstakes. They didn't keep house as much as stir it.
It's true that there were a lot of laughs with their kids, a lot of stories read, a lot of cookies baked for the PTA (or bought, if they forgot) but their homes were always decorated in early shambles. Aside from making other housewives feel superior, they didn't seem to achieve much else.
They admitted to each other that they were afraid to open the Tupperware in their refrigerators; that in emergencies they had sprayed their husbands' dirty socks with deodorant and put them in the drier at air-fluff; that one sister defrosted steaks in the dishwasher (no soap) and the other gave her husband damp shorts when the laundry wasn't dry -- except once when she put them in the microwave and everything but the waistband disappeared.
It took them five weeks to invent their system and retrain themselves so their homes never have to be cleaned for company (it stays that way), their children wear matching socks and meals are served on time.
That revolution took palce in 1977. Since then they started S.H.E. (41 employes now); wrote an amusing, if slightly disorganized, book about their method, have given seminars around the country, and say they have less hassle and more joy that they even had before -- and more time to read to the kids.
Their theory recognizes that housework is no fun but it has to get done; that clutter wastes time, and that it takes as much energy to think about doing the work as to do it.
So they would have you take 4-5 hours to make an elaborate, but fairly flexible card file system of all the jobs that organized people do without thinking and just obey it every day, as if the box were a boss at the office. To compensate, you get a free day every week and the promise that any habit, good or bad, can be instilled if repeated consistently for 21 days.
Their other advice is basic, like getting dressed and made up before breakfast as a measure of respect for your job; making the bed before 9 a.m. and never watching the soaps, since they are so negative.
The book does not, however, tell you to avoid opaque containers for the refrigerator, since food is bound to get furry before anyone has the nerve to look, and to switch from a roll-on deordorant to a spray. (You never know when it might come in handy.)
S.H.E. sells its book, Sidetracked Home Executives: From Pigpen to Paradise ! for $5.95; its monthly newsletter for $8; its cassette tapes for home care, $35, and its Home Card File Kit, $10. Box 5364, Vancouver, Wash. 98668 ($2 for shipping and handling).
And expect miracles.