The Homemaker’s Conundrum
You know something we are bombarded with in this technological world? Tons and tons of advice. We have information available to us from so many sources, and everybody’s got an opinion (I’m saying this as I’m sitting here typing my own opinion…ironic, no?). There is one topic that I’ve seen over and over again that really does impact me, and that topic is the cleanliness of our homes. There is a loud voice that tells moms, “Hey, don’t worry about it! You have kids, your house won’t be clean until they leave for college! Who cares if it’s a wreck, if people can’t like you for you mess and all, then they’re not really your friends.” Then there is the other side, the white-glove, spic and span people who tell you how important it is to always have a clean house, complete with rigorous lists and cleaning schedules. They tell you it’s your “job” as a homemaker…meaning since we don’t have a J-O-B outside of our homes, that our homes are our jobs. We manage the home from chores to cooking family scheduling. So which one is it? Should I break my back making this perfectly clean home, or do I just say to heck with it and spend all day with the kids and embrace our mess?
Let’s Look at the Evidence
After years and years of being a very bad housekeeper, I think I’ve finally answered that question, and least for myself. And the answer lies somewhere in the middle and has to do less with the “rules” of keeping house and more with my heart, which I will explain a little later. Here are some observations I’ve made about my messy house. My house is a wreck. You might say, “Oh no, it can’t be that bad, it’s just messy, it’s just cluttered, it’s ‘lived in’, and the kids are more important than a clean house anyway.” Yes, you could say that, but I’m afraid that would be inaccurate. My house IS a wreck! And when my house is like that, several things happen to me. I am unhappy. I don’t find myself in a state of joy because just being in a messy area pulls down my spirit. I look around and all I see is how much crap I have to clean. And the worse it gets, the more I procrastinate. I’d much rather go read a book and forget about the mess in the kitchen than actually take an hour and go clean it. And as I’m procrastinating because the mess is so huge and overwhelming, it’s just getting worse and worse.
Another thing that happens is that when someone pops in unexpectedly, I’m embarrassed. I’m making excuses for why my house is messy, looking around in horror to see what I can kick behind the couch, and trying to position myself in the cleanest little nook so they have to look toward me and not behind them at the filth. It’s so uncomfortable. I can’t be hospitable in my own home. There have been a handful of times when I wanted to open my open to a friend or family member who needed a place to stay for the night. This involved trying desperately to find some clean bedding, cleaning off a couch or bed for them, and furiously straightening up the horrible kitchen that they were inevitably going to see. This messy house is depressing to me! How can I be a gracious host? I don’t invite people over for this reason. How much am I missing out on those relationships I could and should be fostering with other people? I’ve decided, for me, that I can’t live in a messy house anymore. Not only for the reasons I shared with you already, but also for my husband’s sake.
But Wait…I’m an Modern-Day, Independent, Feminist Woman!
Now, I know there are some pretty independent-minded women who may bristle at what I’m about to say, but hear me out: it is my duty and responsibility to keep a clean home. My husband works very hard outside the home to make a living for us. He has responsibilities and he does them well because he has to for our very survival. What are my responsibilities to him? To honor him, to do my job as well, to manage a well-kept home so that he comes home to a warm and loving place. For my children to feel at home without the chaos of a messy house, to give them chores and responsibilities so that they learn the discipline of doing their own little jobs and the pride of an “honest day’s work”. To be a gracious and hospitable host for friends, family, and strangers where I can entertain them without focusing on the mess and only put all my focus on them. To have a place where I can rest my soul and not be constantly stressed about the condition of the house. These are my responsibilities. No, it doesn’t have to be white-glove clean. No, it doesn’t have to be dusted and vacuumed daily. No, it doesn’t have to be free from all clutter all the time. Why does it have to be one extreme or the other? Who said it had to be that way anyway? I’m here to say, “It doesn’t.”
*Update: I found an awesome FREE Household Planner by Susan over at Confident Mom! I absolutely love it! It’s easy, it’s just a daily check list, and she has both a blank calendar and one that already has the chores listed. I use the one with the chores already listed. I print it out and check off things as I go each day. There is space to add things if there is something specific you need to do that day. Also, there is a menu planner so you know if you need to take meat out to thaw or anything like that. She even has a supplement pack you can download for a small fee (just a few dollars, if I recall) and it’s totally worth it!
So What’s the Solution?
I have been systematically going room by room to clean up for the past week or two, starting with the den at one end and working my way through the house. After I clean a room, I keep maintaining that room while I work on other big projects in the following days. Here are some observations I’ve made. First, when I have a room that’s completely clean for the most part, it’s so much easier for me to pick up. For example, I just repainted our den and put up some decor and rearranged the furniture. As the day goes on and things start accumulating like toys, kids’ shoes, and cups, it’s pretty easy for me at some point to pick those items up (or have the kids do it) and put them away. Just a few minutes of effort gets the room back to being clean again, and that makes it much easier to do than when I have a huge mess on my hands. Because when that happens, I get overwhelmed, and I procrastinate, and it gets worse. The added benefit to this is that when someone calls to say they’ll be at my house in 5 minutes, I can pick up really quickly and have a presentable home for them to walk into. Then I’m just enjoying my company and not stressing over the state of the house.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I find a peace and joy when I’m in a clean room. In fact, since I cleaned the den I’ve actually had a hard time getting to other rooms to clean them because I just want to stay in the den! However, I’m making myself work on those other rooms because I know that I will feel so much better when they are done as well. Yesterday I tackled the dining room that is adjacent to the den. Today I will tackle the kitchen. My goal is to have all the “common areas” clean by the end of this weekend. When someone comes to my house, it doesn’t have to be spotless, it doesn’t have to be dusted, it doesn’t have to be vacuumed; but, if it is tidy and welcoming, then I’m happy with that. See? Not one extreme or the other, not white glove but not filthy either.
A Matter of the Heart
Now, I’ve told you what I feel I need to do as far as keeping a cleaner house, but I didn’t explain what I meant about it being a heart issue. Here’s why I think it is. Up until recently, my MO (“modus operandi”, or the characteristic way of normally doing things) was to put it off and put it off until finally at the end of the day I rushed around to get something – anything – done before my husband got home. Then I would make excuses as to why I didn’t have it clean. The baby was crying and needed attention, the kids were getting in trouble and needed my attention, I decided taking them outside to play with them was more important so I’ll just do the housework tomorrow. Whatever. Truth be told, I was lazy. Seriously, I was lazy! I had plenty of time to do it, I just wasn’t spending my time wisely. Instead of buckling down and getting my hands dirty, I had put things off, I over-analyzed and “planned” without ever executing the plan, I let myself watch just “one more” episode of a TV show, I worked on things that weren’t as high on my priority list and felt like I worked all day but didn’t get anything done. How was this honoring my husband, or God for that matter? It wasn’t. I certainly was not putting my full effort into it. I knew I could have done better, I could have done more.
I wasn’t taking any pride in my home at all. That had nothing to do with me not having time or being to caught up with the kids, and everything to do with my idle heart. What if something really happened that day that prevented me from working? The baby was sick, fussy, clingy, and I basically nursed him and laid in bed with him most of the day, for example (which I just recently did, by the way). That’s a legitimate reason to ignore the housework, right? Of course it is! When people talk about how your kids are more important than a clean house, THIS is what that means to me. So, if something really prevented me from cleaning, that would be a legitimate reason that I can tell my husband when he walks in the door and sees I did nothing all day in the form of housework, right? Yeah…if I had a habit of maintaining my home daily. However, when he is so used to hearing excuse after excuse and never seeing any progress, then that reason just becomes another excuse. When I’ve made it a priority to keep a cleaner house over the past few weeks and I’ve had a day like that (as I said, I just did), then it’s okay with me and with him.
The parts of the house I’ve completed are being maintained daily, and when my husband gets home it doesn’t take long at all for me to straighten up a bit while he plays with the kids after work. The two extremes are no fun. I know we jokingly say things about the house never being clean with kids, and we share hilarious memes on facebook (which are super funny!), and that’s perfectly fine. Then again, I’ve seen real advice on real mommy forums telling women to not worry about cleaning the house, make the husband do it when he gets home (even though he’s been working all day), and to tell off the husband for even expecting a clean home. That’s wrong ladies. I normally take an approach of “hey, whatever works for you!”, but this IS WRONG! Ladies, we’re called to respect and honor our husbands. If he doesn’t care about the housework and he doesn’t mind living like that, then that works for you. However, if your husband is asking you to please do a better job at keeping in clean and expecting a reasonable effort on your part, then you should respect that.
One more thing about this…it’s called grace. I need to learn to give myself grace when the house isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be. I have a bad habit of beating myself up for my failures throughout the day. That has to stop. If my heart is pure and I’m really and truly striving to be a good homemaker and housekeeper and doing a reasonable job, that’s what matters. If my husband is pleased with me, even if the house isn’t always perfect, that’s perfectly fine. Laundry piled on the couch waiting to be folded? Dishes in the sink? Okay, fine!!! The entire contents of all 5 family members’ closets strewn over the laundry room, both bathrooms, and the bedrooms? Not so much. (At least for me.) I don’t want to be so rigid and legalistic that I don’t give myself any grace at all, but neither do I want to be so lazy and apathetic that I am being literally sinful in my heart by ignoring the requests of my ever-so-patient husband to please keep a mostly clean and welcoming home for our family to enjoy.