This is the third installment in our series, Homemaking Your Way, where we are discussing different ways to. Catch up on the first two here.
I admit it. I am that person who actually enjoys keeping my home organized and orderly. Even when I get tired of the process, I love the end product. My mom has always claimed that I was born this way. I guess that’s as good of an explanation as any because I don’t seem to be able to turn off this part of my brain. I vacuum my house two times a week and drop off bags at Goodwill like it’s going out of style. I scrub the toilet while my children are taking a bath and mentally organize shelves while shopping at Ross.
I do all of these things not because I am trying to prove something or impress anyone. I do these things because I cannot not do them. I am happiest in clean spaces, and “If Mama is happy, everyone [except for the teething one-year old] is happy.”
So do not read this post as a 10-step guide to a cleaner, happier home. These are just a few observations from my head and home:
:: Homemaker Guilt is lame. Before I had kids, I heard the just-wait-until-you-have-kids! line more times than I can count. It was usually in response to an innocent comment like, “Boy, am I tired today.”
Then with one child, it was, “One is easy! Wait until you have two.”
After number two arrived, “With two at least you are even. Just wait until you are outnumbered!” On and on.
I am seriously considering giving birth to ten children just to be at the top and able to say, “Oh, you think eight is tough?”
Why do we do this to each other? We should be saying, “Yes, that is tough! It is good but tough. I get it. I’m with you.” Instead we are too busy mentally comparing egg casseroles and newborn photo shoot locations to realize we are all bobbing around in the same boat.
I am good at a few things but mediocre at most. We are all nailing certain areas of our lives while failing at others. So the next time you bring Pillsbury cinnamon rolls to a brunch or have to shove laundry piles out of the way so your friends can sit down, don’t apologize like you did something wrong. Those just weren’t the balls you were juggling that day; they were the ones you quickly shoved out of sight under the couch. Relax. Attaining a clean home, like any other homemaking skill, doesn’t need to be a competition.
:: With the way I am wired, I am a better wife and mother in a clean, uncluttered environment. The other day a friend asked me, “How is your floor always clean?” I have no idea. Homemaking is not something I consciously will myself to do. If the floor is dirty, I clean it. If I don’t clean it, I step on Cheerios all day. If I step on Cheerios all day, I get frustrated. If I am frustrated, I am a lousy wife and mother.
You know when people say things to young moms like, “Oh, honey, leave those dishes in the sink. Your kids won’t be little forever.” These people have nothing but the best of intentions. They are trying to give us moms permission to ignore the house and focus in on our children. Nice, right?
However, for people like me all it does is make us feel like bad parents with clean homes. It induces guilt when we choose to throw in a load of laundry instead of throw a ball with our children or sort through a stack of mail instead of read that stack of board books. Here’s what I have come to realize, though: I can either read to my daughter for 30 minutes while being distracted by a job that needs to be done or I can take 15 minutes to finish one task so I can give my daughter 15 minutes of my undivided attention. This may sound like a big fat excuse, but I can guarantee that after struggling with this balance for years, I have felt incredible freedom in allowing myself to finish tasks so I can focus on my family.
:: Running a home is a whole lot of work. In fact, it is currently my full-time job (with lots of overtime). Two of my housemates are small and whiny and unreliable. It is my job to teach them how to work. This means taking the time to explain what I am doing. It involves modeling tasks like paying the bills and folding the laundry. It means giving them age-appropriate jobs and expecting them to be finished age-appropriately well. I often have that If-I-want-a-job-done-well-I’ll-do-it-myself mindset, but this does not serve my children well. So even if it takes twice as long and is done half as well, involving these little people in the process is important. I am still working on this. And the whining part.
:: Small houses are easier to keep clean. I can vacuum all the rugs in my home in under 10 minutes. This is not because I have tapped into some super secret housekeeping method. It is because we live in a one-level ranch home that is less than 1100 square feet. My kids have less space to destroy so I have less destruction to clean up. The bigger the home, the more work that is required.
:: There is clean. And there is crazy. An older woman in my mom’s group once told me that she used to sort out her young son’s Legos by shape and color. He would inevitably mess up her organizational system while playing (the nerve!). She would get frustrated with him. And the whole cycle would start over. She learned to resist the temptation to rain on his Lego parade in the name of order and organization. Because I lean toward clean, I have to constantly monitor myself in this area: Is this necessary or neurotic? Am I investing my time or wasting it?
:: While I enjoy a clean home, I do not obsess about it. My house is definitely not a museum nor a showpiece. I want my family to truly live in our home, not tiptoe through it. There are miniature fingerprints all over the windows and big feet up on the coffee table. I do not freak out about grass stains on knees or spilled milk on the table.
I love clean, organized spaces, but my ultimate goal for our home is that it be a warm, relaxed, welcoming place to live and visit. If I am providing this for my family, then clean is just the cherry on top.
Written by Emily Chesney, who lives with her husband and two small children just east of Portland. She is a homebody who loves to travel. Even if they are just mental vacations every time an REI catalog shows up in the mailbox.
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Long ago I was like that too. Actually, I was considered anal. Then I started home schooling my kids, started two businesses and have elderly parents and grandparents and three dogs. I was so “wired” I would stay up until 2 or 3 am cleaning because I could no longer do it during the day. Then reality kicked in and I had to make a choice. My home, my health and my people (and pets) I chose my people. My children are teens now with extremely busy schedules they are active in everything and we are constantly on the go. My parents are doing well but appointments for them take up at least 8hrs of each week, the grandparents have passed on. I start my day at 5:30am and often do not stop until 8pm. Then I clean a little unless there is homework or office work to do. My house is not often clean “like it was” and my friends can’t believe that I have learned to let things go, sometimes I wistfully think of the clean orderly days, but I don’t regret the choice I made. My parents will not be around much longer and my children are almost ready for college. Much too soon I will have plenty of time to clean. I wonder sometimes if I will ever be “wired” the same again.
I appreciate the reminder to be easier on myself and on each other – even if going easy means allowing myself to clean instead of play with my kids, if I know it will help me stay calm and focus on them fully when I’m done. How many times have I felt guilty for saying to my 4-year old – “I’ll come play cowgirl with you after I wash the dishes”? But then I do it, we have a great time, and I thoroughly enjoy myself because I’m not glancing over at the pile of unwashed plates in the sink! Thanks for helping me to accept my need for clean.
Oh, and I never say those trite sayings like “just you wait until….” to other moms because it drives me bonkers when others say it to me! Let’s say things that build each other up, not that discourage or induce fear for things to come.
Speaking of things to come, I look forward to other posts in this series.
I am *so* wired this way too. I had to laugh at the “wait till you have kids” phrase. And then really chuckled at the “giving birth to 10 children” comment. We have nine kids – from newborn to 10 years (no twins). And people always say “how do you keep your house clean?”. I guess it’s that my kids have always been raised with me cleaning the house and as they got old enough they have taken over some roles completely. My four oldest (6 to 10 yrs) are now completely in charge of vacuuming, full bathroom cleaning, dishes, laundry and keeping the rooms free of toys and clutter. They do it all. They also have a younger “buddy” (sibling) that they are each in charge of helping. And they *can* I believe, because they’ve always seen me “keep up” with it – it’s just a “given” before they have free time. We live in a large house (3400 sq ft) so there’s lots to do – but seldom is it overwhelming because I’ve trained the kids from the time they were little to help. Now their help is invaluable to me!!!
AMEN! Emily, I think we are kindred spirits! I have 6 children, but still need an organized and clean house so I’m not constantly frustrated. When my house is clean, I function better and am happier.
I’ve got a 3,100 sq. ft house (4 bathrooms – ugh!) and I can’t wait to downsize someday. You’re absolutely right, I miss the good old days when I had a smaller house to clean. But, for now it serves our family well, especially since our two teenagers get to live in the basement with their own bathroom!
LOVE the series. Keep it coming!
The paragon of undearstdning these issues is right here!
Thank you soooo much. I sometimes feel guilty about my need for clean. Granted I have come a LONG way since having kids. I used to be obsessive about it. now I look back and wonder who I was cleaning for.
Anyway, thank you for making me feel less guilty about feeling BETTER with a clean, or at least, tidy house even when that takes a few moments away from my kids. I’m so much nicer when the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean 🙂
Love this series!
I can’t believe how to the point and exactly true for me this entry is!!! From the functioning better as a mom and wife when the house is clean, to the feeling guilty part about getting stuff done so I am not distracted while playing with my daughter, every part of this blog is exactly how I am and feel! Thank you for setting the record straight with people who think we are comparing ourselves to others or judging others who are less tidy! I am more relaxed, happy and fun when I have a tidy (not neurotically clean) home! I can’t say enough how I agree with every part of this!
kelly welch says
Enjoyed this blog immensely! I am one of those mom’s who LIKE the idea of a clean house, and hope to achieve it someday! You just reminded me of my delightful friend in her small delightful house, outside vacuuming up the red maple “helicopters”( that fell off the maple tree onto the lawn) with her husband’s shop vac!!!!
Thank you for this post. I, too, am on the type A end of the spectrum when it comes to cleanliness. Before kids, I was an elementary school teacher and I was the same way with my classroom.
You’d never know it by looking at my house, but I try to best to keep on top of things even if it means staying up till 12 am to get that last load of laundry done. Thank you for giving people like us permission to embrace our cleanliness :). For me, a cluttered house = a cluttered mind. I parent better when my mind isn’t cluttered.
Amber Black says
This is excellent 🙂 I am very much this way and really enjoyed your answer to all those moms trying to compare or say “just you wait” It feels enough that way without anyone voicing it! Thank you for your honesty, it made my day a better one!
Just like you too. I love a clean house and can only relax when everything is tidy and in its place. I wish sometimes I didn’t care so I could sometimes get other things done but then I feel the house would be in a downward spiral and I’d never catch up. In fact I’m lucky enough to get a “Mothers Day weekend” and am supposed to sit and drink my coffee this morning on my throne, but I’m noticing little piles and the dishes not getting into the dishwasher (lord help me).
jennifer harrel says
Thank you for posting this so articulately. I am also one of “those” women who NEEDS to live in a clean, well organized environment as well. I really related to the part of your post where you were talking about choosing to do a chore before spending time reading to your kids so that you can give them undivided attention without thinking about the chores that need to be done.
My oldest son is 19 and will be getting married in a year and my youngest is 12 but when they were little, some of my friends would make me feel guilty for needing to keep my house so tidy. They would (unintentionally) make me feel like I was a terrible mom for wanting my house in order and clean. They would remind me of the story of Mary and Martha and make me feel like I had my priorities messed up. I am happy to say that I have come to accept the fact that I need to have a clean, uncluttered, everything in its place kind of home. This is the way God made me.
Oh Good Grief… it is late! I meant…while engaging in conversation OVER THE PHONE with my girlfriends or my mom… they are not with me while I am cleaning my bathroom! 😉 Ohmygoodness…I read what I typed and ohmy…okay Good Night!
I was totally picturing everyone crammed into the bathroom! A cleaning party:) or extra help!!
Loving this series…and happy to hear that I am not alone on how I am wired either. It’s been a long day, but I know that there was no way I could sleep if my home isn’t picked up and in order (maybe not spotless, but orderly) before I close my eyes. That guilt would get me every time! 🙂 I am weird in that I like to have my bed made everyday. I like the look it all done up when I walk in & out of the bedroom randomly. I enjoy the lines in the carpet after vaccuuming—been this way since childhood. My daughter is too young for me to clean the toilet while she is in the bath, but I have been known on occassion to scrub the bathroom while engaging in a conversation with my girlfriends or my mom who I have to let in on the secret when I forget what I am doing and actually flush the cleaning solution down the toilet (HA!) Plus, most days, when on the phone while my daughter is napping, I walk around and pick up and dust/windex to keep me moving. I figure that its kind of like a timer in the sense that I should be done cleaning before my conversation is over. I look forward to more posts and hearing how other Mom’s cope too. 🙂
I make my bed everyday too. I didn’t use to and realized it was making me stress out unnecessarily, every time I would walk through the room, I just felt disorganized. It takes me less than a minute and for some reason, it’s a HUGE relief to see it made.
I also dust when I’m on the phone! I try not to multi-task too much, since I don’t get to talk to my friends that often, but dusting is mindless but still “getting something done”.
So fantastic to hear so many other women in the same boat!
Emily…I love your writing! I enjoy reading your posts..and you come across as so down to earth and unassuming. I agree with your post entirely…I just enjoy a clean house more.
Emily, I too clean the toilets and/or bathroom when my little one is in the tub 🙂 However, my house is not as clean or tidy as I would like. Perhaps you can come give me some hand-on training? 🙂 Just kidding! Loved the post!
Twin Mom says
I am so not wired that way. It’s interesting to hear that other people work while their children take a bath, where I am more likely to scan the daily paper. I could handle some of your wiring…
I am not wired that way either. My kids bath time was rest time for me. I would sit on the floor next to the tub and relax. I can recall those days, but for me they were a long time ago. For every young mom, enjoy each day however you are wired, they go by fast!!
ME TOO ME TOO!! This was awesome. Love it!! Keep ’em comin’!! 🙂
I really enjoy this post! I have had to figure out for myself what is an investment of time and what is a waste and not letting the need for a clean, orderly house cause frustration when my kids “get in the way” of that. I have also felt a little embarrassed a times when people come over and it is mostly clean most of the time… We do take time to spend time with our kids! It is nice to hear that other people have the same need for organization as I do, and I have to say that I am grateful that I am wired this way 🙂
Jess K says
YES YES YES to the entire section about homemaker guilt! I HATE it when people say “Oh, just you wait til _____” fill in the blank with whatever life experience you haven’t experienced yet but they have. My go-to response is, “I will gladly wait, and enjoy the season I’m in.” 🙂 That usually gives them pause. I could not agree more- we’re in the same boat! All of us! Different points in the journey, sure, but the same darn boat.
I love your description, Emily. I think it’s incredibly close to how I feel, though I definitely have my moments of just walking past the broom and stepping on the cheerios. Thanks for your post! I am loving this homemaking series. 🙂
Kelleigh @ Kelleigh Ratzlaff Designs says
LOVED this, Emily! I suppose I can find myself somewhere in between you and Angela when it comes to home making! I am definitely a multitasker (yes, I scrub toilets and wipe counters while the kids are in the bath), but I’m also still part of the “let it go” brigade. SOMETIMES. I completely agree with you about giving your daughter 15 minutes of QUALITY time vs. 30 min. of distracted time. Sometimes I just HAVE to complete a task or my kids just hear a distracted “uh-huh!” I can’t wait to see what you guys have in store for us next!!
I guess I never thought of myself as the type that enjoys doing this stuff, but I do enjoy the end result. Maybe this seems I enjoy doing it? I have no idea.
However, I found myself relating with several parts of this post, specifically scrubbing the toilets while my kids are taking a bath. I thought everyone did this. How does anyone get anything done if they don’t do this? Oh dear, guess you and I are in the same boat. I don’t “do” down time. 🙂
I have also come to realize that I am a far better parent and wife when the house is clean and (mostly) put together. I fret and stress about the little things that need to be done, when I should be focusing on spending time with my family. I LOVE your suggestion of getting it done quickly, THEN spending quality time. Perfect solution for me. Nobody seems to “get” this about me, but now I know I’m not alone. 🙂
Thank you guys so much for these posts! Even though it is just through the computer, it is truly a blessing to know we are all “bobbing around in the same boat”. Even Emily, who seems to make absolutely everything from scratch and make it look pretty. 🙂
I am so this way too. I am now 28 weeks pregnant with twins, so I am not allowed to do most all housework, but I still expect a clean home. I can say it isn’t always as picked up as it used to be, but once babies arrive and we get back in to a schedule it will be.
I love to vaccumm (currently a no no for me)…and I usually do it every other day, but now I let hubby do it every 3 days, unless I just can’t stand it, then he does it on the 2nd day for me. He knows that I am much like this article and am happier when the house is picked up, the floors are clean, etc.
I have 2 boys curently and 2 more in the cooker 🙂 we also have a small home 1400 sq ft. I love it. We created our guest room to also be a play room…this was best for us…they can make a huge mess, it isn’t in my living room and I really don’t care. We clean it up once a week (totally clean) and start over.
I am glad to hear I am not the only one out there….
What an awesome way to explain this-now I know everytnihg!