I resent home organization tips.
Maybe that’s putting it a bit strongly.
But something deep within me rises up in revolt when someone tells me how often I must change my towels, what time of day I must get up, and which combination of never-ending tasks I simply must accomplish on a daily basis in order to be a proficient homemaker.
I try to humble myself and be teachable, but, let’s be honest, it goes against my nature.
My parents always described me as oppositional; not defiant or rebellious. More like, if I got juice in the green cup, I wanted the orange cup; if my mom suggested I wear my pink shirt, that solidified in my mind that I should wear the grey shirt. (On the bright side, they never had much fear that I would fall prey to negative peer pressure…)
It’s a part of my natural, sinful self that I’m still working to tame. The truth is, I don’t want to dismiss wise advice just because I don’t like someone telling me what to do.
However, my oppositional nature when it comes to home management strategies has helped me think more thoroughly about advice and reflect on my own housekeeping. I don’t do something just because someone recommended it, but I do try to understand why I do (or don’t do) certain thing and what works for me. Rather than advice, per se, these are reflections on my experience in my first year as a full-time homemaker and stay-at-home mom.
THIS IS NOT A HOW-TO!
My housekeeping skills are still somewhere in the mediocre to lousy range. So, this is ABSOLUTELY NOT a tutorial on how to have it all together.
I may never be the ideal housekeeper, but I’ve learned and grown a lot in my role over the past year. Working through advice I’ve received, struggling against my opposition to it, and dealing with the ever-present demands of maintaining a home have been the grounds for valuable ruminations.
(Also, for those of you who have been doing this whole “managing a home” thing for decades, you can just shake your head and read on for a good laugh at the wisdom I’ve gleaned in ten years on my own and one year as a stay-at-home mom. That’s totally understandable.)
So, here we go. The top ten lessons I’ve learned in my first year as a homemaker.
1. It’s a job.
I know some people don’t like referring to motherhood and homemaking as a job, but for me, it’s been helpful. It’s my job; it should be my focus and where I direct my energy.
And for me, it was a new job. There’s a learning curve.
Every new job I’ve ever had, I felt like a complete failure and an inept fool for most (if not all) of the first year (which isn’t so pleasant considering I had a different job every year for the first 6 years of my adult life). But I learned.
You learn how to assess your role and responsibilities, you feel out the best way for you personally to accomplish your tasks, and you practice and develop the skills necessary to tackle the work before you.
I always hoped to be a wife and mother someday, but like many in my generation of American women, I haven’t actually been educated and trained for this job. Yes, thankfully, I had parents who taught me life skills, like basic cleaning, cooking, maintenance, gardening, sewing, and budgeting. But becoming a full-time manager of a home and raising children is, nonetheless, a tremendous shift in gears for me.
I am learning a job. Even if you’ve been training for that job your entire life, it still takes time to adjust and understand the ins and outs of it. Some days are still miserable, many days are still grueling. That’s life.
So, it’s a new job. Take it as such. Learn and grow, but don’t get too frustrated that it doesn’t all come naturally.
2. Think in terms of service, not control.
This has been the most subtle, but important, way for me to change in my approach to homemaking. So often, I catch myself using language about my household tasks that sets me in opposition to them. For example, I’ll say (or think), “I need to rein in the chaos around here,” “I have to conquer the laundry,” or “I’m going to tackle this stack of paperwork.”
Now, maybe for some people, it’s motivating to see it this way. It’s a mountain to climb, a battle to win, or a wild animal to tame.
That’s not really motivating for me. I’m not the type who sees a challenge and has to rise to it. I see a challenge and think, “Yep. That’s too much for me to handle. Someone else can tackle that. I won’t feel like I’ve missed out on something if I let this opportunity pass by…”
For me, always talking in terms of the challenge of my housework leaves me feeling defeated and incapable. If I haven’t succeeded in keeping my house the way I want, then it’s “winning” or “getting the better of me.”
Instead, I’m finding it’s helpful to think in terms of housework as the ways that I serve my family. So, for example:
- I pick up the toys not because they’re bothering me (and honestly, I have a pretty high tolerance for clutter, so it’s not good to base it on that) but I pick up because my kids play better in a clean space.
- I clean up the entryway so my husband doesn’t trip over shoes when he walks in.
- I clean up the living room so guests have somewhere comfortable to sit.
- I get these dishes washed and put away and the table wiped off so my kids can paint or do playdough.
- Or even, I complete a household task because it is stressing me out and I’ll be more at ease and better able to handle what life throws at me if I just get it done. (This last one is a legitimate reason, too.)
3. It will get dirty again (but I still have to clean it).
Ooooh, how I hate this one.
- I finally get around to washing the china cabinet glass door, and turn around to see someone blowing raspberries on it.
- I vacuum the floor, and someone immediately stomps through the house in muddy boots while eating a crumbly cracker and spilling a stream of juice the whole way behind them.
- I get the bathroom sparkly clean the morning that everyone comes down with a stomach virus.
- (You get the idea.)
But, alas! I still have to clean it. Stuff doesn’t stay clean; that’s why I have to clean it. Just wash the floor and cry.
4. Don’t clean—rearrange.
I hate to clean. But I love rearranging and redecorating—and when I’m redecorating, I start cleaning without even thinking about it.
Can anyone else identify with this tendency? If I approach a room thinking about what needs to be dusted, where there’s clutter, what should be scrubbed, vacuumed, etc., and I think, “Ugh! What awful drudgery! It will be endless and no fun at all…”
If I go to a room and think, “What can I do differently to this space?” the creative juices start flowing and I’m enthusiastically poured into the project and can’t wait to see it through to completion. Then, I start cleaning as I go, because who wants to move a new trinket to a dusty surface or add a fresh pillow on a dirty couch slipcover? And so, the work gets done.
Totally just playing mind games with myself. I realize that. Call it re-framing, self-deception or whatever. It works for me. Obviously, this one is completely dependent on your own preferences and personality. This is how my mind works, though, and it helps get the job done.
[Just a note—this does have the potential to drive other people in your life absolutely bonkers. Thankfully, the Philosopher doesn’t mind me rearranging fairly often (although he does prefer that I discuss my plans with him first…we came to that consensus after a few surprise room redos that I threw at him 🙂 ).
However, I have an extended family member who just about hyperventilates every time he comes to visit and finds yet another room arrangement in the living room. Change definitely isn’t easy for everyone…]
5. Grab the opportunity.
“Do what you can, when you can.” This is my new motto.
There is always enough work before me in a day to keep me busy from the time I get up until the time I collapse at night. There is also always someone who has a need or a want that is interrupting my agenda for how best to use my time.
Some days are better than others, but I really try to do whatever little thing is in reach. If the girls want to look at books in their rooms, I pick up or work on a task in the bathroom; if they’re eating, I take the opportunity to sweep the floor; if I’m going down to the basement, I haul a load of laundry down. You get the idea.
Honestly, I am the annoying person who could walk over top of a laundry basket twenty times and never think to pick it up. However, I’ve gotten waaaaay better about this after making a concerted effort to see the opportunities and the work around me. Some days I’m so on top of getting things where they need to go and seeing what needs to be done. Other days, not so much. It’s about progress, though, not perfect performance!
6. Know your strengths…and limits.
It is really difficult to get any housework done with my kids around. It’s getting slightly better as they get older (they’re almost 4 and 2, as I write this).
That doesn’t mean I don’t attempt anything while I’m home with them all day (see #5). Quite the opposite. I do many household tasks. I just rarely complete any of them to my satisfaction because some major issue arises before I finish. I’m simply limited in what I can accomplish, so I also put a limit on my expectations.
On the other hand, when they’re not at home with me, I can tear through this house like a tornado and GET SO MUCH DONE!
So, we try to plan our week around that. One day every week (it usually ends up being every two weeks), the Philosopher takes the girls out for a Daddy date or I swap childcare dates with a friend and I have at it. I go through and throw away, put away, and clean to my hear’s content. It’s an amazing feeling!
It’s been so helpful for me to just recognize what my strengths and limitations are in this area. Now, instead of constant frustration trying to put a round peg in a square hole, I just see it for what it is and go with it. Much better.
7. Have a plan, but don’t marry it.
So much of staying sane and engaged as a stay-at-home mom relies on creativity and organization. (I don’t lack creativity, but the organization and implementation department is a bit weak.)
I do strive to figure out what works; I set an schedule and make a plan. But I set it with the understanding that it probably will work for about two weeks and then it might not work anymore. Then it might work again in five months.
The same goes for meal planning. I like to make a plan so I have something ready to go without much thought required, but quite honestly, I rarely stick to the plan. And that’s okay.
This is especially true because of my next point.
8. Don’t fight life’s seasons and cycles.
Things change. Our energy level, our bodies, our environment, our children are tremendously inconsistent.
When I anticipate that this is the case, instead of expecting that everything should always be stable and steady, my attitude toward life and homemaking is much better. I don’t get caught in the trap of thinking, “This is how it’s going to be from here on our FOREVER!” I can recognize that I’m in a particular season or recurring cycle and take it as it is, and no more.
(For more on this, see my post about motherhood’s seasons and cycles.)
9. Get humble and get help.
There are a couple of variations to this. On the one hand, it might mean asking for some help from the other members of my household. (Honestly, my husband helps out a lot around the house.)
On the other hand, though, it might mean humbling myself and reading some housekeeping advice. 😉
I don’t always implement these suggestions perfectly, but I have found value in common cleaning suggestions like:
- set a timer
- make a list (duh)
- do a load of laundry every day
Again, I tend to take any advice I hear with a grain of salt. If it sounds great, it might work for me. Or it might not. Or it might work for two weeks and then not for a while. No big deal. I’ll learn and accept what help I can get.
10. To each their own…
My grandma grew up on a farm. She worked hard her whole life. She had a college degree (back in the 1930s), she taught school, she raised four children. She was an excellent gardener, a marvelous cook, canned the best pickles, crocheted beautiful blankets. She was amazing…and she always had dishes in the sink, piles of paperwork, and little bits of unfinished crafts or flowers from the garden strewn about in odd places around the house.
She was not necessarily the ideal of a perfect housekeeper. But she was a wonderful woman. Her neighbor once told me he didn’t know anyone who had as much of the Bible memorized as she did.
I’ve come around to accept that we all have different temperaments, expectations, and intentions. When it comes to homemaking and housework, I want my family to be safe and comfortable. I want guests to feel welcomed (and not completely grossed out). I want to feel peaceful and happy in my home.
We all make choices about how to use our time, though; we really can’t “do it all.”
I want to avoid sloth and laziness, but if I choose to prioritize other areas of my life and use my time in other ways than maintaining a showcase home, I’m okay with that.
So, there you have it! My top ten lessons I’ve learning in my first year as a full-time stay-at-home mom and homemaker.
What would be on your list of homemaking lessons that you’ve learned?