Thursday, June 17, 2010

Keeping House

I really love learning about the art of keeping a home. I feel that for many women my age, homekeeping was pushed so far down on the list of worthwhile priorities to be taught either at home or school while growing up, that we are trying to figure it all out at a time when it should be second-nature. There were no Home Ec. classes in my jr. high or high school and for all of the math, science, literature, and history I was taught, the only lessons I learned about home and family in school were in reference to a sort of female enslavement.  I sometimes wonder, did my great-grandfather really not appreciate the efforts of my great-grandmother? Was she really seen as second class to him as the textbooks would make it seem? Or did they just have a respected division of labor? There's a lot to be done to make a household work, and for some reason the actual work-load of the home side of things has been minimized to the point that I guess people think homes can clean themselves, meals can cook themselves and children can raise themselves.

Before being in this role, I never appreciated the work involved. Perhaps I saw it as part-time work, something that could all be accomplished with just a little effort on the side. But this business of nurturing  people and the home they dwell in is a whole thing.

Fortunately, I came into wifehood and motherhood with a knowledge of how to cook, and a knack for lovin' up babies. Those things have never been hard for me. It's this keeping the home in order part that has been a struggle. It's There's a lot of cleaning. And things keep getting dirty. And there's always stuff coming into the house to sort through and stuff that needs to be pulled out. And them kids I live with keep making huge messes and interrupting me every five seconds. Hmmm...funny how that happens.

But I finally feel like I'm really breaking free! (From the house-trap mindset that is, not the kids!)

I have been getting better over the years bit by bit as I read books and blogs and apply what I've learned. However, for a long time I have been stuck at the place of doing an ok job of keeping things in order but it has always felt like a huge effort. Just thinking about the dishes that have to be done, or the kitchen that has to be wiped down was a major mental drain. I would always wonder "Why does it always feel so hard?" I know that it isn't actually difficult to wash dishes or do laundry or pick up toys. In fact when you are in the middle of it, often the mind can take a little vacation and it isn't so bad. Somehow the mental activity of just getting there took about 75% of my energy. I wanted to be one of those people that just gets it done and doesn't anguish over it. Jason's that way.

So in my quest for knowledge I ordered another home organization book from the library, Sandra Felton's Organizing for Life. Her book isn't about how to clean, it's about the mental side of things. Organizing for Life explores the cognitive patterns (and sometimes physiological issues too) that contribute to someone being a "Messy" vs. a "Cleanie". For me, the most helpful chapter was chapter 16 where she talks about the way the average successful homekeeper relates to her home. She says the number one difference between those who keep their homes clean regularly with little problem versus those who are always struggling with the house is that average successful homekeepers just want their home to look nice.

What? That's it!?

She says the average "Messie" focuses on wanting the house to "work better" and be more organized so that life will be more efficient. For example, kids will be hustled off to school with less effort, items will be found more easily, documents will be stored more appropriately. She says that the human desire for beauty is much greater than the desire for efficiency. Also, the person who wants a nice home will subsequently have a home that works better and is more efficient.

This may sound stupid, but this information hit me over the head.

I read that chapter about four times.

Want a nice home...they want the house to look nice...they want it to be pretty...welcoming...for themselves.

They just want a nice house.

I ...want a nice house.

I have never admitted that to myself or even really considered it. In fact I have always viewed myself in opposition to those who want their homes to look nice. Isn't it a vain character quality to want something for beauty's sake? Isn't it much more noble to desire efficiency? And yet, it isn't enough. A vision of efficiency has never been enough to make me want to wash any dish. I'll do it out of duty's sake because I love my husband and I love my kids and I know it is important to them (especially to him) to have a home that they can enjoy. For years, that has been the motivation I've been operating under. But desiring efficiency and desiring to please family members isn't enough to shake the emotional response that everything is such a c.h.o.r.e.

I deserve a nice home. A nice home isn't just for other people, it's for me. I deserve a nice home to live in. I feel like I need to keep repeating it over and over and let it sink in. When I keep that vision in my mind, it does make a difference. It changes the energy with which I approach the house. Rather than being a trap, it's like the mess is in-between me and MY nice house! I want my nice house back! So the mess must go! It also means letting go of my little self-identity as a "Messie". I can feel sometimes when that old mind-set is operating and when I have to switch to the new one and get my vision back. 

So if you come to my home, don't get all Inspector-Gadget on me and whip out your magnifying glass to check my skillz; There will probably still be some toys on the floor and dishes in the sink and blah blah blah. However, when the time comes to stick my hands in some soapy water or put Thomas and his Friends away for the day I think my inner-world won't be moaning and groaning through the whole thing.
I'll be creating my nice house.


Therese said...

Thank you for this post. THat is exactly what I have been struggling with and needed to hear... and you are absolutely right that 75% of it is just getting into the work, once I start, its not so bad. Do you remember the crock pot intervention you had with me? Just the thought of cleaning that old moldy pot just made me put it off longer and longer until I had this science experiment in my house!
And what motivates me to clean my house now is that I offered to host bible study every Monday. Just wanting my house to look nice for others is motivation enough to get me to clean.

And OMGosh you hit the nail on the head... I was not brought up learning how to do the work of being a home maker. That was a lowly job for the uneducated. I was educated the same as you- the home is female enslavement. That is pure feminism. But how does having that mindset work when you want and care about raising a healthy family?
The home has to be the center.
I see now that the home is so much more important than I was led to believe.

I was just having this conversation with hubby- I want to focus on taking care of our home and our family now. Doing Daycare has divided my time and attention from what is really important- taking care of OUR home and teaching OUR children, who were entrusted to us by God!

Sorry to spinoff on my own here. Just wanted to say that I appreciated all that you said, and I am glad you are my friend!

Jamie said...

Thanks Therese for your sweet comment! I'm glad you are feeling like you are returning to your purpose in the home :) Doing the daycare, especially when you had just moved was extremely stressful. I'm really glad you and Brian are getting on the same page with things!

Yara said...

But Jamie... I want... BOTH. I want a nice home. I do. But I can't figure out how to get it to stay nice if I don't have it organized to work efficiently... and it drives me batty so I procrastinate & often decide it isn't even worth the effort.
Especially when within the hour the 3 little people will have trashed it again (pout)
Oh and the dishes.... well, those are actually physically hurting me.
I should just find the book. I wonder if it's available as an ebook?

Yara said...

Can't find an ebook... but doing a search showed me Organizing Magic... same author. I'm 99% sure I have it! I should look for it. And then read it. And then read my other organizing book "More Hours in my Day"
I just have to- find them! Ah... see my problem?

Jamie said...

Hi Yara,
Here's the amazon link to the book:

BUT, if you need knowledge specifically about how to organize items I found Julie Morganstern's Organizing from the Inside Out to be very helpful. She teaches the concept of the kindergarten classroom model of organization.

Felton's book is more about the messy mindset. She has many many other points in the book that might help others, for me chapter 16 is what resonated the most. She talks about other things too that affect people like perfectionism, ADD, the list goes on. Everyone has different reasons. I have another Felton book on hold at the library it's the New Messies Manual. I have heard this is a good one too. I also requested Don Aslett's Clutters Last Stand. I always get my books from the library. The library is like my NetFlix for books and movies. And free!

The Staker Family said...

Great post, I feel like I want my house to look nice. It has been a difficult 9 year journey to get here though, and sometimes (or often) my house is messy, but I came into marriage basically having no idea how to cook or clean. It seems like I get into a good routine and something comes along and throws it off and we have to find something else that works. About what you said about older times, I think that the men and family appreciated all of the hard work, I think a home runs most smoothly when there is that division of labor!

Jamie said...

Kristy you have every excuse in the world to have a messy house! You are VEEEERY busy!

I feel like things are a bit easier since Natalie turned one. It's just harder with a young baby in the house.

Leila said...

Thanks for this post. I like how you expressed the idea of the vision of a nice house! It's a vision. You get there a little at a time, but if you start somewhere, just making something you already have pretty, you are on your way!
This took me quite a long time to figure out as well. I always thought what I had was trashy and what was in the magazines was pretty.

God bless!