Things you should get over if you want a tidy house

Don’t worry.  I haven’t just tricked you into reading a post about how you should get over wanting a tidy house and just enjoy your children while they’re young.  We’ve all heard them, read them, replayed them constantly in our minds: Those guilt-inducing words of wisdom, usually unsolicited, from your mother, your co-worker, the clerk at the grocery store.

“They’re only little once.  Don’t worry about how dirty your house is.”

“Ack! As much time as we spend together, you should know me well enough to know I’m type-A, I can’t stand clutter or dirt, I played Legos ALL MORNING, get off my back already!” I bark, as she scans my rewards card. I’m just not one of those people [I wish I was] who can just let go, just hang out at the park for hours or color, and soak up every gorgeous moment of my children’s existence without even reaching for the video camera.  But I’m not. I’m a multi-tasker to the death.  So here’s what I’ve learned I have to get over if I want tidiness and parenting peace, because to me those things are interdependent.

  • I can do it better than my spouse/child/mother/anyone.  This may be true to a degree.  Maybe your spouse doesn’t load the dishwasher right, or your preschooler stashes his socks under the baby’s crib when you ask him to put his clothes away.  Or your mother refuses to put the Corningware back in it’s proper spot in the cupboard, like she’s playing mind games or something.  But the thing is, you can’t do everything and do it that well.  You’ll burn yourself out if you keep up the ‘no thanks, I can simultaneously nurse the baby, load the dishwasher, and call the cable company’ charade, and soon you’ll find you’re off your game. Try accepting help with the things you’re not so type-A about, like putting away toys, or gathering the household trash, and defend your territory on things like towel-folding. No man can fold towels correctly, just sayin’.
  • I don’t care if no one else can see the dirt, I know it’s there.  This is a rookie mistake, and most stay-at-home parents figure this one out stat. Don’t do the cleaning no one cares about, at least not often.  Forget dusting the light fixtures [chandeliers, if it makes you feel fancy]. If everyone can see their plate at dinner, you’re good.  If no one noticed they’re dirty, they’re not going to notice you’ve cleaned them. See where I’m going with this?  Go for the things that your family or playdates will notice or even comment on [read: judge you for if you don’t do] like keeping countertops clean, and staying on top of dish and laundry cycles – the trifecta of clean, in my opinion.  Note: If you’re using those little tools that come with your vacuum, you’re working too hard.  I don’t even know where most of mine are anymore!  And if you’re using a Q-tip or toothbrush for any sort of household cleaning, get help without delay.
  • Everyone fakes it.  Everyone knows someone who is like some sort of domestic goddess.  She has at least 12 kids and a husband who works long hours, but she volunteers, bakes, and keeps a spotless abode.  Mommy urban legend.  Ever look in her pantry? Her closets?  The basement?  Of course not, that’s just rude.  But take notes next time you visit her for a play date.  Look for candles burning, a half-used bottle of Fabreeze tucked in behind the crock-pot.  Does she have cookies baking a lot?  Supermoms are among us, I’ve seen them, they’re real, but tidy can be easy to fake if you work smart.  Here’s my fake-clean routine: First, open the windows if the air outside is less humid than inside, then light a couple of candles [go for scents that say ‘I spent all day cleaning my house’ like ‘fresh linen’ or ‘citrus something or other’ Note: if you know of a candle actually named ‘I spent all day cleaning my house’, please share, thanks].  Spray down the worst surfaces with a pleasantly-fragranced non-toxic cleaner, then do a spot-sweep of high-traffic floors with one of those brooms with the dust-pan built in or an electric floor sweeper gizmo.  Tidy toys and clutter into a laundry basket as you go, or bribe your toddler with marshmallows to help out [kidding, I’ve never done that].  Wipe down the surfaces you sprayed and stash the basket of clutter behind a closed door.  If you have time, vacuum the most visible carpeted areas to freshen the room and give the fibers a nice loft under foot.  Ha! Just kidding on that last one. Throw on some ready-to-bake cookies instead, even if you’re not having company. 🙂
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Flip

In the run up to our big change, I talked of how it wouldn’t be like flipping a switch, but a process that would take time.  Time, I expected [okay, thought if I admitted it would take time it actually wouldn’t take any time at all]. I even expected it to be bumpy as we learned how to behave in completely different ways.  But what I wasn’t prepared for at all was that all my planning and organizing would need to be flipped on its head.

Luckily, something clicked, like, yesterday.  Maybe it was just the exhaustion.  But as I nursed my little one in the quiet that only happens when my 3 year old is at preschool, I decided to join him for his morning nap instead of my usual training regime for the household chore olympics. I woke up feeling a little anxious about the work I hadn’t done, but it was worth it.  And it made me think. Flip.

I’d put a lot of time and thought into a schedule for keeping on top of the house, the meals, and the laundry, convinced it would help me get things done faster and free up time that would obviously be spent with my children, holding them, playing with them, teaching them. But yesterday it hit me that I’d been scheduling my time all wrong, and it was slipping away in more ways than one.  So I decided that today, instead of following my chore schedule and spending all my ‘free’ time with the children, I’d do it the other way around: I ‘planned’ my whole day around activities with them, and found time where I could to squeeze in chores.  It’s not perfect.  It’s even more exhausting than cleaning the highchair 15 times a day and doing one never-ending load of laundry.  And it’s hard to let go of all that needs doing, even a little bit.  But not as hard as I’d feared.  And I still managed a comfortable balance.  The house is reasonably tidy-ish, the laundry hasn’t started its own blog, and dinner was on the table at 6 pm, unburned.

I learned that if I’m creative, and make my children the center of nearly everything I do, I can give them what they need, enjoy quality time with them, and still get things done.  Today I gathered up cardboard boxes, tape, and construction paper and sat on the floor with my 3 year old while his little brother napped. Later in the day, we played in the park.  And when the dishes and laundry finally had to get done, I set the oven timer for 30 minutes and promised to stop chores and play again when the buzzer went.  I finished 2 minutes early and kept my promise.  And when it was time to tidy up, we all did it together, and it was fun.  The 3 year old even sorted the clean silverware into the drawer.  The forks hanging out in the spoon slot appealed even to my type-A brain.  Flip!

Reality

Day 15

It’s pretty obvious at this point that the change has taken over my life, in a less than flowery way, since I stopped working.  I rarely have the time or energy or desire to write, only guilt for feeling robbed of all that suddenly despite it being of my own volition.

I’ve had a surprising number of people tell me they’re jealous of my being able to quit work to stay home with my children. I get that. I was jealous of people like me too, but I also had some prior knowledge of the reality that not too many would envy if they really knew, the one I’m in now.

We’ve pulled furiously at that ripcord, but the chute has failed to open. The trees looked nice and soft from all that height, but more like daggers pointed at my eyeballs now.

Since I stopped work, reality has quickly set in.  We’re one commission check away from dipping into savings, and suddenly I’m faced with a cat that won’t stop crapping in random places [always on the carpet, btw], a preschooler who has conveniently forgotten his alphabet and how to peepee in the potty, and the painful process of finding us health coverage that won’t end up costing us our house [I almost typed decent health coverage, but it seems that doesn’t exist, especially for the self-employed]. I’m only scratching the surface here because who knows how long nap time will last today.

If I’m honest, and I need to be, I’m having regrets.  I expected to, but I started out feeling in control.  I planned, I organized, I broke up chores into bite-sized chunks, I set my expectations low, and I didn’t sweat overcooked dinners much.  And in spite of it, I can feel Mt. Laundry about to erupt, the dust bunnies staging a revolt, and the vacuum cleaner judging me from it’s cluttered parking spot.

And this is about where many of my supporters will tell me ‘the laundry will be there, your babies aren’t babies for long.’  And with that, the camel said ‘you know what, guys, screw this noise. PEACE. OUT.’ I feel guilty enough and I already know how much regret to expect on my death bed, because that’s probably what will put me there in the first place.  I just blew your mind, admit it. I know the laundry will be there, and so will the medical bills, and the dirt, and the fear of failing.

Of course, some of the veteran SAHM’s out there are smirking at this, and thinking at the very least ‘told ya it was hard.’ And I’m not mad about that.  It gives me hope I’ll smirk again one day too. Right now, all I want to do is go back to bed, as much to hide as get some rest.

So when you think about me sitting at home watching Lifetime while my kids play harmoniously and quietly in the background, just know that what’s really happening is me checking the clock wondering two things at the same time: is it too early to start drinking wine, and do I have time to squeeze in one more load of laundry before the baby wakes up.

Jealous much?