When I had only two children, born eighteen months apart, I didn’t spend a lot of time on housework. My oldest enjoyed scattering toys around the house, crumpling any paper he could find, and biting his baby brother when I got distracted for a moment.
My husband and I developed a system to manage the house: He would start a load of laundry before leaving for shul in the mornings, and hang it afterward. In the evenings, he cleaned up the scattered legos and washed the dishes. We ate mainly potatoes and cottage cheese for dinner. On Fridays, his day off, I frantically cooked and cleaned while he shopped.
At some point this stopped working. I had more children, more cooking and laundry, and more “stuff.” And a lot less tolerance for mess. I no longer had the luxury of compartmentalizing the different areas of my life: childcare, housework, time for myself. I had to find a way to make everything work together.
When I decided I needed to learn more I came across Sidetracked Home Executives by Peggy Jones and Pam Young, sisters who complained that housekeeping books were written by and for people who already knew how to keep things straight. Jones and Young divide homemakers into two categories: BOs, “Born Organized,” and “SHEs,” from the book’s title. They decide to clean up their mess and share their hilarious experiences with their readers. My favorite part is when the sisters beg their born-organized neighbor for just one tip, and she asks them whether they reuse teabags. The sisters say no, so the neighbor suggests they throw out the teabags instead of leaving them on the counter. This is a revelation for Pam and Peggy.
As usual with these self-help books, I started off gung-ho. I prepared the cumbersome filebox of color-coded cards, each containing a daily, weekly or monthly task. What ended it for me was an episode in the book when one of the sisters decided she could not face the scheduled floor washing. The other sister couldn’t talk her into it, so they added a new rule: If you really, really, don’t feel like doing a particular job, you can skip it. Twice. I soon found that my “weekly” chores (which, needless to say, were never weekly in the first place) started getting done once every three weeks.
Even though their original system had problems, it made me think about my approach to home management and I still use many of their ideas.
Toward the end of the book the sisters realize that they had taken pride in their (formerly) messy homes because they imagined their creative, artistic side would be thwarted. Many people struggle with issues relating housework (not to mention those of our family members).
We have been conditioned to put career first and family second; homemaking doesn’t even make the list. But while you can pay someone else to clean your house, a housekeeper alone won’t make your house into a home. Someone needs to be thinking about the big picture–what kind of family life and home do you want?
Next: I discover Flylady.