Fitting Housework into Life

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.

Related posts:
Do Kids Care if Your House Is Dirty?
The Truth about the Jewish Superwoman
Career and Motherhood–Intro
Career and Motherhood–Part I


  1. I am truly a lost cause when it comes to cleaning and keeping a clean house….ugh. I tried “getting into” flylady once or twice, but I ended up spending double time sitting at the computer engrossed in the site and even LESS got done!!! hopeless I tell you, hopeless!!! I look forward to hearing a few tips here and there that I can try to incorporate……..

  2. Thank you for starting what looks to be an amazing series! I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s learning as I go along!

  3. I am also hoping for some tips. I have a small family (oldest are twins 3) but hubby loves clean house. I push myself but then get resentful. lol
    Surely there must be a way. Bilhah? Zilpah?
    Well I gotta say, THREE CHEERS for the beit Yaakov girls and their chessed that they need to do. I think they are the backbone of the community.

  4. mominisrael says

    Miriam is referring to the girls’ high schools (and not only haredi bnot yaakov) that require their students to volunteer a certain number of hours a week, often in a family with small children.
    I’m better at cooking tips than cleaning tips, but I have some ideas.

  5. Excellent post, I was just wondering about this topic. B’ezrat Hashem our first two will be 21 months apart, and I’m not good at cleaning as it is so…I’m a bit worried. I’m getting a bit better at cleaning/organizing, and I’m sort of trying flylady (so far each “day” is taking me a week), but any tips and advice are always welcome.

  6. mominisrael says

    Yonit, mazal tov on your baby! Email me please đŸ™‚

  7. I took the den apart today and threw out a bag of stuff.

  8. There is a yahoo group called Jewishflybabies which takes some of the FLyLady’s ideas and adapts them to the Jewish calendar and needs. Between the two I’m doing much, much better. And in case you think I’m a testimonial in the making, by much much I mean that since my 2 babies are 13mos apart, occasionally the dishes get done, I am dressed, dinner is planned ahead of time instead of 10mins before my husband arrives and B”H the laundry has been getting done.

  9. That form of organization is not something I can claim expertise on. There is a website with guidelines put out by Rifka Slatkin:

  10. I was also with flyladies and the jewish and Israeli groups. I just didn’t have time for it all.
    When my kids were little, I just took them outside most of the time, so they used up their energy there, and that way they didn’t make such a mess at home. Clean? Me? nahh

  11. My tip: the best way to keep clean is to do a THOROUGH job once a month or once a week if you can, and then keep on top of things. It’s hard to keep clean when it’s so dirty to begin with, you don’t know where to start and you don’t have cheshek to deal with it. If you don’t have one, get a good vaccuum which saves loads of time and does many jobs.
    I don’t think cleaning is so important for someone who is busy with children. You do the basics like dishes and laundry and pray for them to grow up quickly. Older children need to be part of the process so they don’t get used to living in a hotel and can take care of a home when they grow up.
    I don’t understand how people in Israel keep their houses so neat and clean even with kids all over the place, though the standard of clean has deteriorated in the past 20 years. I think it’s because they have less “stuff” than Americans and don’t accumulate the way we do. They saw their mothers cleaning and maybe take after them. I don’t know, but I wish my house was like some of those I visit, and I am CLEAN!
    Okay, so after I did the den (this is a “housework” day) we tackled the LR (kids helping, again, impossible with babies): One put a sock on his hand and dusted bookshelves and surfaces, another had the job of picking up everything on the floor and sofas and putting them in their place. Newspapers are thrown out by Tuesday latest, to reduce clutter. Then we flipped the sofas and vacuumed the undersides (not done too often, but there get to be cobwebs in the mechanisms)then one son vacuumed the upholstery. Took maybe 10 minutes. Now all that is left to do is wash the floor. Total time on room: maybe 20 minutes. If I covered the table and breakfront, the room would be ready for Pesach.
    Some ironing is being done now, at night, when there aren’t kids underfoot and then a little more washing so there is less to do tomorrow.
    I guess an Ozeret could do the whole thing in about 6 hours.

  12. Can’t wait for this series.
    Wanted to let you know that I gave you a long, long overdue link on the last post of mine.