Saturday, March 19, 2005

Catching Up At Home

Everyone gets overwhelmed with the work of the home. Discouragement sets in and it makes makes matters even worse. Tiredness, illness, busy-ness, and unexpected interference, can cause us to get behind in things, until the only thing we want to do is run away. I've noticed that the women who love their homes and want to stay in them, are women who are clean and organized.

I recently visited the home of a young woman, and I was very impressed with her care of the house. She greeted us as though she were expecting important dignitaries, in her long skirt and lovely blouse, upswept hair, and healthy looking face. As she showed us around her house, I noticed that everything had a purpose for being there. Her papers were hidden inside a roll top desk near her phone. Her kitchen was immaculate, even though I could smell the savory scent of dinner in the oven. She was genuinely happy in her home., but I knew her before she had this home, and lived only in a small, run-down trailer. Inside, her home then had exactly the same atmosphere: neatness, order, and cleanliness reigned.

The Bible says, "He who is faithful in little, will be faithful in much." (Luke 16:10) The habits she had formed of making this tiny, poor place neat and clean, helped her take care of the bigger home which she was to live in years later.

Many women are using the inconveniences they face (no dishwasher, no convenient laundry room, no modern appliances, chipped kitchen cabinets and old carpets) as excuses to create discouragement and neglect. This woman was a conscientious and diligent housekeeper long before she moved into the fine house. In the older home, she managed to incorporate the poor workmanship of floors and cabinets, into her homemaking, and do it beautifully.

I once visited a young woman in Washington state, who lived in a house that was lent her by her grandmother. It was old and worn, and there was no plush carpet on the floor. She had no dishwasher and no dryer. She had only enough income for the bare essentials, yet inside, I noticed the threadbare towels neatly folded in one direction and stacked on a shelf. She had not let her lack of "things" and conveniences discourage her. Folding those mismatched, worn out towels, gave her a sense of order and dignity, and brought order to her life. Although she had children, the house was not strewn with toys and clothes. I wish I could show you a picture of this dismal looking house that she had made orderly and clean.

In the early days of homesteading in Alaska, many families lived in tents until their houses could be built. Building a house took a lot longer, because the parents had to go into the nearby forests of their property and cut trees to make logs. Inside the tents, we had to be neat and orderly. Beds were rolled up in the day time in order to use them as seats. Our mothers even swept the canvas that served as floors. There were only a few dishes, and so the idea of them "stacking up to the ceiling" would have been ludicrous, for there was only one cup and one plate for each person. If mother got a bit behind on this, she would turn the plate upside down and serve dinner on the other side. After that, she simply had to wash them, but she often recruited one of her children to do it, while she did other tasks.

If we neglect the basic elements of homemaking (dishes, laundry, clutter, cleanliness and order) , we end up in a vicious cycle, where piled up dishes and laundry make us feel discouraged, and discouragement makes us neglect the tasks at hand that make a house beautiful. When my children were growing up, they learned an important phrase, "Perspiration adds to appreciation." In other words, if they had to clean up something, they would be more protective of that particular area or thing, and not want it easily messed up. They were more likely to guard the home, if they had to clean it up. We are the same. If we have to keep up with the dishes, we will be more careful not to use them and leave them laying about in the kitchen. We'll be more particular about using a clean glass everytime someone gets a drink. (A Dixie cup dispenser is the best thing for that). If a child makes a mess and has to clean it up, he won't be so careless about making the same mess again. (That is, if the mother consistently makes him pick it up each time).

I knew a woman with four daughters. Every month the housework was divided between the girls. One would take the living room, one the bathroom, and so forth. During that time, the girls owned the room they looked after. You can believe they took very good care of the room they owned, as they cleaned and decorated and arranged it all themselves. They were a lot more careful about how that room was treated. Homemaking is a lot like playing house. It has to be done cheerfully and creatively.

We can understand how to learn new habits when it comes to something like piano playing or crochet classes, but somehow, we cannot translate that to home life. Learn, practice, learn some more, and practice, and soon, you are doing a job that at first was insurmountable.

Everyone gets behind sometimes because of a rushed life. If this is happening to you, one suggestion I have is to clear your calendar of appointments and obligations for a week. Send someone else to the store for groceries, and decline to get in the car at all. Spend the week getting your house back into shape. If you have gotten way beyond this, you can hire someone to come in and give you a jumpstart by catching you up on everything. After they leave, do not let one single thing sit where it doesn't belong, for more than a few minutes. Walk around the house occasionally and scout for things that do not belong. Make children take all their belongings to their own rooms. Pick up your own things and put them where they belong. Clear the tables after you've had homeschooling or crafts, and neatly deposit everything in their assigned places.

The only way a person who has had a problem with housekeeping can recover, is to become a fanatic for while, until better habits are formed. Keep the laundry caught up and put away, by doing a load a day. Keep the dishes done up after every meal and inbetween. Learn to cook with fewer pots and pans, and to mix things using fewer utinsels. For example, you can measure your dry ingredients in a large measuring pitcher, first, and use the same container for the wet ingredients next. Instead of reaching for a new bowl to mix something in, look in the dishpan and wash the one that has been used.

One extremely helpful course I took was called "Sidetracked Home Executives." The authors, who called themselves "slob sisters" had taught themselves new habits by making rules for themselves and sticking by them. Some of these rules were:

Don't start the day without getting dressed.
Pick it up, don't pass it up.
Put things away as you go, rather than waiting for a cleaning day.
Don't leave the house until it is cleaned up.

I understand that there are some places on the web that send you emails daily to help you get started pulling yourself out of the accuulated mess, who have adopted the S.H.E. principles. Like the slob sisters, many women have had good mothers who were organized and clean and ran the home with great efficiency. However, many of that next generation spent most of their waking hours in schools and other institutions, rather than watching the habits of their mothers at home.

Although their mothers were proficient homemakers, they were not able to pass on the habits to their daughters. My own mother had a wonderful garden, but I was so busy with homework and school, that I arrived home way past the time that I would have been with her out in the garden watching what she did. I consequently was not automatically a good gardner.

The same applies to working inside the home to make it beautiful and orderly, and a place where you delight in staying. You've got to stay in it and work at it. Put on some nice music, spray a fresh scent into the air, and go to it. After all the hard labor, get a bath, dress up, and present your family with an orderly meal.

You'll find the fussing and aggravation levels of your children go way down, once neatness and cleanliness are emphasised in the home.

We can change our ways. We can be determined, we can learn new things, and we can submit ourselves to the tasks before us.

I'll leave one small hint that helps me a lot. When I open a cabinet or drawer, or even the fridge, to get something or put something away, I look it over and if anything is out of place, I quickly straighten it. I never just get a glass and close the door. I always get a glass and then adjust something in the cabinet. Or, I use a spice and put it back, while re-grouping the spice area, and maybe wiping the inside where some things have been spilled.

I launder my dishtowels and kitchen things by themselves in a load of wash, so that if I do not have time, I can simply take the entire load from the dryer and put it in a drawer. If I get around to folding them, I feel good, but at least they are in the drawer and pre-sorted by this method.

When I am sewing, I will take breaks and clean up the area I'm in, folding patterns and putting them away, clearing the sewing area, and making a place for me to work.

You may not need any of these hints, but they may give you an idea of things you can do to make living at home desireable rather than miserable.

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