Confessions of a Former Housework Hater
- 2014 24 Nov
There seem to be two camps of homeschoolers. One camp contains the former Martha Stewart clones who have had to relax their housekeeping standards in order to make time to effectively homeschool. These ladies need encouragement so they can enjoy reading with their child without stressing about the dust in the corners. The other camp holds the moms who are desperately trying to figure out how to keep the house habitable with most of the family at home the majority of the time. This article is written for those moms in the second camp.
For as long as I can remember, I have disliked housework. I know there are some people who delight in keeping their living space clean, but I was not blessed with this drive. From the time we were old enough to hold a broom, my brothers, my sister, and I were expected to help keep the house neat. Saturday morning chore time was dreaded every week. Even Dad's rewarding our efforts by taking us out for hamburgers did not lessen my distaste for the work.
What did I dislike so much about cleaning? Perhaps I found it boring and mundane. There's not much exciting about performing the same chores over and over. Cleaning felt like testing the second law of thermodynamics and discovering that things really do change from order to disorder. The same bathroom I had just spent 30 minutes cleaning would inevitably need to be cleaned again the next week.
Maybe I disliked the loneliness of housework. Most chores are done without company, which contributes to the boredom and mundaneness of the tasks. Housework is also one of the least glamorous ways to invest time. Most people will not notice the cleaning efforts unless they are neglected. Many activities, from craft projects to work outside the home, bring praise from others—making them much more satisfying than sweeping the floors. Did I consider housework beneath me? Women are told by the feminists that they should be conquering Wall Street rather than trying to conquer the dust bunnies under the bed. The feminists consider housework to be drudgery and a poor use of a woman's gifts.
Perhaps I had fallen into the trap of separating the secular and the sacred. Praying, Bible study, and ministry had eternal worth, but keeping my closet clean, I mistakenly thought, was unimportant in view of eternity. Whatever the reason for my dislike of housework, God has changed my heart, and I now work to maintain my home with joy.
Other than for obvious sanitation reasons, why is housework important? For one, God is a God of order, and our duty as Christians is to display God's attributes to the world. God's order is evident throughout His creation, and the Bible tells us that God is not the author of confusion (I Cor 14:33). The Bible also admonishes us to let everything be done decently and with order (I Cor 14:40). I think this resonates in the spirits of mankind, resulting in an innate desire for things to be neat and tidy. I have watched young children playing, and they tend to avoid a mess. Youngsters ignore the disorganized pile of toys lying on the floor and get out something new to play with. Children and adults alike tend to get stressed by a mess. Relaxation and enjoyment of surroundings is much easier when things are orderly.
But other than trying to be like God, I also need to keep my house neat to train my children to organize their environments. My heart goes out to adults who were never taught how to keep house. As much as I disliked Saturday morning chores, I'm grateful my parents taught me how to work. I need to set the example so my children will have the desire and the ability to glorify God through their own homes one day.
So how did I become a former housework hater? For one, I ran out of excuses. In my young adult life I always justified my lack of housekeeping because I was busy with school or my career. But when I became a full-time housewife, those excuses disappeared. I was also challenged by the examples of housewives from yesteryear. I would read about them in old books or see them in old movies.
Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie kept herself and her environment neat even when there was no chance of any neighbor stopping by. She felt it was worthwhile to iron the clothes, make the beds, and sweep the dirt floors even though only her husband and children would appreciate her efforts. Most contemporary housewives (and I fell into this category) avoid housework until company is coming. There is a mad dash of cleaning to make the house presentable for the visitors, and then housework is neglected again for more attractive pursuits. There is an old Southern saying that people should treat their family like guests and their guests like family. I knew I was not following this sage advice when I would tidy the house for company but leave it sloppy and dirty for my family. My ability to serve the Lord was also hampered when I was ashamed to have people drop by. It's impossible to be "given to hospitality" (1 Tim 1:2) when it takes several hours of work before guests can cross the threshold. I began desiring to have my house ready for company at all times, and this became a New Year's resolution for several years before it became a reality.
I was also challenged by Proverbs 31:27, which says the virtuous woman "eats not the bread of idleness." As I doggedly tried to ignore and avoid housework, I felt I was eating this bread. I was sure Ma Ingalls would have been appalled at me sitting on the couch reading a book before all the housework was done. As my conviction and discomfort over my messy house grew, I tried to improve my slovenly habits, but found it difficult. Even though I could legalistically force myself to do my daily chores, the core of my being still hated housework, and there was no joy in my labor. My mom observed my struggle and told me to stop fighting and surrender instead. That was very wise and spiritual advice. I confessed and surrendered my laziness and work-avoiding habits to Jesus, and He gave me victory over my disorderly way of life.
I remember having a conversation years ago with a group of career women about how to sweep a floor for God's glory. We were all a bit mystified about how such a commonplace and seemingly unspiritual task could have eternal significance. I now know that it glorifies God when I keep my surroundings orderly. It glorifies Him when I set a good example for my children. God is pleased when I honor my husband and my children by working hard to make things nice for them, even at the unglamorous jobs. Elizabeth Elliot, in her book Discipline the Glad Surrender, states the following: "Let us lift up our hands, our hearts, our bodies—a sacrifice, acceptable because it is lifted up to Him who alone can purify. Without this offering, the thing dies. Deadness, lifelessness, boredom are inevitable." As I dedicate my household duties to God and perform them as unto the Lord and not for men, I find joy in the housework I once hated.
But all spiritual victories have a practical outworking, so I'll tell you my system for housework. Work is put before play whenever possible, since it is easy for the urgent to crowd out the necessary. I once saw an old-fashioned set of dish towels that had a daily chore stitched into them: Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, etc. Like the housewives of decades past, I try to accomplish one major chore every day. When nothing comes up to disrupt the cleaning schedule, I am normally done with most of my chores by Thursday. I then have some discretionary time and can hit the couch with a book for an hour without guilt.
General pick-up takes place several times a day. We pick up after school, after the baby is down for a nap, and before bed. This type of pick-up seemed so useless to me when I was a new mom with a "toddler tornado." Why pick up when I know she will quickly come and mess things up again? My mom set the example in this also for me. I observed her pick up the mess my toddler had made as soon as my toddler left the room. When I asked her what was the point in putting forth this effort, she told me that getting out the toys was half the fun for the child. And she was right. It was also wonderful to have the living room back in order again, even if the order only lasted 10 minutes. To my surprise, the toddler didn't always immediately recreate the mess, so the room was often picked up for an extended period of time.
Pick-up is kept fast and easy for both the kids and me. There are several places to quickly stash toys in the main living areas. The older kids have large containers to hold different categories of toys. A little extra motivation was needed to help the older kids put away what they got out before the mess became overwhelming, so I instigated a confiscation program. If things are left on the floor in the bedroom, in the office, or on the counter in the kitchen overnight, they become mine to give to charity. So far, with very few reminders or warnings, I haven't had to confiscate anything. Each child has one major responsibility for each year they have aged. These chores include cleaning bathrooms, gathering laundry, putting laundry away, dusting, helping with dishes, and sweeping the floor. It's amazing how helpful an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old can be.
My house would still not pass a white glove inspection. But I'm not ashamed when people drop by unexpectedly, and there is no longer a mad dash of cleaning when scheduled guests are coming. Friends and relatives have complimented me on my housekeeping abilities, and that encourages me that God is being my strength in an area of weakness. However, writing this has been convicting, because I am sitting at my disorganized, cluttered desk. I know the master bedroom closet could also use some attention, so I guess I'd better go get to work!
Originally published on April 20, 2009
Cindy Puhek resides in Colorado Springs with her husband and 4 homeschooled children (with baby number 5 due to arrive this summer). She earned a BS and MA in chemistry and taught college and high school classes before realizing God's highest calling for her was making a home for her family. Visit Cindy's blog at www.HSEBlogs.com/cindy.
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2009 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE 8-page report entitled "The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom" by visiting http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm