Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Housework and me

Housework has never been my forte. Just ask my mother, my husband, or any of my past roommates. I'm not a total slob, and I don't like to live with mess, but there are always many things above housework on my priority list.

When we were first married, we did housework pretty much even-steven, or if I was feeling sick, John did pretty much all of it. The house was never all that neat, but we had a dishwasher, so the dishes usually got washed ... especially if it was John's day off. And I managed to do laundry at least once a week, and if our bedroom was full of clean unfolded stuff -- hey, it saved a trip to the closet. Vacuuming, though -- I think John did it sometimes. I know I tried once, and threw my back out.

Now that I'm staying home with the baby, the housework is almost all my job. John helps when he can, but the simple fact is that he is not in the house all day, and I am. So I try to do 100% of it on the weekdays, and let him help on the weekends as convenient. This makes it the first time I have ever been trying to do everything in a house. I always split chores with my brother when I was a kid, which meant they got done on his day and not on my day. Or I would make dishes, and my roommate would wash them. I'm kind of a horrible person to live with that way. But with no recourse but actually doing the housework, I am finally motivated to do it.

Only now motivation suddenly isn't good enough! I am so motivated! I want to be clean! I want to be proud of my home! So I get up in the morning and start cleaning ... only to have the room trashed five minutes later. I wash a bunch of dishes ... and the whole time the baby is tugging at my leg asking me to make him something that will inevitably dirty four more dishes. I get the laundry washed, and there's a heaping basket full of more. I must say I have never understood more deeply that "a woman's work is never done."

So I tend to excuse myself, explain the mess. Some people understand. They say, "You have a toddler, of course it's going to be messy!" I try to believe them. But then other people try to be helpful ... which I inevitably understand as criticism. Housework is my weak point and I tend to be kinda ... okay, very ... sensitive about it.

For instance, I say, "My house is always messy, I just can't keep up with it!" And the person will answer, "Oh, mine used to be too, and then I discovered that if you just dedicate 20 minutes a day to it, it's not that hard! Just clean a different room each day!"

Seriously, do you think I'm not spending 20 minutes a day on housework? I spend 20 minutes cleaning the living room, say. It's clean. Great. So I go into the kitchen to start on the dishes and 20 minutes later, the kitchen is clean but the living room is trashed again. So I go back into the living room to clean it and then we're all hungry, so I make something to eat. By the time we're ready to eat it, the living room is trashed again, all the food is out on the counters, and there are a dozen dirty dishes. Repeat. If I try to clean everything, the other rooms in the house will never get clean, and just forget about the laundry. And when you use cloth diapers, forgetting about the laundry is never wise.

Or this one: "I used to have trouble getting the laundry folded, but now I fold it right out of the dryer, so it's never sitting around!" Wow, I never would have thought of that. Perhaps next time, when the dryer finishes up, I should lay my novel aside, stretch luxuriously, and mosey on down to the laundry room to fold it. Pardon the dripping sarcasm. What happens more often is that the dryer finishes during naptime ... and the laundry room is kind of ill-placed, behind the baby's room so I can't get to it during naptime. (It's kind of inconvenient that way.) So I wait until naptime's over and then I've got this demanding child who is clingy and needy, and only recovers from that in time to want a snack, and trashes the room while I'm making the snack, and after I clean it up, he flings himself against the front door and tearfully begs to go outside, so we go outside, and when we finally come back in he is hungry again, and when I finally buckle down to fold that laundry, he spends his time pulling it all out, dumping it on the floor, and putting the underwear on his head. Meanwhile there's a load of diapers in the washer that needs to dry. Today was a good day, and we managed all this. But on a bad day? It's just not happening. Enough that we have clean clothes. Folding them is more along the lines of a luxury.

Things keep happening to motivate me. For instance, I was getting kind of lazy about the dishes. I was doing them the morning after, instead of in the evening. And then there started to be billions of teeny tiny ants filing along my counters. I HATE ants. So now I am very, very diligent about dishes and counter-washing. That one gets done pretty reliably. My secret is to wash every dish it is possible to wash before dinner, so that after dinner when we're dealing with bedtime and bathtime and everything else in the world, there are only a few left to do.

Then I was lazy about the laundry. I was washing, but not folding. I had, for once, reduced the clean laundry to one load's worth when a disaster started happening. The baby was grabbing at the cat when she was in the litterbox. And my dear, well-behaved, beautiful kitty, the one who never has an accident, went on a spree of peeing all over things. The laundry basket got hit, as well as a stack of THREE comforters. I'm still dealing with that one. So now I am really making a Herculean effort to get those clothes folded and away, so as not to provide an opportunity for Demon Kitty to make her mark.

Some people recommend wearing shoes while at home, so you feel more "dressed" and ready to see housework as a job. I, on the other hand, make sure to go barefoot so that if the floors start to get gritty, I notice right away. (Also because I hate wearing shoes.)

Honestly, I'm growing to like housework. I like keeping my little house clean because it is finally my own house. And I like the way it looks when it's clean. And there's something nice about just cleaning something, you know? Don't get me wrong; I still prefer yardwork by a long shot. But I am to the point that when John gets home and asks, "Can I help with something?" I always let him have the baby and plunge into the housework. Housework seems a lovely break of non-toddler time.

Of course I could be doing a better job. I know people who are busier than I am and still keep their houses cleaner. I could quit my blog, stop checking out library books, never play with the baby, and I could get more done. But I've never been willing to kill myself over housework. Though it's important to me, it's below a lot of things on my priority list. As it is, I think I do okay. The house gets cleaned at least once a day, we manage to eat dinner, and there are clean clothes to wear. Probably when the baby is older and I can put him to work or send him out to play, I'll do better. For now, I do what I can and usually don't feel bad about it.

If you comment, please don't tell me the secret for doing better. I honestly don't want to know. I would prefer comments telling me your house is messier than mine. If you would like to help, come scrub my bathroom or something!


Sarah Faith said...

Sounds like you've got your priorities in order!
(It totally should be a mess with a toddler in the house. And I think it's truly good for them to have some unsupervised time every day, let them be free to be a kid. And yes it means a big whopping mess, probably. Don't worry, you'll get him back when he's the go to big helper for cleaning the other kids' messes... heh.)

CatholicMommy said...

Hm, you just reminded me I haven't done the dishes since Saturday night... Guess I should go do that since the baby is asleep now. :-)

Sheila said...

Thanks guys. :)

The Sojourner said...

Every cleaning system out there loses me right off the bat because they suggest that you wear shoes (*glares pointedly at FlyLady*) and/or make your bed every day.

Making the bed every day does not give me a glowing sense of satisfaction to start my day off right. Making the bed makes me think, "Great, I just got up and already I have to deal with a pointless, mind-numbing chore." (At college, I only made my bed when my mother came to visit. Nothing bad ever happened.)

I've never had a house or apartment of my own, but if my dorm room is any indication I won't be up for the front cover of Better Homes and Gardens anytime soon. (I also kill plants--inadvertently, I assure you--so two strikes for me.) In my defense, doing the dishes is a lot harder when you have to do so in a communal bathroom. Also, I had six bowls and there was only one of me and I had a 19-meal plan at the cafeteria, so doing dishes once a month or so was actually possible.

Okay, that was brutally honest. I'll go hang my head in shame now.

(They never drew bugs, I promise.)

The Sojourner said...

I also hate the "Just do this!" people. With a passion. Mainly because shortly before I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder last year people kept telling me stuff like "Just stop worrying so much!" "Just look on the bright side!"

Gee, THANK YOU, random person. I had never thought about just flipping the worry switch to the "off" position!

People still say that stuff, actually, but I try not to fly into a rage over it.

Sorry if I hijacked the thread a little bit there.

some guy on the street said...

I ... er... I have no children, and it's usually quite messy, anyways. I did a huge whacking pile of dishes today, but so many other things seem to get away from me one after another...

Of Course, all one *really* has to do [;)] is move from the library to the red drawing room (or from the red drawing room to the blue... ) or jog down to the stables and take the best chestnut stalion for a jaunt around the grounds while, unbeknownst, the relevant upstairs staff maid swoops in to put everything back together.

If I stumble on any humbler (or cheaper) secrets, I'll be sure to keep them secret.

Paul Stilwell said...

When I was living with a friend one of the primary motivators to do the dishes was that there were no more dishes in the cupboards to put food on.

Sheila said...

Thanks for the brutal honesty, everyone. It helps. As for me, I'm on a slow climb up from dorm life (one bowl, rinsed out with water between ramen dinners, and a roommate who I gave permission to MAKE me do the housework once a week) to single life (haul all my laundry to the laundromat about once a month and wash everything I owned) to early married life (dishes when I ran out of forks, laundry when I ran out of socks) to now (dishes pretty much every day, and several loads of laundry a week). But I'm not "there" yet.

Sojourner, you and me both about the "just do it" types. Just get over that depression/anxiety/trauma. Just clean that house. Just raise that kid. Just whatever. Look, if it were that easy, I'd have done it already!

I feel there is less sympathy for me now than there was a year ago. When Marko was a baby, it was, "Sleep when the baby sleeps; let the housework go; they're little for so long; you need your rest." But back then I had all this energy and he took several naps a day! Now the unspoken assumption seems to be that now he's old enough to sleep through the night (ha) I shouldn't need a nap (HA) and so can spend the time on housework (ha-jolly-ha). No, he's old enough to make messes constantly, to wear me out constantly, to use up my energy on survival so I don't have that energy to scrub floors. I DO have more time I could be spending cleaning. But I don't really have the energy.

I'd feel better about it if my husband weren't so naturally neat that I feel like a slob by comparison. Then again, if he weren't so naturally neat, we'd probably be living in a pig sty.

I'm off to go take a nap. Thinking about the housework makes me tired.

Salixbabylonica said...

Heh, I remember the first time I had toddlers in my house. It was right after we moved and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself - for the first time in my life I was keeping the house quite tidy and clean (remember that's very much a relative measure). I'd been thinking to myself, "Why, this isn't so hard after all! I won't have any trouble once my son is born." Well, those two toddlers burst my smug little bubble in 60 seconds flat. The living room looked like we'd been through a hurricane; every toy I owned (and some I didn't) were scattered across the floor. Small pieces of shredded paper softly floated to the ground, mysteriously appearing out of the air as if torn from guardian angels' wings as they scrambled to keep up with their charges.

Ah. Maybe this isn't going to be so easy after all.

Ann Seeton said...

I am a horrible housekeeper. I try to keep up with the dishes and have a dream of managing to keep the kitchen spotless, but running the vacuum is a hit and miss affair and there is just so much more to do than housework.

Secretly, I dream of being wealthy enough to hire a full time housekeeper.... but I would want to pay her really well so that I can have a really good housekeeper, someone who knows how to keep a house really clean and who loves the challenge, and I know I'll never have that kind of money!

But I am proud of one thing-- the counter in the bathroom may need cleaning, but the toilets are all cleaned regularly!

So, the dishes are done at least once a day and the toilets get done once a week.

I hate housework.

I'd rather be on the internet or having lunch with one of my adult kids, or meeting friends at a coffee shop or sitting on the floor with my Little Tiger who is getting perilously close to 24 months!

Sheila said...

If the dishes are done and the toilets are clean, it does a lot toward feeling that you're at least living in a sanitary house, even if it's cluttered. For me it's dishes and floors. As long as the dishes are clean (or no more than a day old, haha) and the floor isn't crumby or sticky, I can go on with life. Cleaner would be better, but as you say, there are so many other things to do!

ColleenW said...

I work full time, have a ton of help, and enjoy having a clean house is ALWAYS a wipe out by the end of the weekend....

It's not just you..the toddler tornado is amazingly effective at destruction and mayhem.

For example...while I cooked dinner last night, my daughter dumped the yogurt she was eating as a snack onto the floor. Once we cleaned that was back in the kitchen to 'help Momma' at which point water from her cup was then successfully dumped on the chair she was standing on and all over the floor. Needless to say...dinner took forever to get on the table. Ugh....

Sheila said...

I feel your pain. I am so happy to have gotten so many responses ... I guess I am NOT the only one who can't have a toddler and a clean house, too. Perhaps nobody can!

House Cleaning said...

Housework is not the most pleasant thing to do, but is essential for normal living. If you can't manage to do the domestic chores, you can either ask your family to help you or hire a domestic cleaner. :)

some guy on the street said...

Spam is not the most pleasant stuff to read, but it is essential for greasing the internet.

If you can't collect enough spam in your comments, you just aren't worth the bots' time, but you can hire a professional spammer. :)


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