On Keeping House

I have housekeeping issues.

Which is to say, I stink at it. I just can’t seem to master this life skill.

I used to blame my lack of role model during my cleaning formative years. Although I know I’ve outgrown that excuse, it’s still inviting.

When I was wee small, my mother kept our home neat and tidy. We had very little but it was always clean. I still remember the round-bottomed sweeper she would use to devour the dirt of four children and a husband. It was one of those that used a water filtration system. The earth-smell of that dirty water when she was done vacuuming was evidence that life’s loam –the dirt that stuck to us every day–was all swallowed up.

But my parents divorced when I was 12, sending my mother into the work force and away from us for the first time. Our home became chaos. Those were the years of the perpetual sink of dirty dishes and the endless mountain of laundry. It’s hard to focus on chores that need doing when getting through each day is a chore in itself. When other young girls were baking cakes with their mothers and learning the talent of being a domestic goddess, I was struggling with my life being pulled out from under me.

Then, I lived with my father and older brother for a while. Not much organizing of the household going on there. We didn’t even have running water in the bathroom. Cleaning my 13 year old body meant a 50 pound girl dragging a heavy bucket of water down the hallway to the tub.

I emerged from adolescence with a jaded view of keeping house. It never happened until the task was so monumental that one was doomed for failure before beginning.

Cleaning makes me anxious. Household projects lead to panic attacks.

Somehow, I always screw it up. Strange things happen when I feel a domestic pull.

Case in point: I spent the better part of the last two afternoons and evenings on my hands and knees scrubbing my wood floors with a mixture of ammonia and dish detergent. Long story, but suffice it to say, if you ever see a product that promises to “rejuvenate” your wood floors…run away as fast as you can. The stuff won’t stay put but it won’t come off either.

I’ll just say that I was long overdue for a domestic disaster. We hadn’t had a crisis of cleaning since I painted the chandelier blue a couple years ago (and left a fine blue mist over the white tile floor in the adjoining room). Well, there was that gallon of paint that was spilled on the white carpet upstairs a few months back…but that wasn’t my fault. So it doesn’t count.

We’ve repainted rooms, patched holes, and rearranged furniture to cover up some of the more memorable mishaps I’ve blundered into. And yesterday afternoon as I crawled around my dining room floor inhaling ammonia and feeling the myelin of my cells disintegrating bit by precious bit–I recounted each and every failure I have ever made as a homemaker…as a wife…as a mother.

I’ve read all the Christian women’s articles about “creating a sanctuary” for my family. Seen the books on how the home should be a place of comfort and rest. And how it is my job as the woman to make sure this happens. It’s part of my duty as a godly wife, right?

So, I’ve gone through seasons where I set up a cleaning schedule. Bathrooms on Monday. The living room gets a thorough going over on Wednesdays. It’s time for the bedrooms on Fridays. And the weekend is for the kitchen, dining room, and forgotten hallways. Then, we start all over again on Monday.

Such a schedule left my soul open and bleeding on my unswept front porch.

So I would give up in misery, wallowing on my dirty kitchen floor. Then I received that chain email that made me feel better–well, a little anyway–you know, the one about a grace-filled home being one that is filled with dust. The implication being that the mom spends more time in meaningful activities than in cleaning her house.

This outlook worked for a while. But then one friend asked, “If we are not supposed to obsess about a clean house, then why does it feel so good when everything is all neat and tidy?”

Good question.

Back to wallowing in failure again.

This isn’t the first time the devil has used this particular brand of failings to send me into despair.

Not One to be one-upped, God sent his own brand of ammunition. He sent me my husband.

Jeff understands there is much more to being a godly wife and mother than keeping a super-neat house.

In the early days, when I would become consumed with my inadequacies, my dear husband would always say, “You just take care of those boys. That’s the most important thing.”

Later, when I would be up to my elbows in craft paints, little bits of scissored paper, and a toy-strewn floor, he would say, “Laura, how many mothers do you know who paint with their children? How many moms read their children to sleep every night? How many mothers take walks with their kids every day and wonder over nature? Not the mother’s with the cleanest homes. You are doing the important work.”

Later, well–now, as I struggle with balancing career, housework, writing, and time with my boys, Jeff remains my biggest encourager. He has helped me redefine what balance means. He loves me for all my quirky cleaning deficits and, thank God, never seems to see the dust bunnies that lurk under the hutch.

I’m learning to overlook them too. At least for a little while. Because life is too short to spend it scrubbing floors.

In the meantime, I comfort myself with the knowledge that one day this house will be oh, so much quieter. When I scrub the floor, it will remain clean much longer. There will be less laundry to do. Fewer projects.

Sounds pretty boring to me.

Maybe, just maybe, there will be some grandchildren to keep me away from cleaning in those years.

I sure hope so. I guess it’s just not my thing. But I am learning that it is manageable when I don’t make an idol out of it. A clean home is nice. But a home filled with love and grace is better. I hope my boys look back and remember that kind of home one day.

And I hope they learn how to do their own laundry very soon.


  1. says

    Hey friend~
    I LOVE this quote:
    ‘A clean home is nice. But a home filled with love and grace is better.’

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the trap that your home has to be picture perfect ALL the time!! I use to lean that way, but the older I get I’ve come to realize that it’s ok to have my home look lived in. For far to many years I would get uptight if things weren’t perfect and I often sacrificed family time…for cleaning time. Not any more.

    It’s often hard to strike a balance…but I believe we need to!

  2. says

    Laura, we must have been separated at birth. I’m the only messy in my family og origin.
    I too have a graceful husband who is glad for me being just like I am….messy, creative, sensuous – life is art and love.

    None of my friends had gingerbread house parties for 30 and candy knee deep on the floor…..guess why? They didn’t want the mess.

    This blessed me so much. I am not alone. Love you!

  3. says

    I’m a mess and live in House O’ Testosterone. So it’s a disaster around here. But…I have none of your noble explanations for it. I just find other things way more fun. (And have this crazy idea folks should clean up after themselves…)

    A wonderful story. And a reminder of so many other things that matter.

  4. says

    LOL! I just vaccumed up a “dust monkey” from the corner of my bedroom celiing that I have been aware of for weeks…but as soon as I left my bedroom I forgot about it.

    Last night I had the vacuum out (I have wood floors so don’t get it out often, and remembered that monkey and took care of him.

    Funny thing is…no one ever saw it but me….

    Keep enjoying living, and clean when you can!

  5. says

    We had a power blip just as I was writing a comment, which probably went off into cyberspace.

    A house full of clean rooms is a house full of clean rooms. I’ll take a mess with a generous helping of love any time.

    My mother used to work 12 hours at her outside job and every day come home and spend many more hours cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing. . . a never-ending procession of chores in a house with 7 children. I used to be just like her. Now I live with a lot of dog hair and in a much happier place. A mess can always be cleaned up. A clean house with no love remain forever empty.

  6. says

    Laura, I’m sure you already know this, but your husband is a gem! You are so blessed to have him. He gives you the freedom to do the fun, creative stuff without worrying about the mess. Not every woman gets to say that about their husbands.

    A clean house is great, but it’s the life in-between the dusting and dishes that really matters!

  7. says

    See — I knew I liked you. Now I like you even more! I, too, tend to ruin things when I clean. I took my raise and hired professionals to do what only makes me feel like a worthless excuse for a woman.

  8. says

    I am selling my house so I could relate to the pic. Oh the places dust tries to hide!! Right now I am trying to keep everything spic n span. It’s a challenge for sure! I think there is a balance on keeping house. The time spent with the boys will pay off more than the scrub brush. My older children do their own laundry! Soon they will be on their own and I will miss their mess. Keep enjoying your blessings! b

  9. says

    Your husband sounds like mine. A keeper.

  10. says

    This is said to an exhausted mommy, just home from leading a womens retreat…..
    …..who happens to have a tired hubby and a mound of laundry to be run.. that reaches to the rafters!

    and who also happens to work tomorrow. and the next 3 days.

    ah well.

    So be it. I snuggled with my son for a bit, helped a friend work through some tough decisions. Loved on both kids and tucked them into bed (after being away from them all weekend)… now to spend a bit of time with my hubby. 🙂

    Love you, and thanks for the encouragement this weekend.. and the prayers!

  11. says

    Cleaning is definitely not my thing at all. I am asking the Lord to help me with this. I don’t live in a pig pen by any means but the deep cleaning here gets done way less than it should. Thank God I have been blessed with a wonderful husband who loves and encourages me through it all too. God is good, isn’t He?

  12. says

    Well, I admit I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Can’t go to bed unless the house is spotless, the dishes washed, and the floors swept. Everyone’s got chores and they all get done without grumbles.

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