Motherhood Misery #9: I Was Obsessed with Having a Clean House

Every mother has to have a cleaning standard if she wants an orderly home. For years, mine was truly absurd: “My house has to be clean all the time the way it would be clean for guests.” Needless to say this mindset made me miserable.

My intentions were good. I really believed it would be hypocritical of me to have my house one kind of clean for guests, and another kind of clean for ordinary days. But given the fact I was raising little children – at one point, it was five children under the age of eight in a 3-bedroom rancher – the standard  was just too high. Yes, I made my kids clean up after themselves. Yes, we had chores. Yes, I was trying. But life with kids is messy every day. If you’re nursing, it’s hard to keep up because you have to sit down every few hours to feed, burp, diaper, and soothe.

While you’re doing that, toddlers are busy building with legos, coloring with crayons, and sculpting with play doh. The messes caused by this creativity are epic. In fact, one of the tools I used for our pick-up times went something lke this.”OK. We’re going to clean up now. Everybody pick up 30 things.”

Do the math, Studious Mom. 30 things x 4 children = 120 items on the floor!

Granted, it’s easy for 500 legos to accumulate on the floor at once, but with a house full of girls it was also baby dolls and doll clothes; Bibles for when the kids played church; and papers because we homeschooled. I always felt like a failure by these normal messes. I was always harping on the kids because they made the messes. I was always complaining to Joe about the messes. I remember him asking me one time, “What do you want us to do?”

I can’t remember my answer, but I do remember my desire; “I want my house to STAY clean.”

Ever feel that way?

How much of this is tied to worry about what others think? This was definitely an issue for me because I had heard people talk about mom so-and-so’s pitiful homemaking skills. I didn’t want to be the object of the gossip trail. And admittedly, I had passed judgment on others for their cluttered living rooms. Or how about our friend’s lawn that looks like a perpetual yard sale, scattered with bikes, balls and plastic whatever.  So, yeah.  I felt like I had something to prove, that I could do it better, that my house could “stay clean.”

I now know that clean is not a color. You know. When you paint a room green it stays green. When you clean a room, it doesn’t stay that way. But we shouldn’t expect it to. Every room in our home is meant to be lived in. The tools of the family trade are meant to be used. So bed covers get rumpled because we sleep in beds. Dishes get dirty because eating spaghetti on a napkin would be really frustrating. Floors get scattered with toys because children are not statues. Is that what we want?

I think not. What a blessing to have healthy children in the house, scattering toys, spilling milk, and smearing dirt up the stairwell. Or, if you have older children, it’s computer clutter; it’s the contents of a dorm room dumped in the hall for the summer; it’s plastic cups and fast food wrappers in the car. If we don’t have any of that, we may be childless. Or we may have children who are too sick to make a mess. Ponder that, mom. And let the messes bring you joy.

View from the top: Even now my house doesn’t stay clean. Behold dishes left in the sink overnight

Kitchen Sink

and cosmetics scattered all over the bathroom counter.

Bathroom Sink

I don’t let these messes make me miserable anymore. Not because I have lowered my standards but because I have raised my level of peace in the midst of life with children.

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