The Art of Housekeeping

A few months back I reported on my resolution to let my house be dirty. And to not care.

So I thought I’d let you all know how that was going.

And the answer is . . . pretty well, actually.

Refusing to get stressed out about my messy house has resulted in, believe it or not, a cleaner house.


For me housekeeping was another one of those surprises of motherhood. All of a sudden your domain is the home rather than the classroom or the office, and you realize how shockingly unprepared you are to take care of a house.

It’s astonishing how many of my local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meetings are dedicated to organization, simplifying, house cleaning, etc. This is the stuff we feel we need to know now, and we didn’t learn it in college. Or grad school, in many cases.

I recently read a novel where the main character realizes that her feminist mother knew all the details about taking care of a home, how to get mildew out of grout and how to best clean a floor, but that she very deliberately did not teach them to her daughter. The daughter, who is now a stay-at-home mother, feels a little bit resentful at this lack of knowledge.

Somehow I also grew up without these little bits and pieces of essential homemaking knowledge. I don’t think my mother didn’t teach me cooking and cleaning for feminist reasons. In fact, I think she probably tried her best to teach me these things and that I was such an extremely unwilling student that she finally gave up. I just never thought of myself in a situation in which I would need to know how to make a rug smell better or get water stains out of glasses. I needed to learn Spanish and quadratic equations; I needed to understand theories of salvation and liberation theology. Hospital corners? Of what use was that to me?

Of course, I lived in apartments and even homes before having a child. I actually worked at home for several years before having my first son. These places had to be cleaned, and I did a sort of haphazard job of it, kind of amused at and maybe even a little bit proud of my complete lack of proficiency. Because this house stuff was never MY WORK. It was something else, something I didn’t worry about all too much. If there were stains on the water glasses or the beds were made a little haphazardly, who cared?

Then after having a child it seemed like my perspective shifted. My son and our home–those were now my work. And I wasn’t very good at it.


I spent a lot of time feeling really bad about that, so as I wrote a few months ago, I was going to stop worrying so much about it and get used to a little dirt here and there. And as I mentioned above, the result is, weirdly, that my house is cleaner.

It turns out that I have absorbed some of that cleaning and organization advice so freely offered in the magazines and MOPS meetings. I realize that life is a little easier and less stressful when I make the lunches the night before and when I get the kitchen counters wiped and the dishwasher started (that dishwasher sound is still my favorite sound in the entire world–something, NOT ME,  is washing my dishes!) before I go to bed. And that I should never use food storage containers that are not clear–that is just asking for trouble. Plus, it is really not easier to place things near where they go. It just takes one extra second and sometimes not even that to actually put them in their place, and then it’s done. I can’t believe it’s taken me 35 years to learn that one.

So is my house pristine? Nope. It’s still what many call fondly a kid house. With the accompanying wooden trains and plastic things that seem to follow my children home from every single outing.

But somehow refusing to get stressed out about it has helped me to keep it a little more clean. Worry is paralyzing, isn’t it? If you’re all stressed out about something, it’s hard to even get up the energy and courage to make a dent in the problem. For me, it’s also about admitting that I don’t have to be best at something to even give it a try, to admit that I don’t know and that I need to learn.

I’m still the maid that no one, not even me, would hire. But it’s working out OK for us so far.

And yesterday, as we were making up a guest bed at my sister’s house, my mom showed us how to  make hospital corners. Frankly, my sister’s corners looked a lot better than mine. But I’m learning.


As "made" as our bed gets

As “made” as our bed gets

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3 Responses to The Art of Housekeeping

  1. Cynthia June 18, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    This is something I completely relate to, Julie. For me, too, now that the boys are old enough to help in some ways I also have to embrace their less than perfect efforts and when they do make any effort I am so grateful! Last weekend we all cleaned the house together top to bottom and I mostly did supporting tasks, finding cleaning supplies and carrying the vacuum from room to room. Was it perfect? No way. But it was really satisfying to see them doing these things and helping them learn how to do them, and not to worry about the result but enjoy the process (as you said…the “art of housekeeping” is truly an art 🙂

    • juliaroller June 18, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Cynthia, so glad you enjoyed the post. I love your idea about the kids helping! I have a great mental picture of them industriously sweeping and tidying and feeling proud of their contribution to the household. I really have to follow up on my kids’ interest in the Swiffer and the vacuum! 🙂

  2. Marilyn June 18, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    I’m really glad that you are able to ease up on your desire to be perfect at ‘everything” you do, because as you now know,it is not possible and also is not necessary. You are making good choices with your priorities!
    And yes, I wanted to teach you housekeeping and did try, as I would have appreciated the help and knew that it would be useful to you in the future, too. But I didn’t find an effective approach and regretfully, gave up. I lamented at the time , “why aren’t there any classes available on parenting? Most woman and men become parents and have had NO opportunity to learn how to do it well.” ( As you know, we had no internet. Books were available, but how to know which ones would advise in a way that we found the outcome acceptable?
    L, M

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