Cerebral Homemaking Part 4: Blast Physics! We Have to Aim Just a Little Higher

Previous articles in the Cerebral Homemaking series:

In the last Cerebral Homemaking article, we talked about developing a vision for our homes and defining our homemaking philosophy. We dared to use the G-word – goals – but we really didn’t go further than me telling you which vision/philosophy I think you should pick for your goal. Bossy, remember? Of three choices – Showplace, Living Space, and Dumping Ground, I recommended Living Space as the sort of home I am trying to make and think most of us want to have.
Then I ended by saying we shouldn’t aim for any of those visions/philosophies/goals. Am I off my rocker? Maybe, but that’s another post.
A recurring theme I notice with many homemakers goes like this: “I want our home to be a haven. I want to welcome guests in. I want it to be a place where our family can relax and be productive.” In short, they describe wanting their house to be a Living Space. Great goal! But then, on the heels of that I hear: “But everything is always a mess. I clean and it doesn’t last. We are always trying to catch up and dig out. We can never find our stuff when we need it. The laundry never gets finished…” The goal is Living Space but the reality is Dumping Ground. How frustrating!
No wonder we want to give up! No one likes to feel that they never or rarely meet their goal. No one likes to be a failure.
It doesn’t have to be that way if we remember our physics. (Actually, I never think of it as physics, not possessing a scientifically oriented mind. I think of it as the realtor’s old mantra: Location, location, location. My home is located in a fallen world.) For today, remembering our physics or fallen condition means thinking about trajectory and entropy.
If you play catch with a young child, in order for your partner to have a real chance to get his hands on the ball, you know you have to toss it a little higher than where you actually want it to end up. You have learned this by experience and training your little one doesn’t yet have, which is why you are getting a great workout bending over and reaching and running after all of his throws that end up somewhere in the region of your ankles. Gradually he will come to understand the principle of trajectory, which is the line or path a body takes when it is in motion. Because of gravity and drag, a ball doesn’t continue to travel at the same elevation from which it was thrown. It arcs and then gets lower as it reaches its target. The truth about trajectory also applies to arrows and cannonballs and, believe it or not, homemaking goals.
Then there is another physics thing: entropy. As I understand it, entropy involves the idea that even when you have a system that functions well, things eventually try to revert back to an inert state, or at least to average out. (I hope all of my dear readers who may indeed possess scientific minds will forgive my rather intuitive definitions and applications of these terms.) It includes the idea that energy from an outside source is required to keep the function of the system at its optimal level, and it is a measure of disorder within a system. Now this is an idea I get. Even in a good system, there is imperfection – disorder. It’s the location, location, location thing all over again.
If we want our houses to be Living Spaces, if that is the goal, then we have to aim a little higher than that because of trajectory and entropy. Savvy? If you want your home to be a Living Space, you actually have to set your sights somewhere between Living Space and Showplace.

I know, I know – you don’t want to turn into one of those uptight women who trails after people with a cloth, flicking invisible dust off everything they touch, or a dame who decorates every surface within an inch of its life, but I really don’t think that will happen. You are far too sensible for that. There is a sweet spot of balance we are reaching for. Sometimes we will hit it dead on; more often circumstances will cause our results to be a little less, but no matter, because a little lower is what we really wanted in the first place!

So, am I suggesting we do a thing as silly sounding as telling ourselves we are aiming for a goal that we know is not really our goal? I suppose I am.
I do that kind of thing for myself all the time. It is one of the key ways I have learned to think about homemaking and meet with some success in the doing of my job. Call it cajoling, giving myself a pep talk, playing pretend with myself, or even deceiving myself – it is all of those things – but it works for me. Do you ever do that with appointments? I tell myself I need to leave the house at 2:20 even though I know I don’t really need to leave until 2:30. I need the cushion because I tend to run late, and I don’t want to be that sort of person. Likewise with homemaking: I tell myself the laundry has to be done three times per week, even though I know it can be managed in two days, although it makes for an earlier start and a later finish if I must do it that way. So, most weeks I do the laundry on three different days, but once in awhile it only gets done twice, and we do fine. (What does not happen is that it doesn’t get done at all, or that the same load gets washed over and over because nobody moves it to the dryer and it sours, or the laundry gets washed and dried but never folded and put away. Those are no-go practices for me – no slack, no way, no how. I lived that way for far too long, and I know I can’t let myself slide back into those habits. That is where I must under all circumstances tell myself the absolute truth, but more about that another time.)
What we are doing here is setting a standard, but we are setting it with the knowledge that sometimes unexpected things happen and sometimes we are plain lazy and, of course, with that whole trajectory/entropy thing in mind. So we set the standard a little higher than it actually needs to be to compensate for all the imperfection that comes with living in this fallen old world.
Putting My Thinking Into Practice:
In the last article, I asked you to answer some questions to help you choose what sort of house you want to have:
 I want my home to be a place where ____________.
When people are in my home, I want them to feel _____________.
 I think the purpose of our house is __________.
Today, take one area of your homemaking work, like laundry or kitchen cleanup, or one room in your house and think about how that fits into your goal of house-as-Living-Space:
  1. Imagine what that part looks like in a good Living Space home.
  2. Imagine what that needs to look like in yourLiving Space home. For me, in my Living Space home, the kitchen is a room I want to enter and, with little or no work required, start on a meal or other project. In between uses I want it to be pleasantly clean and orderly.
  3. Figure out what is required to have what you imagine. Figure out what jobs are required and the frequency and to what degree they need to be done. Be specific. For my kitchen, it means dishes are put into the dishwasher or hand-washed after most meals or cooking sessions. The dishwasher is run if full, or “rinse and hold” is done if not. It is ok with me if hand-washed items are not dried and put away, but it is not ok if there are two or three washing sessions’ worth still propped against each other on the counter. It is not ok for food to be left out, perishable or otherwise. It is never ok with me if counters and table are not wiped free of crumbs and stickies. It is ok with me if a few other-than-kitchen items are in the room, but it is not ok if they take up residence. It is ok with me if the trash is pretty full and hasn’t been emptied because it is pouring outside, but it is not ok with me for it to get overflowing – somebody’s just going to have to get wet.
  4.  Now set your goal a little higher than what is required. Figure out some rules for your household. Our kitchen rules are:

a.     No dirty dishes left in the sink unless the dishwasher is currently washing.
b.     Put away all food.
c.      Close cupboard doors/drawers.
d.     Wipe the counters and table, rinse the cloth, and lay it neatly by the sink.
e.     Rinse the sink.
f.      Do “dry and put away.”
g.     Hang dish towels from cabinet knobs adjacent to the sink.
h.     Don’t pile stuff on the counters and table.
i.       Take the trash out once per day, less often if not full in cold weather.

These are our kitchen cleanup “best practices.” Do they get followed every time? Nope. That’s why they are a little stricter than is strictly necessary. Aiming for them is what gets me the kitchen space I really want most of the time. (Don’t tell the kids, ok?) And, if I’m not seeing the space I really want, it tells me we are slipping too much in our work, and I need to tighten up before things get truly bad. I don’t want Truly Bad. I don’t want Dumping Ground, and it is all too easy to go there.

So, what area will you analyze and set goals for? What bugs you the most? That’s probably the area to pick. Share your ideas, victories, and defeats with the rest of us imperfect people. Let’s have a good conversation!

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  1. Posted July 24, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    One of the best things I did was make a cleaning list for my kitchen. Which ever child is assigned the job of cleaning the kitchen is asked if they have cleaned to the list. This is for both of us. It means they know what is expected and I can’t randomly add new things and get upset because they didn’t follow the random new thing. This has saved a lot of stress in our house. They still don’t like all the “rules,” but at least the rules don’t change. There is also one for their bedrooms and the bathroom. Since we are moving the school room I have to make a new one for the school room and dining room as well.

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      What a good idea, Samantha! It is like grading with a rubric — everybody understands the standard and how to succeed.

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I love this idea! I often hear parents complain the child didn’t do something to their standards but are unwilling to explain every time. Kids are small people. They forget the same as adults. AND they are learning! How often do we ask the same question when we are learning new things? I am a list person. I love being able to see what needs to be done and accomplishing it. Great suggestion!

  2. Anonymous
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Implementing new rules – well, not new rules, but better understood rules, written rules, in this house. You may have just been voted the worst mother/friend/blog-writer/human on earth by the inhabitants of this house. But if I make clear the rules, I know it will be better for them AND me.

    So true about aiming a little higher. I do the appointment leaving time thing. But sometimes, I do it all wrong, and I miss half of worship. oh, yes, I did. But that’s another story too. 😀 I also do it when I’m having company – I want to get this and this and this and this and this and this …. and usually I only get one of those ‘this’s’ done!!!

    Must run to get ready for company …..


    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I don’t mind being the heavy in your household — bring it on! 🙂

      And getting ready for company is certainly one of those deadlines I move up — trying to answer the door relaxed and not a mess! Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

  3. Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    One goal I have most years is ‘touching all sides of my house’. Meaning ceilings, floors and all walls. It takes me a few months since I do it in stages but, it’s so worth it! I have just finished the basement and I am ready to begin the pantry and kitchen. I do not like thinking, “I know we have one of those but, can’t remember where so…let’s just buy another one.” Nope. If I feel any item can’t be found in a reasonable amount of time, just donate it or throw it out now. Don’t store stuff that you can’t use. Now those of you who know me well, know my house is very small and I have to put everything ‘in it’s place’ or it has to go. The basement often becomes my dumping ground over the winter and every spring, I must clean it up again. It’s not a good plan but, it does seem to be what works. Off to tackle that pantry…

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I think it a very good plan, and it is similar to what I do in our house. I like how you use the term “touching all the sides of my house.”

  4. Posted July 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    This physics analogy seems very familiar… 😉

    I love to cook but hate to wash dishes. Not a good combination! A few months ago I made the rule, “Wash all of the dishes after every meal.” That is my trajectory. Reality says it doesn’t quite happen every time, but at least more often than not and now working in my kitchen is much more pleasant. And I find that it only takes me about 10 minutes to get those dishes washed up and the counters wiped down. I can do 10 minutes! Life is much happier when I stick to this rule.

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Church Mouse, you are so very, absolutely right about washing the dishes! 10 minutes! That’s probably about how much I spend on each dishwashing session, too. Sometime I’m going to do an entire post about regular dish-washing, which is one of the chores that procrastination makes many multiples of times harder to accomplish. Changing my attitude about doing dishes probably did more to improve my homemaking and the pleasantness of living in our home than any other thing. Thanks for your wise comments.

  5. Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Wow, so helpful. The thing about cushion in time needed to get places … and the “a little stricter than is STRICTLY necessary” … wow. Break through moments. Love this series.

    • Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

      I’m glad it’s useful, April. It’s been fun and valuable for me to try to break down how my thinking had to change to move from being a “messy” to a bit more consistent and competent at my job.

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  • In My Kitchen, In My Life is a place where women (and the odd male) can be encouraged, nudged, and occasionally kicked in the pants toward living their lives on a higher plane. Oh, and readers get plenty of chances to laugh at the author's foibles, which is always worth a click.

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