Cerebral Homemaking Part 7 — Mundane or Maniacal?

Other Cerebral Homemaking posts:

Part 1: Wrapping My Mind Around My Work 

Part 2: Please Lie Down on the Couch and We’ll Begin the Analysis

Part 3: Lofty Thinking — About Vision, Philosophy, and the G-Word

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

Part 5: Time Matters

Part 6: We Like What We’re Good At — Developing Competency

Two women, two jobs:

  1. Susan is a hotel maid. Every morning when she reports for work she knows pretty much what to expect. She will work on the same floor she always works on and will start with the same room she always starts with. Sometimes she will have to skip a room because it is occupied or didn’t get used, sometimes she will find a room dirtier than normal, sometimes she will get a better or worse tip than normal, but mostly her work is predictable.
  2. Beth is an events coordinator. Her clients hire her to manage all of the details for weddings, conferences, and lavish parties. The nature of her work means she does not work the same number of hours from week to week – she may put in 100 hours during the last week before a big event and not work at all during the week after it. What she is doing while she works varies a great deal, as well – on a given morning she may meet with a client to get final approval for the decorations she has planned, meet with a caterer to taste proposed menu items, phone the site manager to discuss placement of lighting, and spend time online sourcing a particular box shape and size for the goody bags to be given to departing guests. Although some of her work looks similar from project to project, often enough she finds herself doing unique tasks no job description could hope to cover – supervising the installation of a fantasy “set” for an “under the sea” ball, stopping the nosebleed of an overexcited bride, and more.

Which of these jobs is most similar to the homemaker’s work?

Waiting…

Mrrrrmmmppp! Time’s up!

The answer, at least for this homemaker, is BOTH. There is the mundane, to be sure – bathroom cleaning, laundry, dishes, cooking, childcare, gardening, returning library books, shopping – but then there are the “projects,” too. The corn comes in all at once from the garden and needs to be “put up,” I want to make new curtains for the master bedroom, somebody needs to throw a shower for the mother-to-be, the windows need to be washed, the living room needs to be painted, a recovering mom needs to have meals brought for her family, the youngest child is potty-training, we are re-roofing the house. Even when my child is sick with the flu – that, too, is a kind of project.

Can you see that a homemaker has quite a task in front of her? How to keep up with the mundane-but-necessary-to-keep-the family-functioning chores while making room for special (and sometimes unexpected) projects?

Let me say up front that this is an aspect of homemaking in which I have been known to fail spectacularly, especially earlier in my career. I leaned much further toward the project management side of the equation – to me it was much more fun and rewarding to plan Bible class curriculum, put on a big party, hold a yard sale, or teach a class than to clean toilets or do laundry. And I was good at all those projects – people thanked me and complimented me and congratulated me, but while I smiled at the kind words, in the back of my mind I couldn’t forget that my husband was wearing yesterday’s socks and we had not had a non-sandwich meal for two days while I had given everything I had to producing the great event. Things were, ahem, out of balance.

 

How to fix this problem? Some people say, “Don’t do anything extra. Stay at home and scrub those floors! Say no to volunteering, helping, and serving. You are a HOMEmaker after all.” Others say, “Housework is over-rated, and anyway, it will wait for you. Go ahead and produce the play and chair the charity drive! We are here to serve, after all! Don’t waste your talent on toilets!”

Can you see the merits of both of these viewpoints? I can, and I know women from each camp, although most are like me – they lean more in one direction but they can’t forget the pull of the other. It leaves us conflicted and sometimes vacillating between extremes.

I have to give credit to The Husband for helping me learn to do better about keeping up with the everyday homemaking work while taking on special projects. He was nice about my failures, but I knew he really did not love having no clean laundry, irregular meals, and a topsy-turvy home. He may have pointed out a time or two that he had to keep going to his job while he worked on extras. Too true.

Gradually, I came to really see that homemaking is my career, including sock-washing and curtain construction and meal preparation and teaching the children and all the rest. It all has to get done within my abilities and talents. None of it is unimportant. Of course, not every job has to be done every day or even during all seasons of my career – deciding the when and the how often and to what degree is the tricky part.

You came here looking for answers? I am not sure I have many – I am still learning, because my job description continues to change. Just in the last few weeks, one of our children has gone to college, and now not only do the chores have to be reshuffled amongst those of us left at home, but the very rate at which various things need attention has changed – there is less laundry, for example – so we are adjusting to the new normal and figuring things out.

I do know I have finally come to understand the necessity of keeping up with the dailies in order to be able to work on the projects with some sort of serenity. I am sure our children think I was always the type who would say, “The house is on fire? Oh, all right, I suppose we must evacuate, but could you just run the dirty laundry down to the washing machine for me first? Today is laundry day, you know…” They think I have always been organized, but I (and The Husband) know better.

I suppose my tips, mostly learned the hard way, boil down to these:

–Make the regular housekeeping a really regular thing as much as you can. Good habits and best practices are at their greatest service when there are extra strains on your time from the special projects that come along, so get these humming along automatically the best you can. This is where understanding and living the truths we talked about here are so helpful.

Know which regular housekeeping chores must keep going and which can be deferred (and for how long) during special circumstances. For me, the laundry, basic meals, and kitchen cleaning have to keep going. Bathroom cleaning can be deferred a short while, but life is really easier if we can keep giving them regular disinfectant wipe-downs, at the very least. Regular tidying up (and doing our best to put things away as we use them) makes running in and out the door more efficient. Dusting, floor care, and mirror polishing can wait quite awhile, though, if necessary.

–Respect your abilities and energy levels. Know thyself, ya know? Most of the time, I think home should be a restful not frantic place, and the homemaker, as the barometer of the home, needs to operate at a pace that allows that.

BUT…

–Know that growth usually only comes when we are pushed toward it, so be open to step out of that comfort zone.

–Remember that we are here to serve. We need to serve at home and away, in various capacities, and not just in the ways that we most like. Serving means seeing to the needs of the ones in our orbits, which includes our husbands, children, extended family, neighbors, and strangers. They all have a claim on our attention.

BUT…

–You cannot be everything to everybody all the time. Sometimes, for certain things and at certain seasons, saying no is the best answer for everyone. Personal filters are helpful here. (There are several articles in the Balancing Balance series that are helpful for this whole topic, in fact.)

It is not easy. I think for most of us it is a life-long pursuit, this balancing of our work. At least, I comfort myself with that idea when I realize I have let things get out of whack yet again.

What do you think? How do you handle these differing needs? What is challenging for you? What have you learned so far in your career?

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10 Comments

  1. Posted September 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Very helpful ideas, harmonizing these two extremes of homemaking. I had not thought of it in this way before.

    This is “Project Week” in our home, so this post was particularly helpful and timely. I’ve pulled a meatloaf and a shepherd’s pie out of the freezer, and have a pot of beans soaking so I don’t have to think much about meals all week. I would make similar plans for laundry, but our washing machine has been out of commission for 2.5 weeks now, and the needed part is on back order. This makes laundry a real project of its own. :P Hoping some time invested in these projects will help us regain some overall sanity. We could use some.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Whenever a major appliance breaks down, whatever chores associated with it immediately become projects, I think! This idea about the two sides of homemaking first occurred to me years ago when my sister really was a project manager for a company, and it still seems to be true. I’m hoping for overall sanity for you, too!

  2. Melaine
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    LOVE THE NEW SITE!!!!! It looks so great and great content too!!! Wow, this post is just what I have been thinking on/wrestling with lately. With my parents here, then my being sick this last week the maintenance has come to a head and we’ve discovered the things that can’t be ignored.

    Also with our role in the congregation here it’s so easy for me to find umpteen things to busy myself with, people who need support and encouragement, bible classes that need organizing/planning, studies that need need leading, 2 wonderful little ones that demand LOTS of attention and with thinking about schooling at home, it seems the time/energy demands are never ending. I am one of those people, kind of like you mentioned earlier, who would prefer to busy myself with those things. . . . . people need me, the house isn’t calling my name (though in reality the mess that is forming is). It’s exactly as you said it’s about finding balance, which is always a job for me, but is getting a bit easier as we are really starting to build in habits and schedules with cleaning. I am a constant work in progress when it comes to these things. . . . frustrating, wish a could buy an organizing chip for my brain. . . now wouldnt’ that be convenient. Until then, it will be 2 steps forward, 1 back and slow progress to betterness (not a real word but works)

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Melaine, you make an excellent point about how the housework doesn’t “speak” as loudly as the project-types of activity, at least until it gets out of control and starts to scream, right? I think that reality is the core thing I had to change about my own cerebral and actual homemaking, and it is probably what nudged me to start this series. I heard a young homemaker say something like, “Everyday last week I thought I would do the dishes, but I never got around to it.” I was, privately, floored, because she unknowingly exposed a lot more than unwashed dishes about their family life. If she is going a week without washing dishes, is she making regular meals? Are they eating together? What is she doing with her time? She considers herself a sahm/homemaker, but is she doing that work? She is not. And that is shameful. And, yet, it is easy to understand how it can happen — lack of training by one’s own mother; a society that offers mobility, distraction, and no real support for being a good homemaker (in fact, popular culture basically celebrates being too busy to mess with such mundane chores); and other legitimate needs make it easy to ignore those less-appealing parts of the job.

      We are ALL works in progress in these things. Life has a way of forcing us to grow in it just to survive. I’m glad we have each other for encouragement!
      Lori recently posted..Cerebral Homemaking Part 7 — Mundane or Maniacal?My Profile

  3. Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Oh, wow, I need this post! When I read your opener, I thought the second was the homemaker, absolutely. I considered the first to be what people who are not stay-at-home wives might think about it … you know, the type of person who says, “Really? You are *just* a homemaker?” But I think you make an excellent point that to be a successful “career homemaker”, you do have to do some of both. Both Tim and I are *definitely* project people. And right now, our entire life is a project – finding him a job, finding a place to live, etc. But even when our whole life isn’t a project, I am definitely bad about neglecting the “chores” in favor of the “projects”. Once we get our own place again and are getting back into the swing of regular life, I really want to do a better job at balancing … having at least an acceptable standard of housekeeping that I live up to. I am very excited about this fresh start in many ways with regards to homemaking: we are in a new city, we recently got rid of about half of our belongings, we will have been without a home of our own for a time and I think that will reinforce the value of having my own place to care for, and reading this series during these transitional stages has really been helping me to think about it in a whole new light and anticipating a change in my homemaking with relish. Thank you for that! :)
    April Starr recently posted..Selling on Etsy InfographicMy Profile

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      I am excited for you and your family, too, April, and I know you will make the most of your opportunities. And I’m sure you are right about this break from being householders turning out to be a spur to making new habits when you DO start up again — at least that has been true for me.

      And about the idea that a career homemaker has to be both types: exactly! Either one by itself leaves part of the job undone. Maybe in an attempt to elevate the status of homemaking (and probably in reaction to the 1950s image of the perfect housekeeper waxing her floors in heels and pearls, with nary a thought in her perfectly-coifed head), we have swung too far to the other extreme, so that many girls aren’t even taught the most rudimentary housekeeping skills (including absorbing a sense of the appropriate rhythm of cleaning and maintaining a house, of shopping/prepping/using food supplies, etc.).
      Lori recently posted..Cerebral Homemaking Part 7 — Mundane or Maniacal?My Profile

  4. Dawn
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Great thoughts! Thank you for your admonition to do better, yet in an encouraging way! I love how honest your thoughts are about your own struggles and triumphs! Keep up the blogging! I’ll be back to visit often!

  5. Brenda Mero
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Lori,
    What an eyeopener this series has been for me! I thought I was all alone. It is such a relief to know that others have the same struggles I do! I think the biggest aha moment for me in all of this is my attitude toward my work as a homemaker, wife, mother, teacher, ect. I am taking little baby steps to improve in this area. I am sure I will be reading this series over and over again as a source of encouragement. Thank you for your openness and honesty!

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