This is the last Cerebral Homemaking article. Here are the others in the series:
The danger of writing about homemaking is that readers assume the writer is a super-duper homemaker. The more accurate assumption is that the writer writes about the things she has spent the most time working on and improving because she needed so much improvement. At least that is the case for me.
So, is my house perfectly clean? Nope. These days my house is generally tidy and reasonably clean. That was certainly not always true, so how did I get here? In addition to the other things we have discussed in this series, I developed flexible standards.
I am a firm believer that the people we become and the lives we end up having consist of an impossibly large series of rather small choices. Wait, you say, no one chooses to lose all of her possessions in a flood or to have a child with a life-threatening illness. True, there are circumstances we do not choose, and certainly they shape us in important ways. But within our un-chosen circumstances, who we are and what our lives turn out to be like is determined by lots and lots of little choices, and the choices are driven by the way we think. Cerebral, see?
We choose to put away items as soon as we finish with them and we become tidy, or we choose to let our belongings land “wherever,” “for now,” and we become messy. We choose to wash the dishes after every meal and we become a person with a clean, ready-for-use kitchen who doesn’t really “mind” doing the dishes, or we choose to do the dishes “later” and we become a person with a kitchen in which one can’t fit a glass under the faucet to get a drink of water without shifting around a bunch of smelly, crusty dishes. We choose to follow through on the laundry all the way to getting the clean, folded clothing into the dresser drawers and we become a person who never has to search for clean underwear and doesn’t really “mind” performing each of the steps of doing the laundry, or we choose to pay attention to the laundry only when nobody has any more clean socks for us to snitch for ourselves. Just little choices, day after day, adding up to what we become.
I picked these examples because I have been all six of these people. I did not start out as a tidy, dishwashing, laundry-folding person, but I have become one after years of making a series of little choices over and over again. I have accomplished this transformation with the help of all the things we have talked about already in this series – aiming higher, figuring out that I don’t have time not to do my work at home, developing competency, balancing the mundane and project-type aspects of homemaking, growing up in my thinking, and accepting that homemaking requires regular attention. These ways of thinking led to the standards that give our family a Living Space in which to be together, but when life gets difficult there is another thing that allows for the flexibility I need without letting us descend into living in a Dumping Ground. I call them the No-Go-There rules.
While all the other practices are mostly positive, this one is negative, and it involves all the things we think we shouldn’t do or feel – comparing myself to others, fear, loathing, self-derision, embarrassment, and guilt. It is me saying to myself, “Thus far but no further, ya bum.” Negative, yes, but it works.
A Partial List of Lori’s No-Go-There Rules
- The house has to be clean enough that it doesn’t smell bad.
- You know that sort of grey dry, scummy film you sometimes see on the fixtures in a bathroom that hasn’t been cleaned for awhile? I no-go-there.
- The kitchen can’t be worked in if the counters are crumby and sticky or if it smells bad from trash that needs to go out or dirty dishes. (Funny how many of my no-go’s involve odors.)
- No garbage outside of the cans.
- No laundry piles in bedrooms or elsewhere, souring un-dried laundry, or clean laundry left unfolded and undelivered to bedrooms for more than a day – if our two hampers are full, laundry must be done THAT DAY, ALL THE WAY
- No drawers that are so full they are hard to open and close.
- In the public rooms, no items left lying around for days on end (except for on our big desk, which is a law unto itself.) In the private rooms, tidying up times can stretch a bit further, but not much.
These are household lows to which I never want to descend. Have I ever? Of course – during times of new babies, sickness, took-on-too-much-ness, and a few times just plain old laziness. But I refuse to let that be our usual or even occasional way of life, because my everyday standards are higher than that. In rare times of stress, however, we can be flexible between our everyday standards and these No-Go-There rules. But that is as far as I can stand to go. It is a rarity, and if it happens, it is a big wake-up call, because if I don’t put on the brakes immediately we will continue in a direction that could end with us becoming the family who gets fined for not keeping their property maintained, the family who gets evicted because they trashed the house, the household where the health inspector has to step in. It doesn’t seem possible, but I know it is. I have to work with people in those situations sometimes in my mayor role, and every time it is clear those folks get where they are by the same series of little choices and decisions. They just allow themselves to choose and decide differently than most of us try to do.
My family put up with a lot of sour laundry and crusty dishes before I changed my thinking and decided to take my homemaking career seriously. Now, twenty-five-ish years later, most of the time it really does seem to come pretty “naturally.” I wrote these articles because I wanted to think through how I changed my thinking and because I hoped my thought process might be useful to someone else. I have enjoyed the writing and I do hope it has been a help in some way.
Do you have any No-Go-There rules for yourself?