For each of the nineteen years we homeschooled, I was sure that I would find the secret to teaching a houseful of children while living in a home that was magazine-perfect. Yeah, right!
When my husband married me, I kept a clean house. Then our first son arrived. It wasn’t too difficult with just one—we made a game of picking up toys before naptime and again before Daddy came home. We even had matching place mats on the table, and we regularly entertained guests.
Then came more babies, a move to the farm, remodeling, and homeschooling. With each addition, housekeeping moved further into survival mode. It was a good day if everyone got fed, led, and off to bed at a reasonable time. It was an exceptional day if a room got vacuumed or a bathroom sink wiped out. Mostly I was the one who was wiped out.
The thing that discourages homeschooling moms most is not the teaching but the housework. The average American woman devotes fifty-three hours each week to domestic duties, even using modern labor-saving appliances, and this is pretty consistent throughout the Western world—even for women who work full-time outside the home.
Homeschooling adds another twenty to thirty hours per week to that workload. In addition, those little blessings who stay home all day increase, by their very presence, the amount of housework Mom faces.
A Buckets comic shows one woman’s solution. With the house spotless, the wife is thinking, “The house is immaculate and it’s going to stay that way!” Meanwhile, her husband and two children stand outside, pounding on the locked front door as he shouts, “C’mon, Sarah, let us in!”
Certainly, our homes would stay cleaner if no one lived there, but what profit is there in an empty home? Instead we must find strategies that will allow us to keep our blessings home and keep our homes blessed.
For me, correcting stinking thinking had to come first. I had adopted an attitude that physical labor was somehow less worthy of my attention than the mental and relational labor required to teach my children. Also, I was lazy. A dangerous combination—pride and laziness.
I found that the survival mode mentality I had adopted following the birth of each new baby had become a permanent way of looking at housekeeping. Although my sons did a lot of the basic work (a lazy person is a good delegator), we still required periodic red alerts when company was coming, and everyone manned their battle stations for a trash and stash session.
As might be expected, my children picked up many of my attitudes. Fortunately, my husband is a diligent worker and shows his love for us by serving us. Thanks to that balance, our sons learned some of the joys of doing a job well. I think God gives children two parents so that between the two of them, the children get one good one!
It was many years before I understood the significance that God attaches to work. How had I missed the obvious fact that Jesus spent most of His adult life as a carpenter? Jesus did quality work. He didn’t slop through it while waiting for His “real” ministry to begin. Justin Martyr, a Galilean historian, wrote that many of the wooden plows built by Jesus were still in use during the second century.
Was I looking at my day-to-day work with the same attitude—the attitude that recognizes the importance of small things? All work done unto the Lord is blessed by Him, whether it is writing a book or cleaning a toilet. Os Guinness writes that when God calls us to some task—even if it’s something the world sees as lowly—that task is invested with “the splendor of the ordinary.” Accepting drudgery is one of the ways we practice discipleship—learning to offer it up sacrificially to God. “We look for the big things to do—but Jesus took a towel and washed the disciples’ feet,” Guinness writes.
We seek out curriculum well-suited to each of our children’s needs. Our Father does the same for us. It has taken years for Him to get this far in revising my attitude—I’m a slow learner. But while He worked on my attitude, He graciously identified strategies for getting a handle on housework. He didn’t make my family suffer while I was being straightened out.
Develop a Maintenance Strategy
Instead of having a nice clean home only when guests are coming and you’ve spent two weeks digging out, commit to doing a little each day. After all, isn’t your family worth it? Maintaining a clean, orderly home takes less time than cleaning a dirty one. Why not do it a little at a time instead of all in one exhausting, emotion-wrenching session?
It is not necessary to have a magazine-perfect house. Don’t be afraid to live in your home. Use the china in the dining room for your own family. Get rid of things that don’t serve a purpose or that you don’t love. Art Buchwald reminds us, “The best things in life aren’t things.”
Let It Go
Most of us don’t even know what we own. We clean out a closet or the garage and find all kinds of surprises. Imagine how unshackled you will feel when you know exactly what you own—when you own your stuff instead of it owning you. Store things at someone else’s house—by giving them away.
Start small. If you are overstuffed, realize that you didn’t get that way in a day. Take the advice of Marla at www.flylady.net and set your timer for fifteen minutes to tackle a drawer, corner, or tabletop. You will be amazed at how much you can get done in just a short time.
Develop a Staging Area
We assigned one end of our sunroom to hold golf clubs for six people during the summer, county fair paraphernalia in August, and hunting equipment in September. When planning a graduation party, we stash bins of decorations, memory table mementos, and paper plates out of the way until the big day, adding items as we think of them.
My piano students never have to wonder what’s new at the Washburn house—the evidence is present when they sit in the other end of the sunroom while waiting for their lessons! It has become a great conversation starter, and they have learned that homeschoolers lead interesting lives.
My family and friends would agree that our house still would not pass the white glove test after all these years of attitude adjustments and organizational techniques. There is clear evidence that an active family lives, learns, works, and plays here. But I believe it would pass the great love test—and that matters far more.
©2016 by Marcia K. Washburn. Mrs. Washburn writes from her nineteen years of experience as a homeschooling mom. This article is adapted from “Getting a Handle on Housework,” which first appeared in the May–June 2007 issue of Home School Enrichment. For more from Marcia on keeping a Christian home, see MarciaWashburn.com/ManagementforMoms. Contact her for information about speaking, articles, and books at Marcia@MarciaWashburn.com.
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