At Home With Mother

                                                                                                                         Image from the Graphics Fairy

Will you believe it, my house is dirty again? Once I had this very depressing vision of my housekeeping life - that there was a conveyor belt leading in through the front door and out the back door, with food, stuff and dirt coming endlessly in at the front door, and leaving the back door as sewage, garbage and vacuum cleaner fluff. And this cycle is JUST SO endless, particularly in the case of food requiring processing, and clean clothes that turn into dirty clothes in the blink of an eye.

I believe that there are people in this world who find cooking for their families a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. I am not one of those people. My reaction to the next meal is one of quiet panic, along the lines of, 'Oh dear God, they all want to eat AGAIN?' I once knew a woman who had four children under three, who popped them all into the play pen and cooked for relaxation. This seemed completely insane to me, because whenever my children leave me alone for more than two minutes I head straight for my book, and I am waiting for the the children to leave home solely for the reason that then I can exist on toast and apples forever, and never cook again.

It seems unfair to me that there are people who are born loving to do things with their hands. They cook, they sew, they build houses or telescopes, or, like the Home Economics teacher at the girls' school, make the Eiffel Tower out of gingerbread. What incredibly useful people they are. I have two children who do indeed cook and paint and knit for relaxation. And two that don't. Last week Rosy knitted herself a head band, and Posy wanted one too. She started knitting, and got bored after about three rows. Last night Rosy asked if Posy minded if she did some, so Rosy happily knitted and listened as I read Posy her bedtime book chapter, while Posy bounced around like the energizer bunny, bothered the cat, and lay on the floor with her legs in the air, because she can.

The difference between Rosy and Posy is that Posy thinks knitting is a nice idea, while Rosy actually does it. I think cooking and housekeeping are nice ideas, and sincerely WANT to be able to do both with enthusiasm, but can always find something more interesting to think about and distract me. I have lots of good ideas, but I need staff to carry them out.

So here I am, not particularly practical, not feeling the joy of cooking, or cleaning, or painting, or sewing or any other domestic skill, yet not only existing as a perpetual housewife, but also increasingly convicted of the idea that a return to domesticity, not just for the housewife, but for all of us, is one of the few sensible ways forward in a world that is running itself into the ground via over-consumption in every sphere.

But let’s not pretend that it’s all frilly aprons and trilling with bluebirds over the housework here on the home front. Mostly it is a grim battle with ennui and cobwebs, and fighting with veg and the vacuum cleaner, while attempting to persuade the fourteen year old that helping in the garden is fun.

I have no actual solution to this problem in any way. There are tiny things that I have found that help, a bit:

Getting rid of almost everything. Ooh, it feels so good not to be cleaning or mending or worrying about things that I don’t even need or like. Let’s face it, cleaning the things I absolutely love is irritating enough. Also, I find if I only own beautiful things that I love, they don’t look so messy and annoying when left lying around.

Making very, very detailed lists of things to do. I adore crossing things off lists. I will actually do quite tediously boring jobs, just so I can cross them off a list. The more tedious the job, the more steps I add to my list so it feels like progress is happening. For instance, cleaning the bathroom – getting out the cleaning things is definitely a step forward, right? Tick. See, it’s nearly done already..

Only expect to complete tiny increments of projects every day. This may seem like quite a self-defeatist attitude (especially if you watch those evil telly programs where entire houses get renovated in a week end. These only have one single goal, and that is to make you feel so unsatisfied with your own home that you will run out and buy thousands of dollars’ worth of DIY products at Bunnings). But seriously, there is nothing to combat grievous self-loathing at the end of the day better than to be able to look back and say, ‘I planted six parsley plants today.’ (which I did). I have a grand plan for my Spring garden, which once I would have tried to achieve in a weekend, driving myself and my whole family insane. Instead I having been setting myself tiny goals that just require fifteen minutes each time. Rip out the dying winter veg and pop it in the compost (that took two days), dig in fertiliser and gypsum. Transplant parsley seedlings. That brings us to today. Tick. Sometimes I just dig out and fertilise one pot. Or plant out two pots. Or bribe a child to help me dig out some compost from the bottom of a compost bin. This is a much more sane way to achieve anything than a crazy marathon that is exhausting for everyone and means you have to neglect every other aspect of family life.

I think in those crazy renovation and gardening and cooking shows we have taken the worst aspects of modern life – competition, perfectionism, an insane work ethic - and applied it to the few remaining areas of life that are really all about pottering, making mistakes, bodging, and slowly creating something beautiful. Speed and cut-throat brilliance require huge inputs of money and materials, and energy and stress. Pottering is gentle to the soul, family life, and the planet. Pottering means if it takes a couple of weeks to source a gently used zip, a ball of wool, a piece of wood, a plant cutting, well, it does. And in the mean time, we can spend another week making another part of the project beautiful (or reading some more good books). Let's all slow down.

Let go of perfectionism. Somehow, I am both a perfectionist, and rather practically inept. This makes me quite irritable. Also, although I have no real desire to cook or clean anything, when I do, it is supposed to be perfect. If it isn't, I get a bit shouty. Perfectionism, it seems to me, is very much linked to fear. Fear of letting go, fear of being unable to control outcomes, a failure of trust. Perfectionism is about keeping up appearances; the opposite of perfectionism is being able to say, 'I like who I am right now. I am enough.' This one, I am still working on. 

It is kind of linked to the point above. A project slowly realised in fifteen minute increments still gets done. I will have a Spring garden this year. A bit later. It didn't all get done in a week end. I cannot say proudly, 'I renovated my whole front garden in a week end.' There are very few bragging rights in, 'I dug a hole.' 'I swept the path.' But it is slow and gentle and kind to my family. I did not go and buy a bunch of pretty plants from Bunnings. The garden does not look picture perfect. It is full of bits of plant dug up from the rest of the garden, or from friends' gardens. It all looks a bit woeful right now. But given time and patience, it will be beautiful.

Let's refuse to be defined by our housekeeping standards, what we serve for dinner, or how elegant the furniture is.

Let's all tell the perfectionist gremlin to go and live with the Joneses, if it likes them so much..

Meanwhile, I'll just pop another load of washing on. Tick.


Anonymous said…
I am good at knocking off big projects, but I don't sweat the small stuff too much - dishes and dusting and minor repairs. I like your approach.
CJ said…
I'm a big fan of crossing things off of lists as well. I know exactly what you mean about the housework and the cooking, it's ALWAYS time to start thinking about the next meal. And then when I put it in front of them, they say, "I don't like it" before they've even tried it. AAAGH! CJ xx
Jo said…
Hi Dar - I love immersing myself in big projects, but I rarely finish them. Also, it drives me nuts to have to stop and break up fights or drive someone to hockey. Hence the slower pace. For now. One day I will be able to spend a entire day in the garden:)
CJ, that 'I don't like it' comment pushes ALL my buttons. Sometimes I threaten to only serve toasted cheese sandwiches forevermore.
Anonymous said…
Oh my goodness yes. Ok, I will confess to being one of those weirdos who cooks (bakes) for relaxation; and a confession - I've been Home Alone for a week, and every night since I've been home, I have cooked a fancy meal with multiple ingredients that weren't all out of jars (and had fancy leftovers for lunches, too.) BUT there's a difference between cooking for an appreciative audience (moi) and the peanut gallery who turn their collective noses up if it's not three veg and meat.(Tonight, I am planning to call the chippie and get some grilled fish and a couple of potato cakes and make a salad. Mmm.)

Oh, and I totally hear you on the list making. The micro list is much easier to wave about when the question is raised "what did you do all day?" (Copious baking also covers that, lol. And it's more fun!) Normally, when the boys are away, I spend at least a full day doing all the things I can't do because of the running around to sport, breaking up fights and collecting random children from various places. However, this trip - they've gone from Sunday to Saturday and I will be at work. So I am just enjoying the serenity and the ability to watch what I want on telly!
Jo said…
Oooh, serenity. One day I shall experience that I expect. I'm not sure what I would do without children around. I'm pretty sure it won't be cooking though:)
I love lists, first on the list, read my book, second make a list, third ..... not got there yet, still reading my book!
Unknown said…
I may be good at many things but housework is not one of them and frankly, so long as the house is functional (we have dishes to eat off) then im OK. Id rather spend my time doing things i enjoy. I will admit that last night i indulged myself (not a common thing) and bought a steam system. I had to drag it off my husband at 11.30 and tell him to go to bed. He was going round the house checking what it would clean, so there are random spots of clean among the 20 yrs of accumulated grime. So, my house might get a make over this weekend. So long as it can be done with steam. Eg. the teenager steamed the kitchen floor tiles today and the grout is now whitish instead of black.

Judy said…
Oh Jo! Your posts make me smile, even though there is an underlying note of desperation (perhaps despair?) creeping in. Big hug honey! Be kinder to yourself. No one will notice any extra cobwebs except you!

I think we all have times when we despair about the constant mess, and pressure of meal times. There are options though. One is to just let some of those standards slip and prioritise some more enjoyable activities. This is my favourite solution, but I do enjoy cooking (especially when the kitchen is clean. Sigh!)and gardening. I have trained myself to be able to work on my veg patch while totally ignoring the knee high lawn surrounding it ;-)(And yes I am ignoring urgent work deadline to comment on your blog!)

Another is to follow advice from someone like Flylady
or something similar, where you have a good routine. This is the current you, I think. She talks about 15 minute stints and lists too. I can't do that as I enjoy being spontaneous. Even thinking about clearing the garage out reminds me that I haven't been camping for a while, so tent and kids get chucked in the back of the car and off we go for the weekend.

But really its about you. Find what you love doing, maybe reading, or socialising, or walking, or just pondering, and do it until you feel happy enough to face chores.

Of course if you can earn some money doing something you enjoy, you could always then pay someone who does love cleaning to do that for you, or visit more restaurants where a keen chef can enjoy meeting your perfectionist standards. It doesn't mean you have to leave the home. Try making some money from your writing for instance. You have a lovely writing style :-)

Make your goal to be perfectly happy, rather than perfectly clean and tidy.
Anonymous said…
All of a sudden, reading this post, I think you must be my long lost sister! Maybe it's just our crazy modern way of life peppered and punctuated by social media that would have us all turn into the Stepford Wives overnight and be complacent and compliant till the bitter end (oh so VERY bitter ;) ) but my fear of failure has me failing to even attempt these days. Sanctuary is sitting out there like a wound that won't heal and I need to get my dragging heels out to do things out there. Not entirely sure what to do as veggie gardening and I are about as natural together as chalk and wellington boots. What do you plant when? How much? What seeds am I supposed to be planting now and how the heck am I supposed to be preparing the ground?! Its dirt isn't it? Hasn't nature been growing in dirt without my assistance for years?!

I got to the bit of this post about pottering...about nibbling out little increments of tasks and suddenly I had an epiphany. That's my new mantra! I am going to nibble a bit every day. I am going to replace my frustrated nibbling of food with nibbling of tasks. I can pot up a few seeds a day, or sweep the kitchen floor or hug a dog or two or survey the jungle patch and make a plan or two...I don't have to come back shell shocked with disbelief and hide under the bed with 2 packets of Tim-tams because I am full of fear and loathing about my lack of ability to do pretty much anything that I need to do around here, but I can potter...I can snip a few shrubs with my secateurs, I can walk the dog and grab those eggs in that nest on the side of the driveway ("YES I SAW THEM HEN! HAHAHA!"...) and I can slow down, stop hating myself for not being perfect and can just start living a "real" life rather than the life that keeps sternly waggling it's perfect nail-polished (it has nails?!) finger at me in a most accusatory manner.

I like the list and tick idea. Sometimes it's all that gets me through the day. Thank you for this post Jo, you have given me the courage to head up to Sanctuary with a bit of paper and a pen and make a bit of a list...
GretchenJoanna said…
You do inspire me, always, with your housekeeping hints, and this post is no exception. Maybe this is an appropriate post & comment in which to ask if you could do a little housekeeping of your "Good Reads" blogroll, and either update the feed for mine to or (and I won't be offended if this is your reasonable choice) remove it altogether. It is disheartening to see it always near the end of the list because it links to the defunct version of my blog. Sending love and thanks and best wishes down your way....
Anonymous said…
I have come across a couple of new "listy" ideas in the last couple of days (I am a REALLY big fan of the list - the more micro the better)One is a joint called UFYH (bit sweary - you can guess the F bit! But there's an app and timers and challenges and they're all do-able) and the other is the idea of a "bullet journal"

(As it turns out, the bullet journal is how I run my at work to do list - except I just use an a4 notebook because I have copious of those at work. List on one side of the open pages, and I use the other page for a scratch pad (you will find all sorts of random notes there. I am on book two for the year, and will probably fill three. I use my email calendar as well, because it has my entire team's diary on it, and I just write on the list any meetings I have for the day)Probably should consider that for home rather than endless to do list pads and pandering to my kikki k obsession. Wonders if Kikki K has nice A4 notebooks to write micro lists in...wanders off to investigate...
Jo said…
Dear Siwzy, a girl after my own heart!
Lynda, I am just so pleased you have found a piece of housekeeping technology that your menfolk are excited about. Long may it last:)
Dearest Judy, this blog is such good therapy for me. You are all so wise and kind. Yes, there is desperation there, because that perfectionist gremlin is so hard to beat. Yes, happy, you are so right, allowing sheer happiness to creep in is a key.
Lovely Fran, hiding under the bed with the dog and chocolate biscuits is a perfectly rational response to modern life. But, yes, let's potter together. We will live forever and not get ulcers that way.
Dear Gretchen Joanna, I would love to change my blog roll, I have lots more to add too, and I love your new blog, but GAHH, technology. I won't actually promise to do it, but I will promise to steel myself to actually attempt it..
Hmm, Miss Maudy, you are scaring me. I have a list on a piece of scrap paper, generally scrawled in a green texta, or whatever is to hand. I am not technical, organised or clever. I will look at these sites, but they will probably hurt my brain..

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