I asked readers to tell me their biggest keeping-the-house-clean challenges. Although you each have your own most-hated household tasks (mine would be mopping the floor) a couple of broader themes emerged:
- Difficulty getting your spouse and/or kids to help out enough, or to your standards
- Taking those first few painful steps in a big project
- Clutter that seems to breed
- The never-ending-ness of it all
I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve experienced each of those four obstacles during my tenure as a mom, and I have heard hundreds of other mothers complain about those very issues many times. To that list, I’d add a few roadblocks of my own:
- It’s boring
- It’s lonely
- It never ends (oh, I guess you all already said that, huh?)
So here’s the part where I share some disappointing news: there is no secret to keeping a cleaner house. No magic formula,* no life-altering tool that will, as if charmed, get up and clean the room itself. In fact, if you haven’t already learned this hard truth, despite the suggestions made in the commercials, Scrubbing Bubbles do not actually fly around your bathtub on tiny brushes doing all the work for you. I know. Bummer.
My house is definitely clean enough, most of the time, to keep me happy. However, there are cobwebs in my ceiling corners, dust on many surfaces, the inside of my fridge isn’t exactly company-ready, and I don’t even want to know what’s lurking under my bed.
In short? To me, clean-enough isn’t even close to white-glove perfection. Instead, it means:
- Organized enough that we can usually find what we need without wasting a lot of time,
- No visible spills, no bad smells, a bathroom that appears to be used by humans and not apes
- Tidy enough that if someone knocks on the door mid-day, I don’t have to hide in shame.
And…that’s about it. If my house meets those criteria, I can concentrate enough to work, I can relax enough to play a game of Sorry! with the kids. If it doesn’t, I feel boxed-in, anxious and low energy.
“Scrubbing Bubbles do not actually fly around your bathtub on tiny brushes doing all the work for you. I know. Bummer.”
So if there are no secrets to having a cleaner house, why is it so hard? I believe that in order to have a peaceful relationship with the state of your home, you have to embrace these three principles:
- “Clean enough” is good enough. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good-enough. You have to give yourself permission to keep things only as clean as they need to be, give your kids and spouse permission to complete household tasks differently than you might in your fantasy world, and most important, give everyone–yourself included–permission to live in your home, even if that means you mess it back up again.
- You are responsible for seeking your own cleanliness happiness. I’m not letting spouses and kids off the hook or saying they shouldn’t have to pull their weight–far from it. But if you’re the one who hates the sight of a dirty floor, and you refuse to mop it because you’re waiting for somebody else to take the initiative, and then you’re miserable every time you see it…well, you’re just punishing yourself. There are smart, sane ways to delegate and divide household labor–we’ll talk about those in another post this week.
- Realize that it’s for your own good. It’s a lot easier to function when you know where things are, and it’s a lot cheerier to live in a relatively neat, tidy, and fresh-smelling home than a messy, dingy, funky-smelling cave. Keeping your surroundings nice is something you do for yourself, not something other people make you do.
- Embrace the endlessness. You know that funny quote about how trying to clean while children are still growing is like trying to shovel when it’s still snowing? Ha, ha! So true! So we should just recognize how futile it is and stop trying, right? Um, no. Swimming against the tide is frustrating and tiring and you might not make much visible progress, but it’s better than being swept out to sea. Look at it this way: every day you brush your teeth, and then you eat and they get dirty, so you brush them again–you probably don’t sit and think about how unfair it is that they went and got grungy again, do you? The fact is, life is made up of many series of endless, repeated tasks, and motherhood amplifies them. The quicker you accept that and try to work with it instead of rebel against it, the happier you’ll be.
Tell Us: If you don‘t currently struggle with keeping your house clean, is it because you’ve learned to embrace one or more of the above principles? If you do struggle with keeping your house clean, can you imagine how one of these principles might help you feel freer or more on top of the mess?
As a mom of five and blogger, author and writer, Meagan Francis spends the bulk of her time trying to balance kissing boo-boos with meeting deadlines (sometimes doing both simultaneously). But while life with kids is often chaotic and frustrating, Meagan believes a mother’s life can be rewarding and fun—and that all moms deserve a little more happiness. Her book The Happiest Mom: Ten Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, has been published in partnership with Parenting magazine.