Where Is My Maid?
As a little girl, I was sure I would have a maid when I grew up. This was my own idea. I certainly didn’t inherit it from my family. I come from a line of hard workers. People in my family love to work. Generations of them have been this way. I have vivid memories of my mother rolling her sleeves up and saying with great gusto, “Come on Pearlie! Let’s get stuck in! If a job is worth doing it’s worth doing well!” Somehow I missed out on this genetic trait. My maid never appeared and my journey as a homemaker has had its challenges.
I came up with many excuses over the years for the disarray in my home. The main one was, “My house is too small. There’s no room for anything.” But this excuse never really held much water. Anyone close to our family could remind me that my older sister has seven children, lives in a tiny two-room home and yet her home is always clean and orderly. My swift answer to this was always, “She inherited the working gene, and she actually enjoys housework. I hate housework.”
Other excuses have included…
“If only my husband would help around the house.”
“My little children keep messing things up.”
“I don’t have a dishwasher.”
“I have no cupboard space.”
“I don’t have an organized bone in my body.”
“Routine? Yuk! I hate routines. I’m a free spirit. That would never work for me.”
By the time I’d had my fourth child, I realized something had to change. Although I did not enjoy housework, I did not enjoy my messy house either. I would look around at the chaos and clutter and feel out of control. I longed for an organized house but felt it was unattainable.
Sometimes I would clean up in the morning (which actually meant putting things in piles,) then take the children out somewhere all afternoon. This meant I could return to the peaceful feeling of a home that did not look like a tornado had gone through it.
As many of you know, it’s much more difficult going out with a large family. A couple of years ago, escaping was no longer an option. I was faced with a dilemma. How on earth do you keep an orderly house while living in it all day long?
First, here is a humorous example of why I avoid going out too often with my children. I am currently pregnant with our fifth child. Into the tenth week of this pregnancy I noticed my one-year-old had some strange looking spots on his body. Someone told me they looked a lot like chicken pox. I knew he’d had several bug bites but these were crusting over in a strange way so I called my midwife. She suggested I take him to the doctor to get a diagnosis as it would take her a day to get the results back from my blood work whether I was immune to chicken pox or not.
I made an urgent appointment with the doctor (who we hardly ever see) and started making commands for all the children to pile into the car. I scrambled around like a mad woman trying to put sandals on my two youngest, wiping faces and attempting to make them presentable for society. As I closed the front door, I noticed my five-year-old boy. He was shoeless and his feet were thoroughly mud caked. “Where are your shoes?” I hollered in a very un-nurturing tone.
“Under the tree.” he yelled back.
I presumed he’d get them, but upon arrival at the doctor’s office I discovered I had presumed too much. He leaped out of the van with his mud-caked feet. That was when I noticed my three-year-old’s state. He’d found a marker in the back seat and had quietly, but thoroughly colored dark green on every bit of exposed skin on his body. Green face. Green arms. Green legs. He smiled at me with his hilarious squinting smile.
“Oh, no!” I gasped. Will the doctor think me unfit? I fished in my bag for some wipes but realized I had forgotten them. That was when my daughter said, “Mom, Noble stinks!”
Sure enough, my one-year-old had filled his diaper. I pulled him out of his car seat and noticed it was diarrhea. It started to run down his legs and onto my clothes. This time I fished around in my bag for a diaper thinking I could wet paper towels and use them as wipes. But, I had also forgotten diapers!
Mortified, I herded my children together and walked into the doctor’s office. I had no choice but to ask the receptionist if they had diapers and wipes as I had forgotten mine. I found myself trying to explain why one of my children was green and the other had muddy bare feet. It didn’t come out very well.
Things got progressively worse. When the doctor asked me to take my one-year-old’s shirt off, she frowned and said, “Mrs. Barrett, he has a big tick under his arm.”
“I check them all for ticks every night.” I assured her. “We live in the woods and he was playing outside this morning,” Flustered, I reached under his arm to pull off the tick, a very simple procedure I am used to doing each day.
“No! Mrs. Barrett!” The doctor snapped. We don’t do it like that.”
She called the nurse back in, lay my son on the table, took a very long pair of tweezers and attempted the tick removal like it was major surgery. My son screamed the entire time.
The doctor was unable to tell me whether it was chicken pox or not. She did, however, ask me why I had not immunized my child. By this time I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say and mumbled something about it being too dangerous.
By the way, I was immune to chicken pox and there was nothing to worry about.
These days, I’d much rather stay home. Most days my home is orderly and I have a peaceful feeling inside its walls. For those of you who are like me, here are some answers to keeping an orderly home:
GET RID OF STUFF
The first thing I had to do was get rid of “stuff”. I had accumulated so much junk in my small house that every drawer overflowed, every flat surface had a pile of junk on it and every cupboard was hard to close. It was not possible to have beauty in my home. There were far too many things. Most of them were given to me from well meaning friends who were smart enough to sort through their own houses periodically. Once the junk hit my house it stayed.
I read a book called, “Clutter be Gone” by Don Aslett. This book spoke of the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the things in our homes we don’t use. We could all function very nicely on 20 percent. I looked around my home and realized this to be the truth. Even if I suddenly transformed into the hardest working mother in the world, I would never be able to keep up with all the stuff. I got ruthless and I got rid of it.
It took me about three months to simplify my home. I took great delight in tossing things into either trash bags or Goodwill bags. Out went the clothes we never wore or those I was saving just in case.
Out went the toy box! My children would pull every little toy out of the toy box just to reach something at the bottom, only to play with it for a couple of minutes. I copied an idea from my older sister, Evangeline, and obtained a chest of drawers. Each child now has their own drawer to look after. If I find something of theirs on the floor I say, “Would you like to put this in your drawer or would you like me to throw it out?” They’ll speedily put it away. Occasionally, they have told me to throw it away as they don’t need it anymore.
I keep toys, like legos and blocks, on a higher shelf. They ask if they want to play with them and must spread down a blanket first so the little pieces are easier to pick up. My children have become much happier playing outdoors with sticks and other nature objects and building forts.
Out went magazines, books we never used, kitchen ware, nick knacks, linen. You name it. I had too much of everything. What a great feeling when it was gone!
Mornings have never been my favorite time. All my babies have woken up a lot during the night and my other children are early risers. This combination often left me grouchy and feeling lazier than ever in the morning. The only routine I developed over the years was to drag myself out of bed and get breakfast for the children. I’d sit on the couch in an exhausted slump, dressed in my robe while the house turned to turmoil around me. It would take me until about 9 o’clock to muster enough energy to start cleaning up. By that time things would be in such disarray, housework was an overwhelming task.
It has been hard to condition myself, but I was determined to do it. Now, the first thing I do when I get out of bed is to make it. A made bed gives me a sense of order and energy that propels me to do the other chores. I grab any dirty laundry from the night before and take it straight to the washer to start a wash. The children and I eat breakfast and I make sure the dishes are done immediately.
THROW OUT YOUR ROBE
The biggest help to get me going in the morning was to throw out my robe. As much as I loved it, that robe represented the laziness in me that I had to conquer. Now I have no choice but to get properly dressed each morning. No more lounging about in my robe till midday (yes, I admit, I have done this). Maybe for you, it’s your favorite pair of pajamas or a fluffy nightgown that begs you to leave it on. I would encourage you to give it to Goodwill and get on with your day.
Many of you may be familiar with Fly Lady. I have read some of her ideas and love the ‘hot spot’ idea. Every morning, I now check for hot spots. They are places where clutter tends to accumulate -- kitchen tables, benches, tops of refrigerators and end tables. I learned that it is helpful to put something beautiful on these places so you are less likely to place junk.
I set aside one day a week for deeper cleaning like mopping, dusting and bathrooms. My oldest daughter and I turn some praise music on and work hard for 1-2 hours. Then we can forget about it for another week.
Conditioning myself to get up and get started has been worth it. I have found that I actually feel more tired sitting on the couch than I do when I get up and get going. Another important decision I made was to clean the supper dishes up as soon as the meal is over. For many years I would procrastinate about the evening chores, wishing somehow that my husband would turn into one of those sainted men who happily zoom around the kitchen and make it spic and span. Well, I had to face reality, that wasn’t going to happen. (My husband has many other qualities I admire.) As my children grow they will take over, but right now it is me.
The truth is, I never feel like tackling the kitchen after supper but I’ve realized facing crusted dishes in the morning is much worse. I feel pretty weary in the evenings, especially when I’m pregnant, so I ask myself these questions. Would I rather have an hour of false relaxation, wishing the dishes were done, but knowing I still have to get up and do them? Or, would I rather have half an hour of complete peace with my feet up, knowing that the house is clean and my mind can rest along with my body?
My evening routine leaves the house manageable in the morning. Usually by around 8:30 am the house is in order and we are ready for the adventures of the day. Since I threw out so much junk and keep throwing it out, there isn’t much to pick up anymore. Of course, the children have to straighten their rooms, there are spills to wipe up, counters to wipe down and floors to sweep, but nothing seems overwhelming anymore. I have even had someone ask me, “How do you keep your house so clean and organized?” I could hardly believe they were talking to me!
However, if you ever find yourself at my house, please don’t expect perfection. I have come a long way, but I wouldn’t ask you to eat off my floor. I’m still learning but now I know an orderly home is attainable for anyone, even those of us in the unorganized camp.
Primm Springs, Tennessee, USA
Charlie and Pearl are blessed with Meadow (9), Bowen (5), Rocklyn (4), Noble (2) and they are expecting their fifth baby early October 2004.