I’m not of the belief that cleanliness is right there next to godliness but truth be told, I really appreciate having a clean house. I’m more comfortable in my house when it is tidy and clean. That’s not to say it has to be immaculate or that I can’t choose to be at peace in the untidy version of my house. Or that when things are topsy-turvy and life is faster-paced than I like that I need to go crazy. And if I’m honest, more often than not, there’s a toilet that needs to be cleaned and dust on something and there’s probably toothpaste on two of our three bathroom mirrors. There’s always something to be cleaned because we live in our home and some days our home is more lived-in than others.
I’ve struggled with finding the balance between complacency (and again, being honest here: my complacency lasts about ten minutes before I start getting anxious or uptight about the condition of the house) and being the insanely clean mom who wants everything perfect and will do almost anything to make it happen (brutal honesty: this has happened a few times, and repentance had to follow).
Over the past few years, I have come to hold fast to the conviction that the last thing I want is to sacrifice my children on the altar of a clean house. What’s more important – being in fellowship with each other or a clean space to live in and be hospitable in?
Well, I would like to suggest that you can have both, but that means how you do everything matters.
The last thing I want is to sacrifice my children on the altar of a clean house.
I’m still very new at this with my four young ones, and our methods are almost constantly evolving to meet our different family needs at different seasons, but here are a few principles that have helped us.
1) Just as a starting point, decide that you will prioritize your people over your place. Don’t let your need for cleanliness overtake your family’s need to be loved or the call to exercise hospitality. This is an area that I struggle in daily and God is graciously helping me to see the bigger picture when it comes to my family’s need.
A couple of years ago, I had a huge wake-up call that I needed to help my children understand this principle when we had a large family over one day and all the kids went down in the basement to play. Minutes later, I heard our oldest son shouting in distress and I went running downstairs to find him standing in the middle of the family room turning in circles and watching, panicked as complete mayhem ensued. Children were playing! With all the toys! All at once! And there was Jordan, hands in the air , crying, “Guys! Guys! One thing at a time! Just ONE THING AT A TIME!” I had to take him aside and explain that this was part of loving our guests – they can play with all the toys and it’s okay. People are more important than everything being just-so.
2) Decide on your non-negotiables and plan for the basics to be done. Things like a clean kitchen, a path to walk through the house, and having the dirty underwear picked up off the kids’ bedroom floors are non-negotiables for me. (I share my husband’s perspective that loving your neighbor means clean dishes to eat off of and no dirty laundry on the floor.) Maybe your non-negotiables are different. But decide what two or three things it will take to make your home live-able and enjoyable. And then decide to consider everything else gravy (or better yet, grace).
3) Create a plan of attack. Some days I set a timer and attack my to-do list in ten minute bursts. One thing that I’ve instituted in the more recent months is something I call “Team Clean Up”. “Team Clean Up” means Mommy gets in there with the kids and we are all one big team cleaning up. It’s simplistic, yes, but it works and it helps the kids to not feel so alone and overwhelmed if there’s a big mess to tackle.
I instituted “Team Clean Up” because I found that at some of my children’s ages (specifically the four and five-year-old boys), it was impractical to send them all to clean the basement unsupervised and not expect a whole bunch of foolishness to happen. Ideally, I would like things to be different, but this is something we are working on and for me, this is all part of bearing in mind my children’s frames and particular struggles.
Part of my attack plan is my chore list. Pinterest and the millions of blogs out there are full of suggestions and printables so pick something or make something that works for your family, and stay flexible. For me, Mondays are bathroom days, and Tuesdays are bedroom days and Wednesdays are kitchen days, etc. But sometimes schedules or events demand that things get switched up a bit and I am learning to be ok with it all.
4) Take a moment to rejoice in what you’ve accomplished. Being thankful for what I did get done is a quick way for me to stop myself from being disgruntled about everything that I can see that needs to be done. There will always be more dishes to do and laundry to fold and I want my kids to really value a tidy, live-able space and help make our home peaceful. But the first steps to teaching that to them are to be at peace myself and to be thankful for what was accomplished in the day, and even for what wasn’t accomplished.
These are all areas of growth for me, and if you pop into my house at any given moment, you will probably find me struggling in one of them. But I would rather be the mom sitting down to read a book to her littles and choosing to be thankful about the dust that’s collecting on the bookshelf than the mom who can’t be with her children because she’s so busy cleaning. So for now, I’m going to stick with these principles and trust that my family will be blessed because I value them.
More ideas: Sarah Mae has a delightful book called 31 Days to Clean – Having a Martha House the Mary Way, which I would recommend. Also, I’ve used this principle in other areas, but another Sarah over at Amongst Lovely Things has a great set of tips on looping task management. I love that she applies the principle to art, as well.