Thursday, August 14, 2008

Today's Ten Minutes: On Housekeeping

My mother had a method for teaching her daughters the finer arts of housekeeping.  It wasn’t a good method…probably because my mother wasn’t much of a housekeeper.  Her mother made a living cleaning houses for other people.  Which is, perhaps, why Mom was not really into it.  After all, how can your efforts ever measure up to someone who gets paid to do it?

Every Saturday, each of us girls was assigned an area of the house to clean  One of us got the kitchen, one got the living room, one got the bathroom and the hallway, one got the dining room.  Each of these areas presented its own challenges.  And there were seven people living in about 1200 square feet of space.  Just decluttering the place took half the day.

Anyway, we would be set to our tasks early in the day.  Then Mom and Dad would go off grocery shopping, and we would proceed to plop ourselves in front of the television until about ten minutes before their expected return.  At which time we would sigh, start throwing things in closets, grab the vacuum and the mop and the dustrag and get to it.  Once in a while, if we felt like we really wanted to impress, we would actually dig in and DO a good job.  Or as good as we knew how.

Mom would then come into each room on the inspection tour, look around and say, “What did you do in here?”  Even if we had toiled for two or three hours, actually doing the work, she said the same thing.  “What did you do in here?”  Not once can I remember her coming in and saying, “This looks good.  Great job!”  Nor did she ever grab the broom or mop or dustrag and say, "Here, this is how it SHOULD be done."  We were on our own to figure it out; and it was never going to be good enough, so why bother?

I’m pretty sure that led to my adult outlook toward housework.  I’ve always been over-challenged by the magnitude of it.  For the first ten years of my married life, my house looked like a tornado had struck.  Simply because I knew I didn’t have the time or the energy to do it “right.”  So I just didn’t do it.

Now, I’ve adopted the “It looks better than it did” method of housekeeping.  If I hadn’t, I would have suffocated under a mountain of clutter, cat hair, mold and just plain dirt years ago.  For instance, this morning, I had to tackle the shower in my bathroom.  I won’t even say how long it has been since I scrubbed it.  Suffice it to say there were things growing in there…

So I sprayed it and I scrubbed it and I suffocated in a cloud of bleach fumes.  And I met with limited success.  Nothing short of sandblasting is going to get that shower to look clean as new.  But we don’t invite guests to shower in our master bath, so no one’s going to see it besides me and the hubs.  And I’m sure he’ll be impressed that you can actually SEE that the walls are white.  Or were at one time.

It looks better than it did.


  1. Not a bad system. Summer comes, yard work comes before house work. Nothing grows in the corners but you can write your name on the bookshelves. And I think I'd be hard put to give my best if all I ever heard was "what did you do in here?" Smart ass that I am, I'd probably reply-"What does it look like I did?" And then duck.


  2. There were 5 of us at home when I was growing up: Mom & Dad, my 2 brothers, and me.  Mom & Dad both worked, so from a fairly young age I was stuck with a lot of the housework, including laundry, which meant schlepping clothes in a wagon to the laundromat, as we didn't own a washing machine.  My Mom worked hard & appreciated my help, and I don't remember ever particularly minding helping her out.  If I let things slide for a week and then worked like a demon to make up for it, that was fine with mom.  Dad, though, was another story.  I remember time after time when I was in my teens, I'd knock myself out cleaning...I'm a neat freak, I admit it...but I hated doing the dishes.  Most days, I'd leave them until evening, then Mom would wash & I'd dry & that was actually fine, because we'd talk as we did that.  So there were never more than a few plates & glasses from breakfast & lunch piled in the sink at any one time, and yet no matter what I'd done to clean up, that's what Dad would focus on.  He'd come in to a clean house and say "I see you didn't do the dishes."  Needless to say, when I had my own kids, I worked hard not to repeat that history.


    p.s. - I'm loving your 10 minutes a day of writing!

  3. Oh my gosh, this was my childhood!  I have five brothers and sisters (there were six of us kids).  We did the same thing when we cleaned, and my Mom never showed us how to do it.  We were so overwhelmed, b/c we didn't know what to do, so we just pretended.  My mom said her mom never showed her, so she didn't know how either...  BTW, I found you through the Recently Updated blogs page.  Your journal is fascinating!  It reminds me so much of my childhood!  Who wrote that poem in your sidebar?  Was it you?  Heaven's it brought back memories!  Our house had three bedrooms for the kids.  We had only one boy in the family, so we had five girls sharing two rooms.  At one point my older sister had her own.  So we had four girls in one room.  Later we decided to have three.  Whenever there was a new baby, we had to shake it up a little, LOL.  And six of us shared one bathroom.  My parents got their own bedroom and bathroom, LOL.  Your sidebar reminds me of Kool Aid, and bug juice, and One Million Served, and listening to the crickets at night while we slept all piled together on the floor during special  nights when we were allowed slumber parties in the "rec room", our green station wagon with brown paneling (eegads!), the "rec room" with brown paneling (eegads again), playing Sardines, standing in the corner, going on "nature trails" in forests with our parents, seahorses, big wheels, bikes with banana bucket seats, all back in the day when we left home and never locked our door!  Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

    Krissy :)

  4. I did nothing along the lines of housework when I was a kid.  My mother used to let us help her as needed (or wanted) but she would say "You have your whole adult life to do housework."  My grandparents had a house in which you could eat off of every surface.  My grandmother toiled and toiled and her daughters helped and helped.  I'm pretty certain that is why my mother didn't 'make' us do housework.  We might have to take out the trash or carry the laundry upstairs, but we never had to clean.

    My house?  Some days it's spotless, others untidy ... but it's never dirty.  Just sort of lived in.  And I have a thought on this:  It's my house.  I'll keep it my way.   If you are coming to see my house ... call ahead.  If you are coming to see me, stop in any time.  ;)

  5. I don't think we got a lot of training at our house either, but that is a long time ago so there was certainly more than what I remember.  The only thing I remember doing is dishes. There were four of us kids until my youngest brother was in high school, then the "bonus" baby made it five - so lots of dishes.  I guess that is why my dishwasher is my favorite appliance.