Sometimes I think the world must be made up of two kinds of people, or at least two kinds of housekeepers.
(1) The kind of person who says, "Life's too short to spend your free time tidying up"
(2) The kind of person who says "Life's too short to spend your free time looking at a lot of untidy stuff"
I am the latter type of person, and so is my husband, so we're compatible in this way, which is thankful; I expect it's hard for the two types of person to be married to each other, unless they're both also super-patient and aware.
Not that we can keep up with it, what with the five children who spend their days here:
typical, not preferred, morning orientation of the kitchen, before most children are awake
mudroom -- yes, I'm fortunate, nay, privileged, to have one -- no, we can never find anything in here
Furthermore, evidence suggests that the children's rooms have become clogged enough with extraneous stuff that they need to be snaked out, so to speak, so that the children have an easier time keeping their own spaces clean.
This weekend happens to be clear, and so the two of us have agreed that This is The Weekend Of The Great Household Purge. Will it be filled with family fun and togetherness? Togetherness, yes. Fun? I'll probably find it satisfying to pull all the accumulated bits from under beds and carry garbage bags of broken toys to the corner.
We'll be setting timers for 20 minutes of work and then 10 minutes of screen time and then 20 minutes of work again. We'll be exhorting the children to get back to their tasks so they don't have the timers turned back. I'm going to put some thought into rewards that can be "unlocked," video-game style, if they accomplish certain outcome-based milestones. Fill 1 large box with your own belongings for Goodwill and you get a prize. Accomplish complete processing of your own clothes -- all clean things put away, all remaining dirty things confined to a single basket, all out-of-season things upstairs waiting for me to put them in storage -- get another prize. Remove all the stray items from the basement climbing gym and put them back in their own places: everyone gets a prize.
(Not sure what the prizes will be; not toys, which defeats the purpose; probably something like "we order pizza for lunch on the next school day" or "we put a family trip to the science museum on the calendar instead of vaguely promising to go some time" or "we rent a movie and watch it all together in the evening.")
We might top it all off with Family Game Night, which is what I call it when, once a year or so, we open up all the boxes, and count the game pieces, and take all the pieces out of the wrong boxes, and get rid of the games that have been rendered unplayable by attrition, and order extra dice on Amazon.com, and seal all the little bits into Ziploc bags inside the correct boxes.
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We clean a lot. We make the kids clean a lot. I probably make the kids clean the main living area four times a day:
- swap the dishwasher after breakfast and wipe off the table
- swap the dishwasher after lunch and wipe off the counters and pick up the floor (then they get to have break time until two o'clock)
- pick up the floor and clear their school desks around 4:30 for "end of the day cleanup"
- help clean up the dinner dishes between dinner and bedtime snack.
They're also supposed to keep their rooms clean (which has not happened consistently since we got back from Europe, part of the reason for the upcoming Great Purge) and do a daily bathroom-tidying task without being asked. This does not happen consistently either, these days; I have laid out the consequences of demonstrating that they are not able to do all the tasks, which are that I will take jobs away from them and reduce their allowance accordingly at the start of December. We'll see.
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Sometimes I imagine my children talking to their future therapists, or maybe friends over coffee, and they'll be saying:
My mom was this total neat freak.
She made us clean the house four times a day.
We were homeschooled, so there was plenty of time to put us to work.
I think she spent more time making us clean the house than she spent teaching us.
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And in my fantasy I can appear in the fantasy therapist's office and retort, "Well, you ate four times a day. Five, actually. And since you were homeschooled, you were home all day living in the house, so yes, actually, there was plenty of time for you to make it messy again after you cleaned it. And a big part of what I taught you, besides how to read and reason and calculate and remember, is how to maintain a home so that you can find what you need when you need it. How to care for your clothing. How to keep a bathroom sanitary. How to feed yourself and how to feed a family."
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So, you know, one thing we don't do very much is sit around in the evenings with the children and just enjoy each other's company.
Instead, they flee after dinner, hoping that we won't call them back to swap the dishwasher. And it works sometimes, because sometimes Mark and I will open another beer and sit there together, amongst the dinner dishes and pans, marveling at the abundance around us and in one another, and talk together as husband and wife; sometimes it's quite a while before we say, "Goodness, we've got to get this place straightened up and put the kids to bed," and the kids know it, and they stay upstairs and play Minecraft or Settlers of Catan or whatever and stay out of our way until we make them come down and empty the dishwasher.
And it's just how we roll. In my mind I imagine other people, who own sofas more comfortable than mine, games and books and kitchenware bursting out of their cupboards and corners piled high with clean but not-yet-folded laundry, happily putting off the dishes till tomorrow, snuggling on the sofa and reading a stack of beautiful library books to their children while other children are busy building complicated craft projects in the next room, getting glitter on things and leaving pompoms and pipe cleaners stuck to the floor.
It's a romantic picture, and it isn't the picture I live in. I hasten to add that if it is the picture you live in, I really do love coming over to your house for a visit. My children will disappear into the recesses of your home, and I will cup the mug of hot coffee you pour me between my two hands and sink into the sofa and sigh with contentment and welcome, knowing that none of your cupboards are my business, although if you start folding towels in front of me, I'll also be glad to help.
But you know, we really all are different, and regardless of what kind of therapy they may or may not need -- someday my kids get to decide what satisfies them, and live in their own space...
....aha, though, probably among other human beings who have their own desires.
But together with others they will get to work out what they view will be when they come down the stairs in the morning; and what to do with what's left of the light in the evenings...
just like we do, those winter evenings when the snow is coming down outside, and I could wash these glasses right now, or else, if you want, I could fill them again.