Feb 9, 2021

Why I’m Grateful to My Friends for Cleaning Their Houses

By Anna Mussmann

Domestic coziness is important. I know this. I believe this. However, after my third baby was born, I didn’t much notice what my house was actually like. I was too busy learning how to parent three children instead of two. It didn’t help that the basement flooded and I developed a case of shingles. I was too busy to even see things like, say, dust. My mind had streamlined the word “cleaning” to mean only three things: running the vacuum occasionally, washing the dishes, and telling the kids to tidy their toys. 
 
And for a while, this was OK. 



When the baby was around four months old, we went on a road trip and stayed with friends. My friends had cleaned. In their houses, the floors had been washed. The sunlight poured through glossy windows and lit up well-cared for houseplants. There was a feeling of spaciousness and comfort in the absence of clutter. It was so restful to be in those homes. It was beautiful. It made me remember.
 
The first thing I did at home was to wash my electric kettle. It’s ceramic with a pretty white and red pattern. I like the feel of the handle and the swoosh of water when I pour it into a waiting teacup. It’s basically domestic coziness in itself. The thing is, though, the outside of my kettle had taken on the orange hue of dozens of forgotten dinners. You know how it is--little bits of food splash when you’re cooking and you’re too busy to wipe them off. I hadn’t even noticed the specks before. It was embarrassing to look around my kitchen with newly opened eyes, but it was nice to see the kettle look glossy again. 
 
I didn’t have time to scrub the whole house at once. My baby was still pretty needy and the other kids wanted my attention, too. However, I had made a start--I had begun to notice things and to work on them in odd moments. 
 
I’m grateful to my friends for cleaning their houses. Their hospitality was a wonderful gift; all the more so because it helped lift me out of whatever survival zone I was in and reminded me that a clean home is a real thing. A lovely thing. A goal worth working on around, between, and during the various adventures my children create. 
 
It seems to me that online discussions about looking after one’s house are a bit like discussions about achieving a healthy body weight. Both issues ought, on the face of it, to be relatively simple; but they are instead deeply interwoven with self-worth, pride, lifestyle choices, guilt, shame, perfectionism, exhaustion, and plain old sin. They become almost impossible to discuss.
 
Yet perhaps the idea that we could get better at cleaning our houses doesn’t have to be a blow to our self-worth. It doesn’t have to be Law that must be cast off so that we can live in grace. 
 
It’s true that housekeeping is hard work. However, I think there are other reasons so many of us have a complicated relationship with this idea of keeping our homes nice: I think we have unconsciously soaked in the cultural message that housekeeping isn’t meaningful and might in fact be oppressive (proof: men do less of it than we do!). Besides, we find it tough to believe that we actually need to learn a skill set just for cleaning. After all, how hard is it to scrub a toilet? We forget that the managerial side of all this--the skill of organizing ourselves into developing and following an efficient daily system--is something few of us have learned. We also have too much stuff. 
 
But you know, we don’t have to actually listen to cultural messages or to live amongst clutter. We live in grace, and we are free to seek out the blessing of new skills and new ways of doing things. It is a blessing, not a burden, to have a pretty tea kettle to clean. It is a blessing to have friends who clean their homes and invite us in. It is a blessing to scrub the floor for our own families. 
 
In her book Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life Margaret Kim Peterson writes, “Time deliberately set aside for keeping house is never just about ‘making a home for my family.’ Of course housework is about making a home, but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one’s own family. A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room enough for everyone.” 
 
She points out that the “hungry” and “naked” people Jesus talks about serving aren’t necessarily strangers. “Housework is all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work, would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed. There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of the members of our own households. Housework is a beginning, not an end. But it is a beginning--not a sidetrack, not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that--in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everyday needs of others.”
 
I am thankful for the beginning I have been able to make. That is why I am grateful to my friends for cleaning their houses. 


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After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years.  She now homeschools her children during the day and writes in the evening. Anna loves Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. She likes to review the books she reads on Goodreads, and her work can also be found in The Federalist.



4 comments:

  1. This is beautiful, Anna. Thank you.

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  2. Cleaning has never been an issue for me, it's the decision making of where to put things that has always been oppressive to me. It gets exhausting and I never feel like I have a good system in order. I struggle with having a thankful heart because I find myself wanting to throw everything away rather than deal with organizing! But this is an encouraging post and I will remind myself that this is an important task and service to my family and friends.

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    1. Ace: I'm glad it's encouraging! From my own experience I'd say never reject the possibility of actually getting rid of some of the stuff--or at least (if it's seasonal or belongs to the kids) boxing it up and rotating it. It can't get spread around the house if it's in a box under the bed. ;-) Not always so easy to do, though, I know.

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  3. >>It seems to me that online discussions about looking after one’s house are a bit like discussions about achieving a healthy body weight.

    Hear, hear. "Make your house nice, you'll be so happy you did!" is, to some people, every bit as helpful, encouraging, and useful as, "Lose weight, you'll be so happy you did!" is to others.

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