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
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
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
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
and her work can also be found in The
This is beautiful, Anna. Thank you.ReplyDelete
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.ReplyDelete
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.Delete
>>It seems to me that online discussions about looking after one’s house are a bit like discussions about achieving a healthy body weight.ReplyDelete
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.
Thank-you for sharing your insights, Anna. It's so true that the keeping of our homes in a way that invites beauty and peace among all who are within those spaces is a good and worthy thing. I love how you pointed out that it is not law or condemnation of oneself that should spur toward orderliness but rather grace filling us for those moments of keeping the home as they come. The mundane everday has its tremendous moments of happiness and that can be in our hearts even as we mop the floor twice a year, if that's what we can manage.ReplyDelete
I think there are definite seasons of degree of cleanliness in the home. It took my fourth child's beautiful arrival to make me aware of those odd moments, as you mentioned, as a pressure free time to fold laundry or clean the bathrooms. No longer did I feel pressed to clean while the children slept or spend so much time anxiously thinking about what a chore and how impossible it can seem to be to housekeep as a mother of young children. Now its easier to grab that moment to clean the bathroom as the children play or wipe a couple windowsills. A paid housekeeper no longer seems as something I'd want or need, as I dreamed of after my third child's birth.
Much grace, oh yes. Moment by moment...