Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Cluttered Mind

Two things resonated with me from this post of Charlotte's. The first that she finds it hard to ask for help and expects herself to be able to go it alone and the second the eternal housework dilemma. How, if you're not very good at housework yourself, to train your kids at least to have some idea of keeping the house moderately liveable in?

The asking for help thing is also a big hurdle for me. I always assume that everyone else has enough on their plate already and that the least I can do is sort out my relatively-unimportant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things troubles without bothering them. So a retreat into a non-communicative comfort zone with general anaesthesia of a nice, undemanding book until I feel better, is my usual response to stress. The current interruption of blog posting, probably reflects my current struggle with the transition from cosy cocoon of stay at home mother, where I'm comfortable and confident in my abilities to bake bread, sew funny things out of felt and kiss things better, to the economic demand that I find my feet again in the strange and scary working world. I'm trying to straddle the two by working from home but it's a slow process building up a freelance business from scratch and it needs a lot of self-confidence to go out there and market yourself. I'm trying to be philosophical and read it as the universe using economic necessity as a kick up the b*m, to make me shift out of a comfort zone and stretch previously unsuspected muscles. Sometimes the philosophy slips though and chocolate and a Katie Fforde are the best recourse.

I love Katie Fforde not least because her blurb claims that her hobbies are ironing and housework but unfortunately she is too busy keeping up with the sitcoms to indulge in them. Her heroines are usually balm to the reluctant housewife, cheerfully untidy and chaotic, which makes me think that she is like that too - we're best friends already.

The divide between the untidy and the very tidy isn't quite so polemical in the blog world as, say, the hectic daycare debate that springs up and ruffles feathers at regular intervals, but there does seem to be quite a bit of sympathetic bonding between fellow messy mavericks, with bewildered incomprehension of the opposite camp.

The joys of house work haven't yet claimed me. I'm one of the clan proud to proclaim that a messy house is a sign of creativity and yet there is always a slightly defensive note to the fanfare. However much I know that I feel more comfortable when the house is looking a bit rumpled, hate it when the book I'm reading gets tidied away and can only find a jumper if it's just where I left it, I still feel that I should be tidier and teach my children to be too. This usually results in a rush of ineffectual clearing up, getting irritated with the kids when my handiwork gets rendered nul and void by another layer of played with detritus, then a surrender to the force majeure of chaos, until the next time my Virgo sun sign asserts itself.

One of Charlotte's commenters suggested a helpful site for the housework-challenged. I visited and perused its pages thinking that maybe I could do some of this, until I read the section of basics which included detailed instructions on how to achieve a shiny sink, involving soaking it in bleach, rinsing it extremely well and ever after drying it tenderly with a cloth after every use...aaaaagh! If I ever invested that much effort in a shiny sink I would be held hostage to it, standing guard over it day and night to ensure that everyone who came near gave it the same TLC. Gone would be the days when the kids could wash their sand-encrusted hands/toys/plates in it and get away with a minor request to use a bucket next time. My fleeting interest in gaining brownie points and becoming a better housewife was abruptly curtailed as I realised the devastating effect it could have on family life. Another of Charlotte's commenters remembered her mother's passion for keeping a clean house and how the children always used go next door to play. I jumped firmly back on to the messy = friendly house bench.

I've settled for decluttering as a means to improve the surface visibility in our house. Decluttering seems to be the Feng Shui of the moment. Getting rid of the excess stuff that is why your house is so untidy in the first place, and trying to change the mentality that makes you hang on to things that you don't use any more, makes more sense to me than spending hours cleaning, only to have it look exactly the same minutes after three kids and four dogs explode into the house. At least decluttering seems to last for a few days.

A mouse visitor in the larder inspired me to try the method. Our larder was getting harder to get into as the pile of stuff at the far end was making a bid to take over the entrance. The counter was overflowing with half used packets of this and that and boxes of empty jam jars filled the storage space. A few hours spent being ruthless on the weekend and I have a gleamingly clear counter space, can see the floor and there is even room for the cats to get in and catch that darned mouse...unfortunately the hall is now cluttered with the excess boxes of jam jars, which I still intend to keep for jam-making in strawberry season, and more boxes destined for the garage with all the recycling..!

Now whenever I need a morale boost I can go and stand at the door to the larder and admire its orderliness, and as long as I keep my back to the hall my halo glows brightly.


  1. My feelings exactly. I had a look at that website and decided that life was too short to bleach a sink. However, I did enjoy throwing away 27 Things. Like you, I feel decluttering may be the way to go.

  2. my sil spends ALL her free time organizing, cleaning, and ironing and it just seems to me that enjoying my free time far outweighs having a sparkling home... no?

    I too, cleaned out the speiz (larder) and frequently enjoy a quiet moment admiring my handiwork!

  3. I just finished tidying up my house after an unusually messy morning of play, and I feel so much better...even though what feels like a pleasantly tidy house to me would seem intolerably cluttered to someone else.

    Housecleaning, when I can motivate myself to do it, almost always improves my mood, but I only do the things that have an emotional pay-off: I don't clean for germ-removal, but rather for mood improvement.

    If you're happy at a certain level of lived-in-ness, your children probably will be as well - and if not, they can keep their own rooms spic and span to their hearts' content!

    (I did do the Flylady sink, by the way, and it's surprisingly fun. I wipe it out after each meal now too, and it's kind of the equivalent of having a made bed for me - it's one area that used to be an eyesore but now is actually pleasantly clean and orderly. I never got into the wear-your-shoes habit, though, I must admit.)


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!