Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Taming the House: When There's Serious Chaos

We've spent a few posts discussing strategies for taming the housekeeping beast. I'm trying to make these universal, but they're probably most relevant to homes with three or more children, and to homeschooling homes in which the family is always together at home, using the space and materials.

In our first post we covered reducing the toy clutter, setting aside a catch-up day, and utilizing 5-minute clean-ups. In our second post we covered involving children in home maintenance, via a chore system.

Up front I wrote that I hoped we could analyze our issues together. The truth is that such a low percentage of people comment on blogs (10% or less), that to have even five or ten comments, you need a fairly large audience. Knowing that, I don't expect input necessarily, but if you really have an issue driving you insane, I hope that you will comment? If my skills won't help, someone else might have the answer? Or at least someone will provide comfort, reassuring you that it's normal and will get better.

What drives you the most insane, on a recurring basis? The job of homemaker requires a lot of hats, not the least of which are the abilities to problem solve and manage others. These two skills go a long way toward taming the house and facilitating a measure of domestic serenity.

Maybe you're an organizing queen and your home is under control, but you give up sleep and leisure to keep it that way? Then you probably need to delegate and learn to manage others.

Maybe you have poor organizational skills and have no idea how to get off the frustration train of domestic chaos? Then you probably need to discipline yourself with charts and timers. Time has a way of getting away from us when we're caring for children all day. This is normal...chaos happens so fast! Resign yourself to charts and timers to stay on track with your 5-minute clean-ups, and to help divide up the chores.

The younger your children, the harder it is to feel good about the running of your home. If you have babies and toddlers right now, just take a deep breath. It does get better. I went through that stage twice with no support system, and more than once, someone walked into my house with eyebrows raised. 

Oh, well. 

Rocking and singing to your babies and snuggling your toddlers with books is so much more important. That window of prime emotional and intellectual development won't come again. Let's not miss it. Having enough love and attention from parents early on helps us open up to receive our Heavenly Father's love. And without receiving Him, we can't give love back out, sacrificially.

So focus on the eternal first. Don't let the tyranny of the moment define your legacy.

Last Friday I was at the hospital with Beth from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM. I arrived home to find an extremely disheveled house. No 5-minute pick-ups were done, and no laundry was done (I do 3-4 loads a day in the cold, muddy seasons).

I had a choice. I could cuddle my three-year-old, who still needed me, and read a Little House book to Mary, or I could start setting the house to rights. Emotionally, I was already spent and the thought of organizing the troops for a major clean, did not appeal to me!

I cuddled my 3-year-old and read a Little House chapter book. When five-year-old Mary could no longer sit still, I held my 3 year old while reading Old Yeller to myself, a post civil-war era novel the boys would start for school the next week.

We did a little catch up on the weekend, aside from groceries and church and science experiments.

Then Monday, we had two more appointments. The house and laundry fell further behind.

Monday afternoon I was so tempted to tackle the mess myself, letting the children out to play. The thought of keeping on them and doing quality-control checks, while still doing a lot of work myself, didn't appeal to me.

But I disciplined myself and made them do their share, and when you find yourself in a similar situation, I urge you to resist the urge to do it all yourself. Spiritually speaking, what does God want here? Pampered children who make messes, knowing that Mom will come to the rescue? Or children who learn the consequences of their actions (cause and effect), and take responsibility for their mistakes?

Daddy didn't call 5-minute clean-ups and the kids ignored their own messes, simply choosing another room for further activities. Instead of blaming Daddy, I blamed them...but I didn't spend a lot of time lecturing. They should know better and the mess proved something to them: it isn't their 3-year-old sister who makes all the messes. She was gone for most of the day and down for the rest, and the house still descended into chaos.

The messier the house, the more they howl over being asking to clean. They find, and I do too, that the chaos is simply overwhelming. Where do we even start? 

Here are a few tips for taming serious chaos:

  • Tackle 1 room at a time. Set out a few containers and designate one for trash, one for items that go in other rooms, and one for items that go in the current room. Work together to sort all the items into the baskets, and then designate one person to dump trash, one person to take items to their proper locations around the house, and another person to put things away in the current room.
  • Put on favorite cleaning music.
  • Provide an incentive. "If we finish the house by afternoon, we'll make Christmas cookies." "If you clean this room well and without complaint, you can have a treat."
  • Have a clothes-folding party. I hang all our day clothes directly from the dryer, so our baskets contain only whites, linens, and pajamas. Everyone folds their own pajamas and whites, and helps with towels, and I do the sheets and mine and my husband's things. We help Beth as needed, and I'm not picky about how she folds, since these aren't day clothes we're talking about.
  • Read a story during cleaning breaks, to keep grumbling at bay.
One lesson I've learned is that the more I'm away, the more chaos there is. Stay home as much as you can, especially if you homeschool. Choose your outside activities wisely. Perhaps have only one extracurricular activity going at a time, instead of allowing each child to pick one activity per season. Or pick one activity that fits all. If you have three kids and three activities going, that will be chaotic and stressful, not invigorating.  The ends don't justify the means here. The stress of busyness will create health problems, for one thing. Your meals won't be as healthy and you won't be getting adequate rest. And the family will be too separated too often, which doesn't bode well for discipling. You owe your kids love and discipleship, not the moon.

Most of all, we need to focus on the eternal and be humble, praying for guidance always. We can pray for God to reveal anything about us that will help us. Should we be asking for help but we're too proud? Are we lazy and don't want to admit it? Are we a perfectionist and we want everything to stay perfect, never letting anyone make messes and explore their interests? Are we distracted by time-wasters and failing to use our time wisely?

Let's ask God to speak to our hearts and give the answer that is right for us. He will equip us for the tasks he's set before us. Never doubt that.

Prayer Time: Dear Father, thank you for the privilege of caring for children and a home. Help us to seek your truth and your guidance. Equip us to bring you glory in how our homes and children are managed. Encourage our hearts, Lord, because this is hard work and requires many different skills. When we need help, help us to seek it in humility. Help other ladies to come alongside us, offering love, encouragement, and guidance. Thank you for all your wondrous gifts, Father. We love you.

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.


Terri H said...

I have two children and a husband that are home all the time, does that count? ;) I think it's my dining room and kitchen that most drive me crazy. Both are small and they are also our most-used rooms. Between school, occupying a toddler, a husband often working there, and meals, the table is always piled with stuff. I can clear it completely and it's covered in papers, markers, and cars again before the next meal. I clean my very small kitchen after every meal, but it still always seems cluttered. I guess I need to learn to be content in our current house, rather than wishing for a different one as we have been talking about moving to something that better fits our needs.

Christine said...

Yes, I can relate. Our table is piled with journals, crayons, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, my school planning stuff, often paint...etc. Getting the table ready is a big part of serving a meal around here.

The kitchen is hard for me, too. I find if I start on the dishes right after breakfast and again after lunch, then I'll get in cleaning mode and school will run too late. I have to discipline myself to do school first, then dishes after 3 subjects are done.

It's good to let the table get messy, though. Lot's of learning and creating going on--that's what it means. :)

I have seen nice school rooms created in homes, but even with that extra room there, the families still end up on the kitchen table most of the time. That's where I do laundry, for example. The washer and dryer are right there in the dining room behind bifold doors. I've been know to dictate paragraphs and spelling words while switching loads or hanging clothes.

Thanks for stopping by today!

Terri H said...

Agreed about the dishes. I usually do breakfast dishes at school break time (after three subjects, in fact). I can do lunch dishes right after lunch if I need to, since we are usually done with school by then. If not, though, they wait until the kids' nap/rest time.

Tesha said...

This is so good and I really need to read it tonight. I am really struggling with this lately. We have lots of "extra" activities right now due to the Holiday. It is so difficult to keep everything running smooth with all that is going on. On top of that I am battling physical pain form a kidney stone and ovarian cyst. uuugg I absolutely love when you said "Don't let the tyranny of the moment define your legacy". I will have to quote you on this one. I know I have told you before but you should write a quote book. This is the heart of the issue for me I often let the temporal pressures of the house and work affect my heart and it comes out in my attitude.

I also love what you said about letting the kids off. I have been tempted to do it all myself lately because if I send them outside while I clean at least it is quite.....oh sad confession but true. however you are so right that there are many lessons to learn in cleaning your own mess and even ones that are not yours.

I so enjoying reading When I come here I feel like I am sitting have a cup of coffee with a good friend drinking in wisdom. Thank you for the convicting inspiring post!

Christine said...

Oh, Tesha. I am so sorry about the cyst and stone. What will they do about the cyst? Is it scheduled for removal or are they just watching it? My sister was able to get pregnant with just one ovary. The good ovary ovulates every month so fertility should be okay after any procedure they do, I am thinking. I am praying.

You are having such a tough year. No worries about the house with all that you are dealing with. God knows and I bet your kids understand as well. Love your idea for Jonathan's stocking and we will participate.