Friday, 4 July 2014

Getting to the heart of housework

I'd love to write an awesome, insightful, uplifting post, but I'm afraid I'm going to write about housekeeping instead. Housekeeping and a heavy heart and how the heck to combine the two.

We're finally settling in to almost-normal mode after the long upheaval of moving house. Spending all my days working on paint, lino, benchtops, tapware, basins, baths, showers, curtains, rugs, chairs and tradesmen-juggling has been fun and a privilege, and also hard work. There are things about it that I will miss, but I am also looking forward, slightly nervously, to what is next. Reuben is starting school soon and Esther has started kindy, so my days will soon look very different, and I will only find more and more time to myself. The first day that I dropped both children to kindy and stepped across the threshold to my empty house, the phrase, "welcome to your new life," flashed through my mind, along with the thought that I had to get to know the new me (she sure isn't the same as the one there was 4 3/4 years ago). A little dramatic perhaps, but things are changing.

A stay-at-home mum of pre-schoolers is allowed to crave a little more time to herself, and I certainly have. But if I don't have a plan I haven't been very good at making the most of those quiet times. And I have long struggled with the dramatic swings in this way of life between having *loads* to do and then suddenly nothing. Obviously there's always another corner of the house that could be tidied, but there are moments that could be filled with something else. The trouble is, they are brief and unreliable, and it is hard to find something to do in those times that is satisfying, fulfilling and achievable.

I know that I need something else to do in my days now that the kids are going to be out of the house more, and I have been thinking about it without any conclusions for a long time. But after we moved in here I decided that I need to spend a bit of time just trying to get this ship in order. Work out my systems, get some good habits and routines going and know how to run the house well. The only problem with the plan is that I'm just not enjoying it.

Tidiness and organisation have generally been my thing, and in my natural state they have brought me an element of happiness and satisfaction. But at the moment I can't seem to grab hold of them. It's the daily grind stuff. Emptying the dishwasher, putting clothes away, getting a wash on. Ugh. Depression lurks very closely at my door, and on quiet child-free days when I have the whole morning to empty the dishwasher and tidy up last night's bathroom chaos (whoop-de-doo) I just want to lie down and never get up again, that same feeling I had late last year when depression broke through my door and wrestled me to the ground.

I really think, despite my idea of focusing on getting this ship nicely afloat, I need to have lots of things to do. I need to fling those dishes out of the dishwasher in a flash because I'm racing off to somewhere/something  more interesting. The thing I have hated most in the various jobs I have had over the years (when it crops up) is boredom. I hate being bored. And I'm finding housework (oh my gosh am I the first person to say this?) *boring*.

While I wait for the fantastically exciting stuff to start happening, I'm working on a few solutions. A friend has given me some transcribing work, which has come just when I needed it. Earning a little money always seems to feel good, and being able to do that at the drop of a hat is wonderful. Stuff the dishes, I'm going to earn me some money. A short session of that tends to get my blood flowing and make me feel more able to get in to the boring stuff. It's a great solution, but only a short term one.

I have a habit of doing some jobs when I'm on the phone. I'm as bad as my mother, I never sit down when I'm on the phone (though I do for long-distance callers, I've noticed), and my hands just seem to move around of their own accord and get things tidy while I listen and chat. Call me any time! My brother suggested listening to some inspiring talks or radio interviews on an i-pod which is a brilliant idea, though I would save it for when the kids are out of the house or in bed.

I have always had the attitude that it's best to get the boring stuff done first, then you can move on and enjoy the fun activities without anything hanging over you. It seems sensible and right, and really has always worked that way for me. But I have decided I need to be open to a different way, and it seems to be working. If I return from the kindy drop off and there's still weetbix bowls to be rinsed, darn it, and the dishwasher to be emptied and pyjamas to be picked up and my heart sinks below the floor, well I'm just not going to do it. Those moments have been like dragging myself through concrete. I'll read a book in the sun or make a hot drink or pick some flowers from the garden and do the work when my heart is back in place.

There is still that perennial question of how to approach housework; do you do it all on one day, how often do you do various tasks, what are the best ways of cleaning something or other, which I won't go in to now. I am working through a few ideas and hope to even act on them at some point. I will report back only if you can bear it. Funnily enough I have really nailed some housework in the past 24 hours. I was feeling so down about it getting on top of me that I hauled out the vacuum cleaner (a job I don't mind too much) and found myself doing an amazingly thorough job, including tidying as I went. And as often happens for me, once I'd got through the pain barrier of starting, there was a snowball effect that had me cleaning and tidying more and more. That works quite well with those weekly chores, but not so much on the daily grind. Especially those dishes. Though I must remember too, there are other people in this house. Kent and I used to joke that we needed to have children one day so we could get some help with the dishes, and if Reuben can be persuaded it shouldn't be too long before he is a dream come true.

Another approach that has come about by accident has been to let myself off the hook a little. Occasionally I have looked around at all that needs to be done and told myself I don't have to do it. I could just do it tomorrow. I could wait until Mum comes and she will help me get it done. And as soon as I feel that little bit of freedom, I somehow find the motivation to do it anyway. I'm doing it because I choose to, not because I have to.

My final technique may be to simply remember how good it feels to have a clean and tidy house. It makes such a difference to me. A friend posted an article about fighting depression recently. One idea that stood out for me was to remember how good it feels when you do achieve something. Last night after lights out I grabbed hold, for a brief moment, of the idea that I won't let this housework thing have power over me. I will do it, and I will win.

How do you feel about housework? How do you approach it? How do you get motivated, or do you just get on with anyway? It would be great to hear your ideas!


  1. Thank you for this. I could write my own post of the same length covering similar difficulties with housework, and especially its interface with depression.

    Just for starters, though, I certainly find podcasts - which you can just play out loud from a computer rather than with earphones if that makes a difference - hugely motivating. If I put one on to do the dishes to, but it's still going when I'm done, I then want to find other jobs to do while I listen to the rest - probably the only time in the world when I look for more cleaning to do :)

    1. Like Nick driving the long way round because he has good music playing in his car. Podcasts or something similar are certainly sounding like a good idea.

  2. I also find the everyday chores far too time consuming. I've found that if I rush to get them done they are not so terrible, and I also leave them if it upsets me to have them holding me back from doing something I actually want to do. When I get to do something fun or creative the mundane household tasks feel manageable. It's taken me a long time to feel like I could do more than just those jobs though. And I do reward myself quite frequently with wasted time on the internet and cups of coffee with chocolate. My biggest motivation is the peace I feel when the house is tidy and clean. For all of 5 minutes!!

    1. Mmm yes, rewards are good but the best is the feeling of having it done. Keep it up and hang in there!

  3. We may not have kids, and there are two of us to do the housework, but there is so much that I relate to here. I try for a set time every week to do the 'deep clean', and get quite upset when that time ends up spreading over my weekend. My other strategy is cleaning music, music that I cannot sit still too. As I write this, Michael is cleaning up cat sick.

    1. He's a good man. Cleaning music sounds like a great idea, much like tidy up music at Kindy Gym ;) I hope having a few us relate on this is somehow a little helpful. x