"Young Woman with a Water Pitcher" by Johannes Vermeer
Many of my friends who work outside of the home have confessed to me that when they are home (because they are sick, on a brief maternity leave, or just between jobs or semesters for a time), they are bored. "How can you do this all the time?" they ask me. And, my answer is always: purpose and routine.
When you are away from school or work for only a brief period of time, you tend not to want to overhaul your life. You fill your newly freed hours with leisure activity. As a result, you will likely lack a sense of purpose and lose any sense of a routine, since the bulk of your day is "freed up" and no routine or schedule seems necessary. You stick to the more abbreviated housekeeping routine you were used to while working or going to school full-time, performing them without vision and, thereby, without satisfaction. Though, you probably need to spend a bit more time cleaning and tidying up, since your house is suddenly seeing much more use throughout the day. But, you're still bored, and you may think to yourself, "Thank heavens I don't do this all the time! How do those stay-at-home wives and mothers (and fathers) do it?"
We do it (and enjoy it!) because our sense of purpose as well as our daily routine is quite different. We do not view our hours at home as leisure time. Certainly, blessedly, there is some leisure, but the bulk of our days are filled with purposeful, productive work, the kind of which is necessary food for the mind, body, and soul. We don't just do the most necessary of household tasks; we work daily at caring for, improving, and enriching our homes.
In addition, if we are wise, we create routines for ourselves, much as students create class and study routines for themselves and working men and women have routines for accomplishing the tasks of their employment. These routines hold us accountable to make certain that what needs to be done does get done, and it also helps us to work more efficiently throughout the day. A big difference being at home full-time and working full-time is that, while school or employment may impose a schedule upon most students and employees, we homemakers are required to create our own routines and hold ourselves accountable to our own schedules. This is both a blessing and a challenge, as anyone who tries it will find.
I will use the ordinary task of laundry (something both stay-at-homers and full-time students and employees do) to illustrate how purpose and routine can elevate the work of the homemaker. Homemakers do not merely "do laundry;" we try to find a more enjoyable, cost effective, or efficient way to do the laundry. We might try hanging clothes out on the line or using lavendar water when we iron the sheets. We take time to notice the state of the clothes as they are folded fresh out of the dryer, sitting down later in the day to mend a shirt or noting that we need to pick up a new pair of socks at the store. Certainly, the laundry always needs to be done, and it is a mundane task, but by giving this necessary task thought and purpose, we can elevate it from the mundane and find the beauty in it. Moreover, by fitting it into our weekly routine, rather than forcing ourselves begrudgingly to do a load when there simply are not enough clean clothes left for the morning, we are sure that the laundry is always done in an effective, timely, stress-free manner. At least most of the time.
It is a common misperception that no beauty at all can be found in the daily chores of the household. Surely, housework can be difficult and certain tasks may always feel like drudgery. I, for example, have yet to see any glimpse of beauty in disinfecting the kitchen trash can. But, homemaking in general and certain housekeeping tasks in particular, can certainly have something sublime about them. Not only does the end result often bring peace and contentment to the home, the actual execution of many tasks can bring peace and contentment; moreover, they grant a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment to the homemaker.
In her book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping Home, Cheryl Mendelson says:
“Seen from the outside, housework can look like a Sisyphean task that gives you no sense of reward or completion. Yet housekeeping actually offers more opportunities for savoring achievement than almost any other work I can think of. Each of its regular routines brings satisfaction when it is completed…You get satisfaction not only from the sense of order, cleanliness, freshness, peace and plenty restored, but from the knowledge that you yourself and those you care about are going to enjoy those benefits.”
If your goal is merely to fill the hours at home, you have not found a sufficient sense of purpose in what you are doing. When you are home for only a short while, this is likely the sort of myopic vision you will have for your time. When you are home full time, it behooves you to find a greater sense of purpose in homemaking. Not only must you find purpose in the necessary tasks of housekeeping, you must also find a vision for homemaking. Then, you ought to find a routine that helps you to accomplish this vision.
What sort of environment do you want this home to be? Who lives in your home? Who visits? What is the culture of the home that you desire to create? For, indeed, you are creating a culture, whether you will or no. One of the most glorious things about being a full-time homemaker is that you have the time and inclination to be purposeful about envisioning the home culture you would like to have, as well as the resources to actually create it!
If you are not a full-time homemaker but do care very much about the culture of your home, do not despair. Your task will be more difficult, as you will not have the same time that a full-time homemaker does to accomplish this. Still, purpose and routine will help you a long way toward your goal. Homemakers employ these two things from necessity, but anyone who wishes to enrich the culture of their home may call upon them.