Sunday, July 12, 2009

Purpose and Routine: The Key Ingredients of Homemaking

"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.


  1. Thank you for sharing. Wise words.

    Enjoy your blog....


  2. What a motivating post Bethany. Now, let me get out my iron...

  3. This was such a well written post. As a fellow Keeper of our the Home I commend you for sharing a glimpse into the world of home keeping to those that may not fully understand the value of what we do.

    ~Mrs. M

  4. Great post, Bethany! I think a lot of women who work outside the home can't imagine what it would be like to be home. I work full-time, and I confess, almost all of my days are indistinguishable. I would guess that the majority of workers can say the same thing.

    I think being a homemaker could be what you make of it. I hope that if we have a second child that I'll be able to be the "keeper of my home" and know firsthand.

  5. Bethany,
    What abeautiful post. I have been the keeper of my home for 21 years now and every new season of my life has required a redeication to this vocation. Your post is most timely with my eldest beginning his second year of college.
    This was perfect motivation to redirect myself and reclaim my joy for homemaking.
    Thank you!

  6. Bethany,
    I just found your blog today and I think this may be the first time I have felt compelled to comment on the very first post I read! Thank you for this wonderful perspective on household tasks. I work full time and must admit that I have struggled with feeling like housework is thankless and never-ending : the clean laundry will soon be dirtied and need to be washed again,as soon as you finish the dishes, there are sure to be a few more in the sink in short order, dinner must be made each night, etc. I have recently started making an effort to see housework not as a chore, but as an opportunity to perform an act of service for my husband and for any guests to my home. I imagine that with a sense of purpose/vision, a routine and the recognition that I am creating the culture of my home (and to view that not as an onus, but as an opportunity and blessing), housework will continue to be more enjoyable! Thanks for providing me with some much-needed perspective!

  7. I used to work in the creative dept of an ad agency for years, and it had its moments, but honestly I find that being a homemaker can be just as creative. And my husband, though not perfect, is much more appreciative than my work clients ever were!

    After twenty years of being "out there" in the working world, I am home, taking care of the house, doing occasional part-time and freelance work and working on a novel. Reflecting back on my career, I can say that journalism, publishing and advertising had just as many mundane tasks as there are here at my home. In fact, there were more.

    It's true that at home I do repetitive chores. I did them in my old jobs too. Examples: Reporting on school board meetings, writing and rewriting and rewriting copy to fit a committee's changing opinions, proofreading one brochure for six different rounds, commuting to the city, sitting in staff meetings, etc.

    In addition, not having a full-time "job" in the world's sense of the word gives me more freedom and time for my own creative pursuits and volunteer work. (Of course, my schedule will change drastically if I ever have children.)

    I do think it's important for most people who stay at home to build some social time into their schedule. For example, I schedule bible studies, time with my other freelance friends, volunteer work, etc.

    So, if anyone is thinking of staying at home and you can swing it financially...don't let the fear of being bored stop you.

  8. Bethany,

    I have visited your blog before, but I don't believe I have ever posted.

    At any rate, I enjoyed this post about homemaking, and I felt there was a lot of truth in what you said. Before I actually became a full-time housewife/homemaker, to say the least, I was bored to tears when I was off work during vacations (when I worked for the school district) and couldn't wait to go back to work.

    Of course, that has changed. When you are at home more, you actually do think about "the little details" of the home that CAN make a difference. I find myself willing to try more new things, being creative in the kitchen, and actually enjoy serving my husband all because I have the time to focus on my home. When I worked outside of the home (part-time), I had a difficult time finding balance for these things, and usually just had the "rush to get things done" attitude.

    I also have a schedule, as you suggested in your post, so I can stay on-track throughout the day, and I actually USE IT! Since I am new to working full-time in the home, this is a must!

    Finally, I will also agree with you that it's not always easy, but no work that is worthwhile is ever easy.

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  10. Wow! Beautifully written and so inspiring! :)

  11. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Thank you so much. I am a grandmother of four and still need this biblical and practical viewpoint. I so appreciate your sharing it.


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