Thursday, November 12, 2009

Know Thy House: When You Need to Pare Back

There are lots of things that can lead a homemaker to reevaluate and cut back on the intensity, time, or focus she devotes to housekeeping: a new baby, a sick friend or relative, a busy time at work, a death in the family, or--as in my case--a sudden burst of creative energy that must be capitalized on before it recedes. At such times, it is important to be kind to ourselves and accept a "good enough" standard and approach to homemaking. At the same time, we can't let our homes fall by the wayside; we still must adhere to a standard that is "good enough."

I have found that the best way to thrive during such seasons comes not from a book but from personal reflection: know thy house. Know what aspects of housekeeping can be neglected without things falling apart, and which are necessary for health, comfort, and a general sense of well-being. This will likely be unique for each family and each home environment.

For example, in my home, home-cooked meals that have been planned and shopped for at regular intervals throughout the week are essential to a sense of well-being. Take-out food--even pizza--just doens't say home to me. However, I know plenty of people who feel perfectly cozy and well-nourished with a box of local Indian carry-out. To each her own.

Another task that I simply cannot let slide is keeping my floors clean. We adopted the habit of removing our shoes in the house from our Japanese and Korean friends in college, so we are barefoot or in slippers or socks while at home. In addition, we have two little children who love to be on the floor for most of their waking hours. And, finally, I have pretty nasty allergies and mild asthma. So, dust, cat hair, and pollen accumulating all over our floors is simply not an option in our house. If we let it pile up, we're going to feel it, and we're not going to feel well.

In general, any task that is essential for health--cleaning the bathroom and the kitchen regularly, for example--is something that cannot be ignored, even during stressful seasons. But, even these can vary from household to household. As I said, vacuuming is one of these for me, but if you wear shoes in the house, don't have allergies or pets, and have teenagers rather than toddlers, you may not need to vacuum as regularly as I do.

In addition, keep in mind those little things that make your home truly feel like a sanctuary for your family. Is it candles on the mantle in the evening, pancakes on Saturday morning, a well-kept backyard where your sons can play football with the neighbor kids? Whatever it is, try to make time for these little things that may seem nonessential but really do go a long way toward keeping the family happy and feeling cared for.

Finally, remember to give yourself a timeline for returning to normalcy. Paring back is good and even necessary sometimes, but it's not something that should be done all the time. If that sick parent ends up moving into your home for the next three years, I doubt you'll feel very good about forgoing dusting all that time. And, that new baby is only going to grow into a busy little person who sleeps less and requires more supervision. Sometimes, what was overwhelming in the short term ends up needing to be incorporated into normal, everyday life when the situation becomes more permanent. It is important, therefore, to give yourself a general--or specific, depending on your personality--sense of when you're going to say, "Okay, enough is enough. Let's figure out a way to work those neglected tasks back into the routine." This may require delegation of tasks to household members who previously did less work. It may even require hiring help (sending out suit pants and shirts for dry cleaning rather than laundering and ironing them yourself, for example).

When paring back, remember to keep praying about and evaluating your priorities, keep goodcommunication going within your household to ensure that everyone is continuing to feel cared for and no one is feeling neglected, and be kind--to yourself and to those you make a home with and for.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I've been "nesting" like crazy this pregnancy in terms of home organization. I'm going through closets, drawers, installing shelves, etc. We have a condo as well, and even though we ARE blessed with a finished basement (did it ourselves and paid CASH!), we weren't organized.

    I have shelves now in the basement storage closet (it's really a small room), with a shelving unit with all my cleaners, detergents, etc that I've stockpiled for the next few months. I have shelves to store my precious glasswares and crystal. My computer desk is nicely organized as well now!

    Next up...our closests. ;) It's hard to be objective though when you're 8 months pregnant and think you're going to wear something again. ;)

  2. Thanks for posting this. My husband and I have had one thing after another come up lately, and it was good to read how and what is recommended to pare back in times of crisis, and how to work in the necessities even during busy times, because more will likely follow.


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