Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Little By Little

The last few days our house has been spotless. But, being that my definition of spotless includes everything being in its place all at one time and being clean as well, it is not hard to understand that, while this state has at one time or another in the past been witnessed in our home, the duration of said state is a vapor quickly fleeting. Our being in the season of having our home on the market to sell, it is necessary, albeit tortuous, for this to be the constant state of things for an indefinite period of time. Ahem. I thought childrearing itself was a vehicle of sanctification, but it has nothing on childrearing plus this pretending-that-our-life-is-lived-in-a-magazine.

As I pondered the unpleasantness of living as if complete strangers could walk in at any moment, it appeared I was not the only one traveling this road of thought. My big girls' questions and comments during a spot-check cleanup session began several discussions about my Newlywed life. It is comical to them to know that they know more at their ages (12 and 11) about childrearing, running a home and cooking than I did when I got married, so they ask about that season regularly.

"So Mom, how did you keep the whole house clean when all you had was you doing all the cleaning?"

"First of all, it was only myself and Dad...no toddlers...no little boys (the girls snickered at this mention)...so there were not as many folks to clean up after. Second, I didn't. It was a wreck. All the time. The laundry was always piled up to the top of the washer, we had to wash a dish before we ate out of it, and we couldn't have company because we couldn't find the couch."

Looking around, I was gratefully aware that the fact that we can now have even fleeting moments of having the house spotless with a family of nine is evidence of Yahweh's grace in my life. It is He that allowed me to grow and learn in order to be able to pull off such a feat today. Even today, it is a testimony to His loving kindness alone, and not my superior skill or (cough) self discipline. Every day it gets a little easier as we raise the bar and attempt to live up to what we have already attained.

I explained to my girls that it all started with the medicine cabinet. I knew a bit about how to clean and given the right circumstances, I could organize a closet. My most pressing problem was that I had no idea how to manage the cleanliness of my home, to manage the state of our home's organization, to manage the budget, or to manage the pantry or menus... none. I cared for my home in spurts. I would go six months without making my bed, then have a major cleaning spurt and pull an all-nighter to get everything spic and span at once. The 'clean' would only last hours, as I had no idea how to keep it that way. I was disgusted with myself and sorely discouraged, but didn't know what to do to change and had no one I could ask for help.

I know when it happened. When my children were 3, 2 and 1 and I was seven months pregnant with baby #4, Mr. Visionary gave me one day's notice that he was going out of town for a week. He left the day after Christmas, when myself and the children were worn out from all the holiday traveling, had no groceries in the house, and an ice storm was approaching. To say that I broke down that weekend would not quite capture all that transpired. As I was without power and water, cooking over the woodstove with three babies, and my house was a wreck, it was all I could do to keep my head above water. In fact, the only way I made it was by praying through tears seemingly the entire time. I was as overwhelmed as I have ever been at that point, and all I could do was to cry out to Yahweh. I asked Him to give me hope via something tangible. My faith was so faltering that I needed something I could see. Enter the medicine cabinet.

I had a small bathroom that a pregnant woman couldn't bend over in. In it was an even smaller medicine cabinet on the wall that held the leaking toothpaste, outdated medicine, half-used razors and odds and ends. One day I cleaned out that cabinet, frustrated that it was always so stuffed that it wouldn't close properly. In an epiphany, I put a stake in the ground, and determined that from there on out... I WOULD KEEP THAT CABINET CLEANED OUT! It was a minuscule step in view of the whole picture of the chaos in my life, but it was something.

Over the next few weeks ~ unfortunately this was no quick process ~ I did manage to keep it in order. It gave me back a smidge of self respect that had been long lost. Encouraged from there, I raised the bar to keeping the whole (remember it is very small) bathroom cleaned all the time. This plan was all I could manage during that season of so many little ones. As each of the first areas became habit, I gradually began adding areas to what I was able to keep under control. It is not a fancy system ~ but it takes much prayer to grow in self discipline a little at a time, with a commitment to not backslide. Easy? No, not really ~ self discipline never is. It was just simple enough to give me the hope I needed to be faithful to keep learning...so that I didn't stay in the chaos. I continued to check out books that taught me how to clean, study every Momma-of-Many I could get myself near and soak up knowledge from every arena I saw producing good fruit in order to grow my newly blooming skills.

Today, when one of the children has trouble keeping their room clean, we go back to this plan. Everything in their room comes out except the basics. When the child can keep the bed and three outfits in order, on a regular basis, then they can choose a few more items to come back to their room. When they can manage that much regularly, then they can choose a little more. It ministers to them, as they get the opportunity to feel that same self respect that I experienced by having their own domain in order.

Things have changed drastically in our home since those early days. Folks constantly comment positively about the orderliness in our home, and assume I must have been one of the 'born organized' types. An old friend used to mock people whose homes were really clean because to her it meant that they must not be caring for their kids properly. She didn't know where I had been, so I tried to overlook her comments. Because I do remember from where I have come, I am amazed that any woman has any order at all. To this day, when struggling younger Mommas ask me how to manage their homes, I give them this same advice. Find something... no matter how small... to be a foundation that you can maintain...feel good about yourself (not self-esteem, but self respect)... then build upon it. It may be a section of counter, a certain chair that always has clothes piled high, a section of the top of your desk...

Even if it is only a medicine cabinet, it can be a good place to put a stake in the ground.



  1. Awesome, girl! But right now, it makes me want to cry!

    We do so well, normally. But we're in the "adjusting" stage with a new baby, and routines (at three weeks) seem so hard to keep up with. Good habits seem forgotten!

    In reality, I know we are doing well. My perspective just isn't good without sleep. It will all return soon enough, I know.

    Remind me, okay? :)

    Love to you - and you are RIGHT ON!

  2. I remember, as an adult, the first time I made my bed and then crawled into it that night. I remember being amazed at how good it felt to climb into a made bed. *blush* Since then I've made my bed every morning. Next was my bedroom. Like your medicine cabinet, I too had to start with something small.

    And we, too, have removed nearly everything in a bedroom so the child(ren) in that room could learn how to care for a few things and graduate to more. (I'm about ready to do it again with the older boys - 16 and 18!) We've told them that if they are faithful and careful with little they will probably be faithful and careful with a little more but that it was our job as parents to determine when they were ready for the next step. They have appreciated this and understand that it's part of the process of "growing up".

    I love reading your writing. You surely have a gift with painting pictures with words. :)

  3. Oh, and look at my pathetic self. Whining about me and not commiserating with you! I'm so sorry!

    The stage you are at...keeping the spotless house in order to sell it...while homeschooling with a large family - WOW. That is a hard place to be at. We just did that - and it is not fun!

    Will be praying for you, friend.

  4. Holly-Belle~
    Shug, you have no business looking around at anything - any part of your home or life - except for Mariam during this season. EVERYBODY'S house is out-of-sorts after having a baby. You know that... you're just so tired you can't think.

    You have spent too much time and energy training for it all to fall apart this quickly. Think back to after Ben-the-man was born... it all came back together after a while didn't it? Here's some of your own words to remind you of what you need to do now:

    Taking Care of Mama

    I've been meaning to ask you *how* to *do* this season of house selling... of all people I knew you would have good experience with this. I'm glad to live in the South, where the winters aren't too harsh and we can spend time outside each day. Can't mess it up when we aren't in it, eh?

    Go rest, and close your eyes to all but those yummy baby cheeks! You've got good kids... they will rise to the occasion and get back on the wagon just fine in a little while. And they're older now, too.

    I'm so glad to know I am not the only one who does the room cleaning training like that. Mine always feel relieved after the first bout of weeping and wailing has ended. Often they vote to not get most of the stuff back, too. I wish someone would come and do this for *me*.

  5. Question:

    Okay - You get an offer on your lovely house, you accept it, what then?

  6. Wonderful article! Thanks for sharing it with LAF. I just posted it! :-D

  7. I really love this article. You discuss a topic that brings such frustration with such wonderful humor and faith. Thanks.

  8. Thank you so much for this post! This has been my early New Year's resolution--to get one part of the house really clean at a time and keep it that way! I have always been very messy, and I have been particularly overwhelmed of late. I am glad to hear that this has worked for you, it encourages me to keep on!

  9. Thanks for your encouraging post. I am pregnant with my fourth and I have definitely not trained my older children in the right way. Our first decade of being married was much the same as your first years. I know how it feels to have dishes all over the kitchen but nothing to eat off. Doing them as my first baby step seems to be such a huge baby step, same with folding washing and actually putting it away. Anything seems so useless in comparison to these jobs but I understand the principle of starting small enough for it to be achievable. Now to decide what! Ack!

    Best wishes,

  10. Our house has been on the market for two years. We finally moved into another home just to get away from the stress of having it spotless. Now we only have the stress of two mortgage payments. :)

    God has a perfect timing. I'm now in the mist of setting up my new home--lots of challenges less space, no more built in book shelves. But little by little... I like organizing, its like solving a puzzle.

  11. I just wanted to let you know that this has been an inspiration to me. I am one of those that has three children (4 1/2, 2 1/2, and 11 months), my home is almost always a wreck! It is good to hear that someone else has gone through this. Now...I just need to lay claim to that medicine cabinet! :D

  12. Wow. It was my first visit to this site and God has used it already to shake me up from head to toe! As I was reading the post it felt as if it was written about me. I have a 20 months old, a 8 months old and I am 4 months pregnant with the next one. Our house IS a mess most of the time and although I go on cleaning surges every now and then it's just not enough :( Of course not enough, but after reading this article I think I came closer to realize what the wrong is with me :)) May God give strength to push through this early years and may God give strength to all of us in this process. Thank you so much for sharing it. God bless and happy New year!

  13. Your website is such a blessing! I am a Christian school teacher who just returned to the workplace after a fifteen year hiatus. I do struggle to balance home life with work, however, I truly was called to minister to little ones (a series of very peculiar events that could have only been orchestrated by HIM led me back to this career). My husband of 17 years is self employed and the cost of private health insurance was causing us to drown in debt. I write this because I am reminded that there are seasons for all of us and that God has a specific plan for each family. Also, I would like to share the joy of knowing that my teen daughter (when asked what she wanted to do after graduation) proudly announced that she aspired to be a stay at home mom and wife, just like her mother. Luckily, she will have the support from her family, friends, and online blogs such as yours. I had none of these.

  14. wow, how encouraging. I found this through LAF and Love blogs like yours. I use the flylady system to clean my house and am proud to say that after a week after all of us having stomach flu, my kitchen is spotless and everything put away :D
    You make a good point. He who is faithful with little will be faithful with much. I taught my older son since he was 15 mo. old to clean up his room before naptime or meals. He's now two and now that he has more toys and a brother playing with him, he's still able to pick up his room with little help from me.

  15. Thank you for the news articles on the right... I had no idea. I knew things were getting BAD but I had no idea HOW bad. Thank you for the heads-up. America's CHURCH needs REPENT. Judgement begins with us folks. We can't expect His Blessing and Deu 28 when we don't fear Him, or live righteously according to His Word, and set up modern Asherah poles.

  16. just stumbled upon your blog, i can relate to all your frustration, i have six blessings, ranging in age from 23-2! i find it helps to let the mess sort of fester until the kids wind down, pick the important stuff like dishes and laundry and dinner preparations take priority, god bless!

  17. Thanks for sharing. I finally put the stake down when I was expecting baby #4 also. A turning point. God bless you.

  18. I love your post. I was the sloppiest one in my house growing up. My mother still talks about my growing penicillin in glasses of old milk in my room. My mother wasn't much of a house keeper either. When I first married the Lord God whispered to me in a very non condemning non critical voice that even if no one else saw my home He did. I should glorify Him with my job there. Ever since then I have found great joy and pride in keeping my home a lovely, clean, tidy place where my husband, my children, myself and others find peace and comfort. Praise Jesus! He really is the true Joy behind everything.


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