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.