Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Today's Proper Work

During my childhood, there were two major influences on what I believed it meant to be a homemaker. The first was, obviously, my mother. The second was children's literature, specifically, the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Little Women, and the Anne of Green Gables novels.

For the purposes of this blog, I would just like to discuss these influences on me as a housekeeper. I lived in a very clean house as a child. It was regularly dusted. The beds were made every morning (my best friend called my comforter the "oh-so-fluffy-blanket" because we weren't allowed to sit on it and smash it down). The dishes were done immediately after each meal: hand washed with soap, and then loaded into the dishwasher. The throw pillows on the couch were at right angles. My mom vacuumed uniform rows into the wall-to-wall carpeting, and before guests came, we weren't allowed to walk on it so it wouldn't bear the telltale footprints that showed people actually lived in the house.

Still, I wouldn't say Mom was a neat-freak. She was just disciplined, and our house was both orderly and pretty to look at pretty much all the time. (Now, her mother was a neat freak. Love you, Grandma, but one of my most vivid memories is tiptoeing the perimeter of the guest bedroom cork floors, so as not to muss your hand-raked area rugs.) So, neat and pretty is what makes me comfortable. However, the gene that made my mom enjoy housework (she does, truly! It gives her deep satisfaction!), I am apparently missing. I really hate cleaning. And when I first became a stay-at-home mom, I felt I was cleaning all the time. I never sat down because there was always something that could be cleaned. It was extremely anxiety provoking.

Cue the influence of Laura Ingalls Wilder. One day, my brain pulled up this passage out of it's childhood files from Little House in the Big Woods:

"[after making the beds] Ma began the work that belonged to that day. Each day had its own proper work. Ma used to say:

Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

Laura liked the churning and the baking days best of all the week."

This system sounded so simple, housewifely and efficient that I decided to make my own chart of "proper work." Then, when I finished whatever work was for that day, I could actually feel finished. I left out Ironing, Mending, Churning, and Baking. My list looked like this:

Monday: Laundry
Tuesday: Dust and vacuum, clean out fridge
Wednesday: Clean bathrooms, grocery shop
Thursday: Clean kitchen cabinets and stove
Friday: Clean out car, vacuum again

This all worked really well for a while. I felt that there was structure to my new life at home. But as it turns out, I would have made a lousy pioneer. Because my list is twice as varied as Ma's, and still, I get so bored with the repetition. I often feel extremely isolated despite having tons of neighbors I like and girlfriends I talk to. Spending the day churning and resting in a house miles from any other neighbor would have made me completely insane. Also, even with tools Ma didn't have, like washing machines, vacuums, Scrubbing Bubbles, Oxyclean, and stores that sell butter, there are weeks that I am not getting even these most basic of housewife chores done. My mother recently noted that my housekeeping sure isn't what hers was (this sounds terrible written down, but she said it with love, I swear). But in my defense, here are some thing I do that neither Ma nor my mom did:

upload photos to
post things to facebook
lead a moms group at church
make homemade baby gifts
talk on the telephone
go to Target
mail things my husband sells on e-bay

I'm actually proud of all I do accomplish, I'm happy to be connected socially to other women, and be in touch with my creative side. But daily, I am also distressed by the lack of order in my house -- particularly in comparison with my childhood home. I'm almost 7 years in to this job of Homemaker, and I still wake up many mornings and think, "What the heck am I going to do today?" or "What the heck am I going to do first?"

It's at these moments that I'm grateful to Ma's list. When in doubt, at least try to get the days' "own proper work" done. And, thanks to Mom's influence, most days I do make the beds, and I do get my throw pillows at right angles.


  1. So with you, Amanda! I didn't have the gene, and neither did my mom, so she couldn't teach me despite our lacking DNA. Glad to hear I'm not alone in the "Where in the world should I start?" feeling I have almost every day. And thank you for adding perspective with your "modern" list of accomplishments. I should make one of my own.

    I once heard it said that many of the tasks on our daily agendas are not on God's agenda for us at all. He knows the proper day's work and we need only to inquire of Him.

  2. My mom also loves housework. And who are we? Their children, who desperately want to live in those awesomely clean houses but are exhausted with the thought of keeping them up! I try, though, and when I succeed I admit that I'm soooo happy...