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I blog about my Catholic faith, my prayer life, good books and good movies.

Order--Prayer, Work & House Cleaning

Abigail Benjamin

For Melanie

I inherited a battle inside my mind over cleaning the house. I'm a Creative. Mess comes with the territory. I used to only be able to write papers in college if I had every single note card and book with a quote source open and staring me in the face. I was nortiously horrible at keeping house as a single girl. My roommates hated me. My future husband gave a shriek of horror when he saw me back a full backpack and 2 large suitcases for a 3 week trip to Australia I took without him while we were dating. He muttered something like "It's too late tonight to help you repack your suitcases but I can help you reorganize your carryon."

Through all my single life, I lived this idea that "I don't care about the mess!" I got married to a guy who honestly liked to shampoo his own carpets as a single guy at age 27. For the first 10 years of our marriage, I only did the laundry and the grocery shopping. My husband practically did every other domestic job inside our house.

That was a victory for feministism right? I was free to write on my blog or breastfeed my kids and write up pretty portfolios for my homeschool reviews.

Here's the thing, I wasn't free. I wasn't making a conscious choice of "My husband is better at these 3 tasks, so lets divide the household labor in a way that makes sense." I also wasn't saying this is a reasonable level of clean for a family with small children.

I lived in a prison of doubt and terror about housework inside my own mind. I didn't know how to do housework. I didn't like to do housework. Whenever I tried to learn, I started yelling at everyone around me. So the easiest thing was just to say "I quit!" and "I'm a girl who writes books instead of cleans her house."

Over the Spring I hung out with some Religious Sisters.These ladies were in their 70s and 80s and awesome people.They are smart. They are funny. They are wise. They also clean their monestery, daily. 

I came home after my retreat and I felt depressed inside my own living room. The walls were painted a sunny yellow and there were two little graceful seahorses bobbing along on small tables. But the space still felt barren and unwelcoming. I felt the Sisters encouraging me to do better. I knew they didn't mind my poverty or the fact that I have plastic animals from my kids inside my living room. I felt like they were telling me to do a little bit of cleaning work for God. So I dusted off my mantle and I spent $30 on 2 tall palm trees to put next to the fireplace. The palms died, because I'm not good with houseplanets. While the palms were alive, however, I started to spend more time inside our living room. I found the daughter who is the natural decorator and she put seashells we found from the beach on all the little tables. I got inspired by her cheerful example. 

Right now, I clean my house because I love to write. It feels a little self-indulgent to work on fiction while their is dirty laundry staring me at the face by my writing desk in the living room. So I created a new laundry system so that I can finish my book this year without guilt.

Now I am motivated to create order, not just clean or pick-up, but to attack the chaos at the root, because I want more time for me. I want more time to pray, and write, and chat leisurely with my husband. It is totally possible to do those three activies surround by the clutter choas of young children. That was my life for 14 years of my marriage and I have 6 kids ages 12 to 1. 

It is a delightful experience to chat with my husband inside a clean bedroom and go to sleep on clean sheets and to actually know where my Bible is currently before I start Morning Prayer. Order is not something I do to impress other people outside my home. Order is something I do so that I can get more stuff done cheerfully inside my life. 

I feel like I cook for my husband and my 2 hungry sons. I do laundry for my fashion conscious girls who love to dress with style. I feel like I clean my house for me, and me alone.

How did I get here? Here are a few steps in my individual journey. We all have our own journey's into "Order", so don't feel like this is a road map. More like a "suggestion list." 

1. A life change book for me was "The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris. After reading that book, I made a philosphical switch. I learned that doing routine, daily, boring "housework" could actually help me write, pray and think better. Intellectual work is tough. I find that once I get my hands dirty, my head is really free to work out whatever knot I've currently tied myself into. Now I'm so thankful to get to do both. I live a life of the mind and also of hard work.

2. There is a website called "Unf*** Your Habitat." It has a cuss word. It is not the usual Catholic Mom fare. What I learned from that website was 2 pearls of wisdom. A) The 20/10 rule. Clean for 20 minutes and then stop. B) Just Care About Making Your Living Space Better, Not Perfect. With young kids and a non-sleeping baby, it's easy to feel like "I'm working so hard but nothing is getting clean around here!" That depressing thought process made me want to give up. I learned how to judge myself gently. Did the living space look "better?" Then it was a success. It helped me to go on Tumbler and look at real life messy situations. I feel like I learned how to be kinder to myself on that site. I also learned how to unclog a drain with a baking soda volcano. It felt impossible to stay bitter about housecleaning after that fun gem!

3. Rest In My Work. There are times as a Mother of Young Children than I want to fall over because I am so tired during my day. Sometimes it feels like I can't handle another step. My old habit was to curl up in a ball on the couch and watch mindless TV. (I don't even think that was necessarily the wrong thing to do while I was breastfeeding a small kid last year. But now that he's 1, I can do a little more work for myself and family other than simply holding a newborn).

 Now when I get that feeling and it's not my previously scheduled "Me Time," I tell myself keep going and "Rest In Your Work." I learned that concept from the Benedictine Sisters. It's supernatural. I find that if I keep to my constant routine, like putting the young girls to bed the exact same way every nightand doing Night Prayer, and all the other stuff I just to  skip out of whenever I was "too tired", I'll get a lift in the middle of doing my work. Then when I rest, which is usually from 4-6 AM each morning and 9:30-10:00 PM each night, I'm really "resting", not hiding from my work.

My view of housework is that I do to take care of myself. I brush my teeth. I pay my bills. I clean my floors. It is certainly possible to write a novel inside my bathrobe. I write do write in my bathrobe from 6 AM to 7 AM almost every weekday morning. But taking charge of a household routine means that after 7 AM, there are clean clothes hung neatly in my closet to change into after my writing time. I have the confidence to spontaneously invite people over to dinner. My kids are just a tad more independent of me in their daily life if things are already in their place. 

What am I doing with all this extra time? I'm organizing an Environmental Film Festival in two locations over the six months!

Best wishes for everyone figuring out a calm order inside their own homes. We all deserve a beautiful and comfortable place to live! Loveliness isn't just a gift for the rich or for company. We deserve an "everyday" kind of gracefilled order because everyone single one of us is important with big gifts to share with our troubled world.