I’m a driven, organized type A personality with OCD tendencies. A large family and many hobbies keep me from being a total neat freak, but I love having my life organized. I love making lists and crossing things off my lists. Everything needs to be done yesterday, or at the latest, today. If my house is messy, my brain feels messy.
Secretly, I didn’t even consider myself a Type A person, I considered myself a Type AAA, the Energizer Bunny who could work circles around others.
I started our as a new wife and mom with high expectations and ambitions.
The early years we rented not-very-nice apartments and trailers. Much cleaning was necessary, especially with crawling and toddling kids who lived on the floor. Potty training kids in a bathroom with 70’s pee-catching wall-to-wall carpeting increased my work load. When I discovered that toddlers love to teeth on the toilet seat and splash in the toilet bowl, that increased my freak-out level about germs and I cleaned my bathroom almost daily.
By the time I had five kids under nine, it was hard to keep up. We were caretakers of a huge farmstead out in the country, so those chores were added to the regular household chores. I canned and froze vegetables from our big garden for the winter. With three home-cooked meals and three loads of laundry a day, bed-wetting and barfing added enough stress to make me wanna’ call Uncle. Long after the kids were tucked into bed I was folding laundry, prepping food, and creating homeschool lesson plans for the next day. My husband traveled for work, so I was alone about every other week.
One night I morphed onto the vintage couch that came with our rental home, too tired to move off the scratchy mohair and too tired to cry. I reviewed the useless advice I was getting.
“You need to cut things out of your life.”
“You look so tired, you should get more sleep.”
“You need to take time for yourself.”
What should I cut out? Cooking? Laundry? Cleaning the bathroom? As enticing as these options appeared, they weren’t viable. Apart from tranquilizing the kids, how can a young mom get more sleep? Time for myself? Little kids need you 24/7. That admonition didn’t come with an offer to babysit, so made it even more useless.
I determined to find ways to keep up and teach my kids life skills without going crazy.
My second major priority overhaul occurred when I spent my 40’s fighting thyroid cancer. By then I had six kids, four were teenagers, and had just moved to a new state. Moms with chronic health issues are forced daily to choose how to invest their limited strength. Instead of a To Do List, there’s a long I Can’t Do List. You choose about about one thing a day. If you shop for groceries, you might be too tired to put them away. If you do laundry, there’s no energy to make dinner.
It can cause a faith crisis facing the reality that you can’t DO parenting, you can only BE a parent. You sit on the couch, watch your hubby and kids do what they can, forget the rest, and parent your children.
I had the loosen the rubber bands and stop striving for perfection. These are some of the Type B strategies I’ve adapted to balance the demands with priorities.
1. Do One Fun Thing a Day
It’s easy to forget we’re home to be with the kids, not the house. That’s why I love the term Stay at Home Mom, instead of housewife. I set aside time each day to do One Fun Thing, like puzzles, games, play-doh, or a picnic outside, and played with my kids. This motivated us to finish our school and chores. Oh, and I learned that going down a 14 foot high slide on waxed paper can be really, really fun, but really, really dangerous. I had some serious road rash to prove it.
2. Don’t Redo Kids’ Chores
Those bed wrinkles bother you? Hate it when the washcloths are folded and the four corners don’t perfectly line up? Get over it. 🙂 Ask the kids for help and let them do it to the best of their ability. Provide instruction and demonstration, but understand it takes awhile for them to gain the skillset and the desire to do the chore our way. Let precariously balanced towels fall out of the cupboard. Consequences speak louder than mom’s words. When age appropriate ask them to redo the chore correctly. Not you.
3. Use Paper Plates and Napkins
Each package was a dollar. That’s right. A dollar saved me hours of doing dishes the years when we didn’t have a dishwasher. The white ones without dye or wax are biodegradable and break down easily in landfill or compost. It’s money well spent.
4. Invest in
An acquaintance once said it was easier to be a Proverbs 31 Woman in the past because they had servants. I view appliances that save time and energy as today’s servants. The new dryer from my in-laws was my first life-changer. I still thank the Lord for their kindness at a time when I was spending hours hanging laundry. After that, my hubby and I vowed to always budget for the appliances we needed to raise our kids. A four slotted toaster was another life-changer, especially since our two slotter only cooked on one side and required two pop-downs to toast two pieces of bread. Don’t buy the fanciest and most expensive, budget in what you need.
5. Grill More
I thaw and marinade the meat so hubby can come home after a long day in the office and easily help out. He loves to cook, so it’s less time in kitchen for me, healthier meals, and less clean-up.
6. Enforce Laundry Rules
I stopped searching the house for every sock and towel.
If it wasn’t in the laundry room, it didn’t get washed. Period. Amen. (Only exception was if we needed nice clothes for Sunday or an event.) Clothes are immediately folded and placed into each child’s laundry basket and they’re expected to put it away. This saves from re-drying and ironing. Read more about my laundry system. Laundry Room. Hamper. Dryer. Homemade Laundry Detergent.
7. Let My Linen Closet Go
Nobody sees it. If they do, so what? Besides, I can’t reach that top shelf. Despite the bajillion Pinterest tutorials on folding sheets, git ‘er dun is good enough for me. Shelves are assigned for dishes, towels, sheets, and blankets, and I annually sort/purge/organize the massive cavern.
8. Accept Help
We don’t like help because we like it done exactly, precisely, and perfectly our way. Or, we’re too proud to admit we need help.
A young married woman came to help when I was eight months pregnant with my fifth child. I’ll never forget Jennifer’s disappointment when she realized I’d denied her the blessing of serving me by cleaning before she arrived. When Lauren came after my cancer recurrence, I allowed her to paint, clean, and purge my closets.
I also learned to not criticize help. So what if the bowls are in the wrong cupboard or the handles to the coffee mugs aren’t all facing the left? Next time you hear, “Let me know if you need anything” give them a job. Seriously, take them up on their offer. Let someone bless you.
9. Invite People into Heart, not House
Hospitality before pride was a lesson I learned from Karen Mains’ book. When I moved to my current neighborhood, I let neighbors know I liked drop-by company and I didn’t want us to clean for each other. We needed real friends. This has served us well and our homes are open to one another.
It doesn’t matter if your furniture is old and your food is not gourmet. People need you, not your Martha Stewart decorating tips. And, you need people. Whatever you’re going through, don’t go it alone. Open your home.
10. Change Convictions
As a young Christian mom raising kids for Jesus, I had this twisted notion that since raising kids was my job and my home was my office, my home reflected how well I was doing as a parent. A clean house means your house is clean. There are no merit badges for Lack of Dust or Spotless Glasses. I still love a clean and organized home, but the pride, misplaced priorities, and the spiritualizing had to go. It was Benjamin Franklin, not Jesus, who said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” When you stand before the Lord, you will not be judged on your housekeeping skills, but on your faith and deeds.
11. Toys aren’t Mess
Play is a child’s work and toys are their tools. When we didn’t have a family room it drove me crazy to have toys all over. I learned that dirt, grime, and garbage are messes, not toys. I gritted my teeth and let them spread out and play. Each evening we picked up the living room so we could start fresh the next day. However, sometimes Lego creations, Barbie houses, and forts would stay up for days. When we had a family room, they weren’t allowed to play in the living room, so I always had one clean room in the house. One. Only one, but who’s counting?
12. Project Mess isn’t Mess
If I put my sewing machine or craft project away every time, I wouldn’t finish anything. Outta’ sight, outta’ mind. Creativity can be chaotic, but needs to be cultivated. I would tidy up the area, but not put the entire project away.
13. Allow Company to Help
I went from being the Hostess with Mostess, pampering and waiting on company, to not having enough energy to make morning coffee. This is when I developed Help Yourself Hospitality for Breakfast and Drinks. People enjoy being treated as family, not company. There’s nothing that makes me happier than to see a guest open up my cupboards and rifle for a snack, other than when they stretch out and put their feet on my couch. I want them to make themselves at home.
14. Accept Not Mother or MIL
Hubby and I were raised by two amazing women. My MIL labeled and placed every picture in a photo album. Every. Single. Picture. My mom can cook, clean, sew, can, fix, or bargain-shop anything and everything. She even sewed a new canvas top for a tent trailer.
Neither expected me to be them, I put that pressure on myself. My mom is proud of me and doesn’t care that I don’t always cook from scratch like her. In fact, she’s more than happy to jump in my kitchen when she visits, knowing I appreciate the help and they might go hungry if she didn’t. Trying to measure up keeps us from enjoying the older women in our lives and from developing our own interests and abilities.
While this saying might always be true, our work doesn’t have to exhaust and overwhelm. We each need to choose coping strategies that work well with our time, energy, budget, and family. In some areas we might have to become more Type A efficient, in other areas we might have to loosen our rubber bands and become more Type B.
Losing my Type A perfectionist tendencies lifted a burden and allowed my home to be more open and welcoming. Going Type B wasn’t so bad, after all.
What are some of your favorite coping strategies?