Friday, April 18, 2014

How Clean Should You Keep Your House? {I will no longer apologize for having a clean house!}

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I started this post really thinking I need to prepare myself to slacken up on my standard of clean for my house. As I have gone through my thoughts on it, and as I have read comments from readers and my friends on Facebook, I have come to a conclusion--an epiphany of sorts for myself. I will no longer feel the need to apologize for having a clean house! Now, mind you, it is FAR from as clean as I would ideally prefer it to be. Way far. My house has literally not been in my ideal version of clean for over 7 years (I thought this through). Sometimes, my house is downright a complete disaster, in fact (like last week when I read Ender's Game all day and did zero cleaning. That was of course the day my neighbor came over for a surprise visit. But I didn't care--she is a mom, too, so I know her house is messy sometimes. Guess what--if mom does zero cleaning and people continue to live at home that day, it gets bad). But most of the time for the most part, it is in a state I am not embarrassed for any random person to drop by and see what is going on.

Surprisingly to me, the Mommy Wars has not seemed to extend all the way into cleaning your house. For some reason we have no trouble criticizing menu choices, sleeping locations, and discipline methods quite harshly. But the definition of clean isn't the subject of extreme venom among mothers (or am I missing it?). Why this area of truce? I am not sure.

Despite lack of name-calling, there are little comments that get made. Those who prefer a sterilized environment make comments about the health of their children and those who prefer to do less cleaning make comments about happier children existing in messy homes. For the most part, however, people remain pretty understanding about different people having different standards of clean in their homes.

Guess what. I like to clean. I like a clean house. I like clean. I have always liked clean. It is who I am. It isn't who I was raised or trained to be. It is me. My mom is one who doesn't mind a messy house (at least not enough to fight the mess much). I am not criticizing my mom--it is her. She would much rather be out cleaning horse stalls than cleaning bathrooms. I, on the other hand, would a million times more prefer to be cleaning the bathroom.

You know how people say kids are happier in messier homes? Maybe that is true for some, but it wasn't for me. While still in elementary school, I created a chore chart for my family (including my parents) and I was quite dismayed when they didn't follow the chores I had outlined for them. I did a lot of cleaning at my house growing up, which I don't think my mother minded. I liked the house best clean as a child and I feel the same way today.

And because of that, I will no longer apologize or feel guilty for having a clean house!

After I wrote Balancing Household Responsibilities with Family Time last week, my husband gave me a call. In it I talked about my conflict with keeping up on household responsibilities and family time. My husband called me and said, essentially, "I wanted you to know that I think you do an awesome job at balancing between the family and the house." He then elaborated on why and told me he was surprised I felt the way I did, but he supported me if I felt like I needed some improvement.

I thought about it from a subjective point of view--looking at facts. My house is usually clean, but I don't clean all day. I am naturally organized, which helps. I stay on top of things, which helps. I have my kids help clean, which helps (a TON!). But I only clean to a certain point in the day (usually by 10 AM, I am done until nighttime pick up). I spend time with each child each day. For example, McKenna and I spend an hour together each day playing board games right now--just me and her. They do get time and attention from me. We spend a lot of time together as a family.

Despite those facts, I have felt guilty about having a clean house. And why?

Here is the underlying message I pick up from cute sayings like, "Clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy" (which I do really like)--if your house is clean, your kids are neglected and unhappy.

That doesn't have to be true.

The time one mom spends on sewing, I might spend on cleaning instead. The time one person spends on pulling weeds, I might spend on vacuuming instead. And I am okay with that because I like it!

I have no doubt that there are plenty of moms who don't keep their houses as clean who feel like talk about keeping things sanitary for the health of their children is a stab at their level of concern for their health and wellness. I think it is time we all think through our own standards, accept them, and stop feeling guilty about it.

Now that I am done with the rambling, here is the post I originally wrote for today:


When I hurt my foot this past January, I was bed-bound. It wasn't fun. As much effort as my family put in to keeping up on things, it obviously is hard to replace a person in the family, especially the mom! Things slipped.

As I watched them slip, I took note of how life still flowed on. I also noticed how I liked not stressing about messes that were being made. Over the years, I have adjusted my expectations to help myself not be so stressed about messes, but I realized I hadn't released it all.

So it got me thinking. What should my standard be for a clean house? I believe it is important to have a clean house for many reasons. My brain is clearer when it is clean--which means I can mentally focus on other things better. I feel more calm when the house is clean. I believe the spirit of the Lord dwells where there is peace, and I believe cleanliness can bring peace. There is a sanitary side to cleaning. I know for a fact my children sleep best when their rooms are clean. There are many reasons I like a clean house.

But what should my definition of "clean" be at this point in my life?

On Facebook a while back, I asked you all what your hardest thing is about being a stay at home mom. There were many comments surrounding this idea. How clean should we keep our house? How do we find that balance? And how do we know how to achieve a balance when we aren't sure exactly what we are trying to balance? I also remember seeing this topic of "How often should xyz be cleaned" often on shows like Oprah back in the day. This topic has long been examined.  

You know that quote--trying to keep a house clean with children at home is like shoveling snow during a blizzard. Ha! It is true. That is why I have adopted my personal rule that I only clean at certain times of day. It is easier to "shovel" a couple of times a day than it is to shovel all day long.
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I enjoy cleaning. Really enjoy it. I like the process as much as I like the results. But something definitely needs to give during the blizzard. So what measuring sticks should we use when deciding how clean to keep the house? I have some ideas.

Decide What is Necessary
How often is needed for something to be clean enough that it is sanitary? This topic actually has people on different ends of the extremes. Some worry about bacteria building up everywhere and you can soon find yourself feeling like a lousy parent for allowing such a variety of things to be growing in your house by your neglect of every nook and cranny. 

There are also those who say that having a house too clean leads to children developing allergies (this has long been a favorite of my mother's because as much as I like to clean, she hates it. And, anecdotally, I have no allergies). The idea here is similar to the point of vaccinations; small exposure to pathogens allows the body to build up immunity to it. Also, having pathogens to fight prevents the body from fighting allergens instead.

You have to decide what you are comfortable with. How clean do you think things need to be? What absolutely needs to be cleaned each week? In what way? What is necessary to do to keep your family healthy?

My personal opinion here is in the "moderation" view. I don't think the house needs to be hospital clean. But I don't think things should be left to grow in the house, either :).

You know what you think. How often should the bathroom be cleaned? Some say once a week. Some more often. Some are happy with once a month. What do you think?

Decide What is Good Enough
Do you know what I would find ideal? My base boards would be cleaned once a month. My blinds wouldn't collect dust. My ceiling fans would be wiped clean at least once a month...I could go on. But those things don't happen here. I have my list of what is necessary and most of the time, necessary is all we have time for. So those things are good enough. If you took a stroll through my house today, you would find several rooms with sparkling base moldings (I have recently cleaned some) and several rooms with dirty base moldings (it has been a while).

The point here is that so long as you have kids, you are most likely going to have to drop your ideal standards some. Have the baseline "good enough" worked out in your head.

Keep it in a State of "Non-Embarrassment"
This is a big thing for me. I want to be comfortable enough with my house that I won't hesitate to invite anyone in who shows up at my door. So what needs to be done for this to happen? Do a quick pick-up of the area by your front door each day so you can be in a state of ready.

Keep in mind, anyone with kids knows from personal experience that sometimes the house is a complete disaster. We all know it! My good friend and neighbor has seen my house it its absolute worst states ever. She is similar to me and really likes a clean house (and she has 8 kids so her battle is more intense than mine). When she walks in on my disasters, she never bats an eye. And for some reason, she still perpetuates the myth that my house is always clean. Perhaps it is because she knows that in reality, if you have children, the house will be dirty at times. It just will. So even with my non-embarrassment policy and efforts, there are times the house is perfectly embarrassing. And those are usually the times people drop by.
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Make a List of Priorities
This is keeping along the same train of thought I have been on. Now you have an idea of what your policies are for clean. What are some other things you find important for your day each day beyond cleaning tasks? What about meals? What about time with kids? What about gardening? What about prayer and scripture study? What do you need to do to get kids ready for each day? What about time with your spouse? To read more on my tips for finding balance among all of these things, see this post.

Deciding these priorities will help you get a reality check with how much of your necessary cleaning will be able to happen.
Simplify the "Stuff"
It is a million times easier to keep a house clean if you don't have too much stuff in your house. If everything has a spot in the house, it is easier to clean up the stuff. Taking the time to reorganize drawers and closets is well worth your time!
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Don't Overschedule
It is also a million times easier to keep the house clean if you are able to spend some time at your house. If you are always running from place to place, you obviously can't clean. And then things land in random places and stay there for a while.

As You Clean
Have your children help you clean (more on that below). There will be times your child will vie for your attention as you are cleaning. I have two thoughts. It isn't bad for a child to learn to entertain herself. If she isn't helping you, it doesn't mean you must entertain her. It is okay for a child to play by herself or with a sibling for a bit while you do something.

It is also okay for your child to learn to be patient. If you are cleaning up breakfast and your child wants you do to something for her, it is perfectly fine for you to say, "I am happy to help you in five minutes when this is done." What a great time for your child to practice some patience! Brinley is 20 months old and she waits patiently. Any child can do it (this is assuming it is a non-emergency situation).

Sometimes the child just really does need you. This is a moment to drop the cleaning and attend to the child. I don't just mean some physical emergency. Sometimes Brinley grabs my leg with a "Mama!" that I know means she needs some loving. At that moment, I pick her up and decide to kiss her 100 times. I usually get to about 20-30 before she is pushing me away and wants to get down. I go at least ten kisses beyond her first protest, then I put her down and she happily goes along with playing.
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Realize it WILL Get Messy Again (Soon)
It will get messy! Cleaning is a constant practice. It isn't something you do once and move on. It gets messy faster than you would like. Accept this fact to stay sane.
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Allow Kids to Make Messes
When I was pregnant with Brinley, it was hard to keep up with the kids and any mess made me stressed out. This carried over. Once my foot was hurt, I saw the messes could be cleaned up quickly, especially with their help. So the biggest thing for me that changed with my hurt foot was that I stopped worrying about how big the mess was.

There is balance here. I don't think kids should be allowed to run through the house pulling out every thing that suits their fancy. No ransacking. But it is okay for messes to be made during normal playing. Even big messes.
Enlist the Troops
By troops, I mean the kids. Kids are more likely to be reasonable in their mess-making if they know they will be required to help with the mess-cleaning. So allow them to have fun making those creative messes, but require them to help clean those up. A big mess is overwhelming to a child, so make sure as you clean, you give them one task to focus on at a time. Don't be afraid to make it fun--sing songs, set the timer, race, etc.

Even if it isn't a mess the child made directly, I am a HUGE believer in families working together to get chores done around the house. This is time you can spend together. Having the cleaning task before you helps you both to be more emotionally willing to open up and have sincere conversations. These are moments your children will share what is on their soul.
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Evaluate Where Time is Spent
I feel like we as parents and people know when we aren't spending as much time where it should be. We know when a child needs more attention and time. We know, if we take the time to think about it, if we are spending more time than we should on any one thing. We get that guilty feeling inside. It doesn't take long to think, "I should cut back my Internet surfing" or "I need to give myself a break before I pick up that next book" or "I need to make sure I read my scriptures first thing in the morning so I don't keep putting it on the back burner and forgetting about it." With some contemplation and honest evaluation, we can all correct ourselves. I would expect we all need to correct ourselves often. Not evaluating your time spent is like traveling by foot from New York City to Los Angelas and not checking the map frequently. You can easily get off course and realize you are far from your life's goals if you don't frequently reevaluate.

Standards of Clean
Here are some "standards" you shared with me. I think something to notice here is that there is a variety of answers. I think that shows you--you choose what works for you.

"I know many people who would think my house is not near clean enough for them, but it works for us. I hate to clean and I work 20 hrs a week so I do what I can." Petra

"My standard is that my bathrooms and kitchen HAVE to be first priority, everything else is a matter of just being picked up and I do it as I can BUT dirty kitchen and bathrooms are my focus and I try and stay on top of them. " Garity

"My standards are clean kitchen, clean counters/surfaces, swept floors, uncluttered, and generally tidy. Things aren't spotless, but with kids and pets, there's no way to keep it that way without neglecting my family in favor of cleaning. I think a reasonable amount of dirt is healthier than a completely sanitized environment." Erin

"I can live with a gross bathroom but not with dirty hard floors, for some reason!" Katie

" I make sure the kitchen is clean and things are orderly, table wiped down, clothes clean, floors vacuumed once a week, bathrooms cleaned once a week. Dusting I honestly don't do nearly enough, maybe once every 2 months?" Amanda

" I jokingly say that Heavenly Father has a sense of humor and he looked down on me and said "She is OCD. Send her 5 kids. That'll cure that!" Some day it will be spotless again, but until then it needs to be clean enough that if someone prepared food in a house in my house's state, I would still eat the food, and the toilet better be clean enough that I would use it without covering the seat with toilet paper!" Alicia

"I clean bathrooms at least once a week. The kitchen is a daily thing - dishes done every night, counters and table wiped down. I usually do laundry on Mondays and Fridays. I also vacume every day as well - we have two dogs and I hate the hair!" Amy

"I agree each kid made me less odc! But I am a bleacher at least once a week!:)" Beth

"I do have a sign on my wall that says "Good Moms have sticky floors, laundry piles, messy ovens and HAPPY kids" and I truly believe it. That being said, I don't want my home to be dirty. Messy or cluttered I dislike but tolerate. Dirty - ie, dishes in the sink all day, crumbs on the counters and tables, too much dirty laundry in the hampers, or dust bunnies in the corner of the hallways. " Jennie

" after my second child came along 2 years after my first I realized I had to just let some of it go because there are more important things in life than cleaning! However,  I keep a very clean house. Spotless, no. Presentable at all times, yes. " Elaine

"My house only gets really cleaned when we have people coming over for dinner... I pretty much do the bare minimum after work and dinner -- what I absolutely must do before I collapse into bed at night." Julia

"It is important that the house is clean, no dust, bacteria etc, however, for a pregnant mom, working mom, any mom, sometimes the house gets unorganized, but hygiene is number 1 priority" Meli

"I like the appearance of a clean house - so no clutter - but sometimes dusting or the less obvious forms of cleaning take a backseat when life is busy (ie newborn, sick, etc) and I think we have to let ourselves be ok with that every once in awhile " Lacey

" I attempt to keep it clean, but it doesn't rule my life. " Anita

"To me, a clean (not immaculate) house makes me happy so it is a priority." Rita

"Picking up, swiffer vac on the floors (we have all wood), wiping the counter and a clean sink are my basics, no matter the season. I'll do it after kids are down if I have to start the next day fresh and it doesn't take long at all. For real cleaning (dusting, mopping, bathrooms), I take some time on the weekend when my hubby is home to blitz it rather than trying to clean all week and feel like I can't be available to my kids. " Bethany


"I tend to let things go and make the kids a priority, but then my husband comes home and is totally stressed out by the disorder. So I tend to try and keep up with a threshold of organization and cleaning that maintains peace in our home. Sometimes that means letting the dishes go and focusing on two needy toddlers, other days it means turning on a show and vacuuming the entire house. Everyone has to give and take. In the end though, I'm more concerned with the spirit in our home and whatever might be detracting from it." Alyssa

"I agree the home needs to be sanitary and pay for that now every two weeks. (80$) I think it is worth the expense to be able to spend time together without feeling drawn to clean." Katie

"Each day, I make sure the kitchen is clean and living area is clean. I also like the beds made, that happens around 75% of the time. Each day, I try and do 1 cleaning task- additional dusting, or cleaning fridge, or wiping down all appliances, or scrubbing a bathtub, or organizing 1 closet. We have 5 kids, so Saturday morning everyone helps w/chores. " Sandee

Pearls of Wisdom
I had many readers and friends share things I loved. I wanted you to read them, too.

"I'm going with comfortably lived in." Danielle

"I think a house needs to be clean, but not be more important than the time you could be doing something with the kids:)" My Aunt Lisa


"tidy and reasonably clean.... but most important a place your family wants to be" Jan

"I need an orderly environment but I have been freed knowing that there are seasons in which it must move down on the priority list simply because maintaining the same standard causes a lot of mental stress." Rachel

"As long as Natalie has clean floors to crawl on, the bathrooms and kitchen are sanitary I am calling that good enough for now." Lisa

"My grandmother has a little sign in her house...saying its "clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy." I think that's a good spot to be in. " Erin

"I believe that for many women, myself included, the state of the home is part of our identity. So we judge ourselves harshly and feel judged by others depending on how clean and attractive it is. But I don't believe this is a healthy way to think; I think scripture teaches that there are higher priorities in life and we need to work against our instincts sometimes to put first things first such as family relationships and hospitality." Penny

" As I know these days will not last forever I see clutter as the visual reminder that my body did what it was designed to do and provided some much life in our home. I will clean and de clutter when he goes to college." Katie

3 comments:

Jenna Purkey said...

Hey Valerie, thank you so much for your blog. It has been so helpful with our first baby. Jason is 9 weeks old and we have been doing babywise from the start. Since week 2 he's been sleeping 5-5.5 hours for his first stretch at night. He has a really tough growth spurt last Saturday-Wednesday where he slept less than that and had awful naps. I'm trying really hard to get him back to 1 1/2 to 2 hour naps but have not succeeded yet. He naps anywhere from 30-60 minutes so the eat-wake-sleep cycle has been very difficult to maintain with these short naps. Also, his nighttime sleep has been all over the place, like tonight he woke up after only 4 hours. I'm getting extremely discouraged and frustrated and don't know what else to do. I know he needs to be napping better so he will sleep better but I'm at a loss. I've tried everything in the 45 minute intruder blogs and chapter and the waking early advice. Do you have any other advice for us?

Jenna Purkey said...

Hey Valerie, In case you have time to respond to my comment I wanted to update some info... Nighttime sleep has improved to 5.5-8 hours but is still unpredictable. Is that normal? We have been doing CIO for naps since he was 3 weeks old and it was getting better for a while but the last 3 weeks have just been getting worse. He sometimes cries for his entire nap. I've read all your sleep cues and wake time blogs and re-read those parts of the book. Will the crying eventually stop or should we try something else? I've been doing the S's, including sitting but after about 10 minutes in his bed, he starts crying. He isn't waking up early from them anymore once he actually falls asleep though.
Thanks for your time, I know you are busy and it's amazing how many moms you reach and minister to daily. I hope you had a great mother's day.
Jenna

maria smith said...

I love clean too but I have had to realize that I can't do it all. Sometimes we have dirty fans and baseboards, not to mention windows, but once in a while I call in a cleaning services. Those are very special days!!!

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