How Clean is Your House?

V at about 11 months old, helping with the laundry!

V at about 11 months old, helping with the laundry!

If you are a SAHM/D, and you’re anything like me, you can’t help wondering how much cleaning is enough?  I remember the early days of motherhood, when I was spending 8+ hours nursing a day (my daughter nursed A LOT) and did not have much time for anything else.  Still, I struggled to prepare meals, clean clothes, and do the basic sorts of tidying that have to happen to function in a house.  In addition we had just moved, so I had to get organized whether I wanted to spend my time that way or not.

I am a clean freak.  I have been known to have it out with my poor husband over shaved hairs on the bathroom counter and to wear a baby in a bjorn to scrub my foyer by hand in addition to wiping down the surfaces of closet doors and all the moldings.  I remember, after this frenzy, confiding in my girlfriend, mother of two, that I had no idea how I was supposed to balance detailed housework with motherhood, and when I started elaborating on the types of things I was juggling, she sort of snorted.  Like specifically at my baseboard cleaning.  Then very gently said, “I don’t know when I’ve last cleaned my baseboards…”  I felt a flood of relief fill my heart, as I thought, well, maybe I can let that go.

But it did raise the question:  how much cleaning is part of the SAHM/D job, and what is above and beyond the call of duty?  All parents struggle with balance and juggling household chores.  But for SAHM’s or SAHD’s, managing both responsibilities can be especially challenging in that you have both duties all day.  And you can’t point to the pile of money you brought in to say, yup, I’ve done something of significance for our family.  Instead, you point to the freshly changed sheets, or the dust-free family room.  I remember reporting to my husband my list of daily accomplishments, like he was my supervisor or something.  He kept reassuring me, “I don’t need to know, hon.” Yet I felt like I had to prove myself, to demonstrate my contribution.  And I felt the numbing frustrations of waking up every day to redo the same work I had just completed, to show I was still holding my own.  Somehow, the fact that we could not measure the efforts and energy I was expending into mothering, made me feel I needed some tangible evidence that I was producing.  I found it hard to let go of the world of work and embrace the more subtle giving that is parenting, day and night.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep up the pace.  As my daughter became mobile, and less inclined to be satisfied moving about rooms in her carrier as I cleaned, I had to give up the attempt.  Because being a mom, is ultimately more important to me, and I was paying attention to the previous generation of moms when they said, a bit wistfully, “It goes so fast…”  So now the decision is what is gonna give?  How much household work could I give up while maintaining a level of cleanliness that would make me still feel like I was productive and contributing (not taking advantage)?

I kept thinking, if I could only gauge what sort of household chore routines that other parents follow, I could at least have an idea of what the average parent is able to accomplish.  And maybe I could relax a bit.

There are weeks when I feel on top of everything, and then I’ll have one day of extended outings or errands, or a busy weekend where we do the pack up diaper, toy and food bags thing and then return and drop them along with purchases, mail, shoes, hairbows, etc.  Then it feels like I am being literally buried alive under the weight of clutter.  This week, I took a laundry basket through the house, collecting items and redistributing them along the way.  I had a moment where I felt like everywhere I looked, something was out of sorts.  So I took my daughter for a walk, and came back with some energy to tackle a few tasks.  Some miscellaneous items still remain in the basket.

I have to face the fact that being a parent means there is always work to be done.  When the last piece of laundry is folded for the week, we discard three more outfits that night into the laundry baskets.  When the dishes are unloaded from the dishwasher, the ones waiting on the countertop slide into the freshly vacated slots.  When a diaper is changed and bath given, the next will be needed, usually immediately following the next meal!  When a book is read, V will want me to “read again, mama.”  There will always be a household task vying with my daughter for attention.  Add my own needs, and the needs of my relationship as a wife to the mix, and there are times when I can feel like I’m attached to a medieval torture device that pulls me, at every limb, stretching me like Gumby.

There will always be items in every basket in my life that require attention.  The trick is to know when to switch gears.  I tell myself my priority is always my daughter, but I’m not always perfect with this intention.  There are times when I finish the dishes, and times when I let them wait to read a book or take a walk with my daughter.  I’m learning to trust more in my ability to read my daughter’s needs when determining what tasks I am able to tackle in a given time frame.  But I still think that it is helpful for parents to share household strategies to help us gauge when we’ve done a good day’s work!  I’m curious to know what my SAH partners in grime do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

So, I’ll start by sharing my household routines and I hope, hope, hope, you will share yours as well!  Please note that my husband does help with all the below as needed!  I want him to get his fair share of respect as a hard-working at work and home, Daddy!

Decluttering:  every moment of every day, it seems!

Dishes:  daily, sometimes twice daily

Laundry:  I devote a day to this once a week, but throw in loads throughout the week to keep on top of it

Floors:  vacuum multiple times a week; swiffer mop as needed; handwash usually once every two/three weeks

Bathrooms:  once a week with some touch ups; wash rugs and floors usually once a month

Linens:  launder once a week, sometimes twice in hot weather

Dusting:  at least one room per week (I have 5 rooms, so every room gets done at least once a month, but some more frequently)

Cooking:  at least two meals a day; husband helps with this

Bills:  as they come in

Recycling:  my husband does this biweekly

Lawn care:  I weed and trim hedges as needed; water gardens daily; my husband mows

Car maintenance:  I take the car for oil changes; usually my husband gases up the car and takes for inspections

Home projects:  these are the areas we struggle with; we do them when we can!

Every day I read to my daughter, take her outside for a walk and/or additional play time, we include play dates, library trips, park excursions in our weekly planning.  We do crafts or art at least twice a week and build in time-in where she can choose her play with her father or myself.

Reading all of this, and knowing all of the one-time projects and tasks that I did not include as part of my daily routine in addition to the tasks of child care unrelated to learning and development, I can see for myself that I am holding my own.  I invite you to share your routines as a way to give some definition to the roles you juggle daily, because whether you are a SAH parent with few external boundaries and daunting internal expectations, or a parent who works outside the home who is throwing an additional role in the mix, we can all feel like we are never doing enough, never accomplishing enough.  Seeing all you do on paper can help you to see what is reasonable and how much cleaning is just too much!  We can detach ourselves from the self-torture by prioritizing our in-baskets and listing our successes, one clean sock or story time at a time.

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11 responses to “How Clean is Your House?

  • Juliana

    Wow, reading what you do made me feel lazy! I basically try to really stay on top of laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and dishes. I also try to keep the Family room and kitchen (our two main living areas where we spend the most time) free of as much clutter as possible, vacuumed, etc. Next priority is bathrooms. I just do them on a need-to-do basis. When I notice they are grungy, I do it, otherwise I don’t! Everything else like dusting, mopping, windows seriously only happens when Visitors are coming! Isn’t that horrible? But, I prioritize doing fun stuff with the kids. I already feel bad enough doing the most basic household chores. They seem to take a lot of time away from my kids already. Now you know why I never talk on the phone! 🙂

    • pmlevitt

      Honey, you have two more than me. When I have more (?), I’m sure the list will be further adapted! As for windows, we move so much, I’ve, um…never had to do them? Ok, I did them once when we moved into one rental, but a yearly project, right…

  • Juliana

    To clarify so you don’t think I’m disgusting: the floors do get cleaned constantly because we have so many spills all day long every day. But, I don’t pull out the mop and do the whole thing at once except when Company is coming. Don’t judge me 😉

    • pmlevitt

      No judgment there. Our floors are while and show EVERYTHING. And swiffer doesn’t get the stuff up because of the texture of the linoleum…otherwise it might be less frequent!

  • Kristin @ What She Said

    On a daily basis, I cook and Hubs does the dishes and we both tidy and straighten. Home organization projects get done randomly, when we feel like tackling them and have the time. Hubs mows the lawn once every week or two, as needed, and I water the flowers and maintain my container garden. And Hubs takes care of all the finances.

    Cleaning-wise, we budgeted in a cleaning lady and she has been a godsend, truly. She comes once a month. Between cleanings, though, we only vacuum occasionally, and keep the shower/sinks/toilet [somewhat] clean. But that’s about it. So… betcha never want to come over to our house again! 😉

    • pmlevitt

      Your house is immaculate; at least the parts that we see! You are working full-time girl, so it makes sense to have some help! With V and I both at home, all day, nearly every day, our house gets some serious wear and tear. Particularly now, that all mama’s stuff is cool and gets hauled about the house! I found her in my laundry rm this am putting on my boots! Gotta love it and laugh about it though! I”m sure the house will be cleaner when she’s off to college; will probably feel like a mausoleum!

  • Annie Boreson

    Wow…I got tired just reading the daily chores. I know I did them too, but if you continue to meet all those needs, sometimes things unravel. I remember some real frustration when kids tossed things all over the house and husband did the same. I knew I was losing it when I wrote “Get A Divorce” on my To-Do list. I truly did. That scared me. Then I began to relax and let live…and let go. Maybe my house wasn’t as clean as it used to be, but my kids were happier and I was too.

    • pmlevitt

      I agree! M and I started giving each other nights off, to help with meeting said needs. It helps! Having do-nothing days (well, do-less days) helps too! And building in days where V and I just leave the house for adventures and rambles makes a big difference. It is a lot, the tasks we are all juggling. I found when I finally let go, my husband is there to step in, and where I can’t, we just deal with it! I think it gets easier, as one gets more comfortable doing the juggling, to know what ball to let rest, and when. That is so hard during early motherhood, where you are trying to navigate everything and are judging yourself by what everyone else seems to be doing well. After a while, you are right, you just need to relax and let go.

  • MEL

    I think you do a great job, especially considering how much time needs to be spent running after V and entertaining her.

  • Sara

    Another house cleaning slacker here 😉
    Decluttering: once or twice a day (any more and I make myself NUTS trying to keep up with the toy trail!) The kids do it with my cheerleading and organizational help generally
    Dishes: 1-2 x/day
    Laundry: almost a load every day, but I only fold 1-2 x/week
    Floors: everyday on the main floors now that baby is crawling and putting everything in his mouth! the rest.. umm.. as needed!
    Linens: you’re supposed to wash these?! honestly, when they start to look dirty
    Dusting: as needed when I see it or company is coming 🙂
    Cooking: all the time!
    Bills: M. does this mostly
    Outside: M. mows and does most other routine outside stuff. I do trimming, watering as needed
    Projects: when is there time? The list is endless, but it’s hard to give up huge chunks of time for this when I’d rather have family time.
    My kids definitely take priority, but I definitely slack more in the cleaning department than I should (especially at the end of the week… like now!)

  • pmlevitt

    Doesn’t sound like slacking to me! I cannot seem to keep up with the kid clutter this week, and yet I’m online on my blog while we have crayons, games, barn and castle playsets scattered about. The kid clutter makes home, well,homey, right?

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