Housework has never been one of my great passions. I admire the people who keep perfect homes and would like for our house to look great whenever company chooses to knock on our door, but I am unwilling to spend so much time to reach that goal.
Besides to me it seems that there is no end to housework. As fast as I get it done, I have to start over again.
My solution when we had eight children, ranging in age from 1 to 11, running around here was to set the sweeper in the living room, and when company came unannounced to say, “Oh I was just starting to clean house, but I’d rather sit down and talk with you.”
Back then, small wooden signs were accepted décor. I had three favorites which I put above the woodwork over the doors to various rooms.
One said, “Work fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” Over the back door the sign said, “Our house is clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy.” The one that summed it all up said, “Insanity is inherited. We get it from our children.”
Company that announced they would be here a specific day usually motivated me to really clean house, top to bottom. No clutter was safe, and I defined clutter. That really developed creativity in the kids because they had to find hiding places for what they considered treasures and I thought was clutter.
They did pretty well. When we finally got a new furnace several years ago, we found out why we couldn’t get enough heat through the pipes to the boys’ room. It was unbelievable how many “treasures” they had stuffed down the register in their room.
Needless to say, spring cleaning was not a high priority activity for me. My mother, on the other hand was the queen of spring cleaning – except for one aunt who lived to keep her house clean. She absolutely glowed with pride when people would say, “”Helen, your house is so clean you could eat off the floor.” I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to eat off the floor.
Aunt Helen would call my mother on the phone twice a year. In March she would call to announce that she had her spring cleaning done, and early in September she proudly proclaimed that her fall cleaning was done. Then she’d coyly ask, “How are you coming with yours?”
My forthright, upstanding, Christian mother would confidently reply, “Ah, you beat me again, but not by very much.” When I overheard her one time, she held her head high and told me, “She should be done. She doesn’t have that much to do.”
When my oldest daughter reached what my mother considered an appropriate age, Mother told me she wanted her to help her with the spring cleaning. I think Mom figured that she would teach my girls how to clean house to make up for her failure with me. Actually I did feel a little ashamed of myself.
My daughter spent the day at Grandma’s house spring cleaning. When she came home fairly early in the afternoon, I asked her what she had done.
“Well, we cleaned the kitchen,” she replied.
“OK, so how does Grandma spring clean the kitchen?” I really wanted to know because I usually made myself scarce when my mother plunged into spring cleaning when I lived at her house. That was fine with Mom because she preferred to do it herself so she was sure it was all done right.
My 10-year-old looked thoughtful, and then she began, “Well, we emptied the cupboards and washed all the dishes, then we washed all the silverware and pots and pans, and we wiped down the cupboard fronts and everything, and…” She frowned, trying to remember everything, and finally decided to summarize the procedure, “We just did everything we do every night after supper.”
Suddenly I felt a whole lot better about my housekeeping abilities. I realized that what a small family has to do twice a year a large family does daily just to stay “clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate April 5, 2006.