Is it even possible to learn to enjoy household tasks? Not just to get them done, but even to like them? I believe it is.
When we as homeschooling mothers realize that education is about living well more than about subjects and tests and getting into college, we also begin to see that education applies even to us in our day to day life. As Augustine & C.S. Lewis tell us, education is about shaping our loves, making us love what we ought to love and hate what we out to hate.
So, fundamentally, we need love more than skill. Sometimes love follows skill (the heart follows the time the body puts in) and sometimes skill follows love (the body goes where the heart leads). But the important element either way is that the love is being shaped in the right direction. Continued growth in skill without growth in love leads to frustration, burn-out, and bad tempers.
So before we work at improving our skill or our children’s skill in housework, we need to open up our hearts to the process and be willing and ready to say, “I want to learn to love keeping my house.” Not tolerate it, not get it done most efficiently because it’s a necessary evil, but to learn to love that which must be done, as Goethe has said.
Our Attitude About Our Work
How is that even possible? In my experience, as someone who has considered housework a necessary evil and am in the process of recovery, it begins with small, seemingly insignificant steps:
- Don’t allow yourself to bad mouth housework. Love does not insult or belittle.
- Don’t keep an internal ledger of what you did that has been undone. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
- Don’t use housework as a beating stick on yourself, berating yourself for what needs to be done. Love is patient and kind.
But learning to love something must also include positive actions.
- Look at a small bit of the house made clean and notice and enjoy it.
- Rename the time. Call folding the laundry in your bedroom a retreat. Call washing dishes or sweeping the floor meditation time. It can be.
- Remember that it is transformative work, not mundane and useless work.
- Break up the routine work into “short lessons” Charlotte Mason style: don’t do the same activity (folding, washing, sweeping, etc.) for more than 10-15 minutes. Use a timer, beat it, change up what you’re doing, keep active and moving to remain upbeat.
The small step that has yielded the most attitude-transformation for me has actually been to just stop and look and notice after I’m done with a job. Noticing has helped me feel like I did something, know how a clean space feels, and given a moment of peace and rest as reward. In creation, God stopped, noticed His work, and called it good. Mimicking that pattern in our housework is surprisingly fruitful for our souls. It is like a 5 second Sabbath in the midst of everyday life: acknowledge that the work is good, that you did good, that God is good.
When we image God in our work by stopping to see it and call it good, by bringing order from chaos, we find true satisfaction in the mundane details. So often we think of cleaning house as something we do for ourselves: a clean house is what I want, so I’ll grab it for myself, cranky at everyone who frustrates my end goal of clean house. Or, perhaps if we decide we don’t want a clean house, then the frustration will go away. But both of these attitudes assume that it is work we do unto ourselves, for our own good. A clean house is for our good, but secondarily, not selfishly. It is for our good because it is where God has placed us and what God has put before us to do. It is stewarding the resources He has entrusted to us.
True satisfaction comes not in the (fleeting) end result itself, but in the obedience along the way.
Our own attitudes as we tackle our work affect us more than we realize, as well as the rest of the household. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy. But we can be happy, even in housework, because it is one of the good works God has called us to walk in – it is from Him and for Him.