Remember the days before kids? All your time was your own, your home was your own; you were the boss of you. I can’t imagine going back to those days before our children arrived, but there is one thing that I constantly struggle with. Disorder.
When we brought our first daughter home from hospital I followed all the advice that said ‘forget the housework, it will keep’. I also thought that the chaos this brought with it was temporary and once we got in to a ‘routine’ our house would go back to normal. In a way it did go back to normal – but the meaning of normal changed in a monumental way!
Normal became toys on the floor, a basket of washing that never ends, bibs, bunny rugs and rattles strewn around randomly. Nearly ten years on, and two more children, ‘normal’ is still toys on the floor, a basket of washing that never ends, but add to it dolls and their clothes strewn randomly, crayons, pencils, colouring books, lego, broken biscuits, abandoned apples, jigsaw puzzles, random runners, a football boot (or two or three), tutus (in various sizes)…anyway, you get the picture.
We have a happy home and the mess is coupled with lots of play, squeals, giggles and general household noise, but every now and then, there is the sound of a long, low sigh. That’s me, when I look around the room.
I catch myself gazing longingly at the Ikea catalogue, wishing for the same order in the catalogue to appear in my lounge room. Who knew that you could covet the inside of an Ikea catalogue? I have three children, my reality is that life is never going to look like the inside of an Ikea catalogue – not for a very long time.
I was lamenting this permanent state of disarray to some friends, when one explained that her husband was a ‘neat-freak’ and constantly paced the house putting things away as their sons moved on to the next activity. I sighed and said that I wished I could be like that.
He interjected and said ‘No you don’t. It’s like you’re a prisoner in your own mind, because it never ends; it’s constant and recurring and I feel like I can never rest.’ My friend continued, she said she can’t put down her cup of tea and go to the bathroom lest it be picked up, poured out and put in the dishwasher. She said it drove her mad.
Reflecting on this conversation, I weighed up which reality I’d prefer and concluded that my own reality of disorder (or organised chaos – depending on your perspective) was probably preferable.
Having said that, society dictates that we present an ordered face to the world; and indeed personal pride and good manners dictate the same. We do not advertise the regular mad scramble to get out the door, leaving breakfast dishes in the sink and beds unmade.
Nor do we advertise the fact that our home is really only perfectly coiffed when we are having guests.
Michelle Obama once explained that she was like a swan gliding serenely along the water, but below the surface she was paddling madly. I’m certain many women who are juggling a young family and a career would identify with this. Maintaining order requires discipline and constant vigilance, but disorder can be overwhelming. So what is the solution?
For the average person who would just like to reclaim a little calm amongst the calamity, there are things that you can do. Given that most of us are ‘time-poor’ these suggestions take between two and ten minutes to complete, and the calming effect is instant.
- Make the bed. This will always help you feel more in control. It is probably the quickest job for the most calming effect, which is why I recommend it first.
- Clear and wipe the kitchen benches or do a ten minute vacuum.
- If these suggestions fail, shut the door on it. Pile the baby in to the pram, the kids on to their bikes, trikes or scooters and go for a walk. It will clear your head and you will be able to better manage whatever mess confronts you on your return.
For me, what has brought me the most calmness is to accept that this is life; kids make mess, we make mess. I do the best I can, without punishing myself.
Find a level you can live with, without becoming a prisoner in your own mind. Pacing the floor like a leopard, waiting to pounce to put toys away, or poised with the dust-pan and broom means that you’re less likely to enjoy your children and your family life. Yes, the mess drives me mad; but missing out on that everyday fun sounds more like madness to me.
What’s your approach?