Friday, May 19, 2006

House Management Strategies for My Life and Living

I have been noticing that I have two basic strategies for house keeping and maintenance. One is similar to Flylady's or Sidetracked Home Executives --doing a bit every day. Here's the details of the system I worked out for my house (see lists on the sidebar especially). I have it arranged by day, week, month, and season and when I'm following it, it works just fine.

It's only recently I consciously noticed my second "strategy" . I used to call it my "lapsing" but honestly, I am starting to think that it's not necessarily so. If I can do seasonal homeschooling, and the Church can have a liturgical year based on seasons and cycles, why not seasonal housekeeping? Is there a more positive way to think about this? Am I blaming myself for something that is actually a successful coping device in my own life?

When I think about it, my second strategy is most likely to be used when the bulk of the days for some times is taken up with something else -- when we're very involved in challenging outside the home activities, or very involved in a complex in-home project, or I'm sick or pregnant or dealing with a sick child, or grieving. During these times I tend to step over, look away from or otherwise ignore everything beyond the essential sanitation and straightening. I operate on limited energy and when I devote lots of energy to something besides the housekeeping, either the housekeeping will suffer, or I will be drawing energy from my future reserves.

So, this is the first prong of the strategy -- "masterful inactivity" or "benign neglect".

Then when l I get an opportunity and enough energy, the second prong of the strategy is to tackle the entropy wholesale. Rather than a "habit of order", then it's an "act of order" or maybe a "battle for order" when I can really devote some time and energy to the cleaning. This method really does have its advantages. I usually do my most radical, creative cleaning and decluttering and rearranging during these times. It's fun, invigorating and immediately rewarding. It makes me feel like everything is new. Since the benign neglect times usually come along with emotional and physical challenges, the wholesale cleaning that inevitably follows is usually a stress-buster too. Often this is also a time when I renew and revise my "old" system of maintenance.

I used to worry that this disparity between my two primary methods meant that I was lazy or disorganized or inconsistent. Or perhaps, that I was setting a bad example for my kids. I am no longer so worried about this. I notice that our family life has natural rhythms punctuated by births, seasons, developmental spurts, and my husband's rhythm of game design and completion (he works at home designing computer games for a living). So in a way, the uniform "one size fits all" system I have looked for and thought of as ideal is in fact more fixed and arbitrary than our real lives are. In the quiet, orderly times I can keep a quiet, orderly routine but in the "flex" times, the growth times, the routine may not fit as well and may become less of a support and more of a prison or a stretching rack, if I let it. My diversity of strategies can be seen as a prudent acknowledgement of the diverse flow of our lives.

As for the example-setting part: I suppose my kids will grow up someday and enter a world where many jobs and occupations have a strong imposed structure, but I don't want them to necessarily think this is the only way to do it. Whatever they do in life, I want them to realize that the pace will and ought to vary when a loved one is ill, a new one is born, a little one reaches a new milestone or an older one gets involved in a new interest. I want them to be able to stand back from the complex, artificial order of our society and see what's beyond and underneath, and make their choices in light of those more important, more fundamental rhythms and timetables. I don't want them to court burn-out and ill health by trying to "do it all" or feel ambivalent and stressed by not being able to. I want my sons and daughters to understand the idea of order in a creative, principled way, not just as a reflex.

In our home in the California Sierras, we spend autumn collecting and stacking firewood in order to be provided with warmth from our wood stove in the winter, and then we spend spring and summer raking away debris that could spontaneously combust and endanger our house. There is a time to kindle fires, and a time to bank them, as well as a time to stomp them out. It is wisdom to know the difference.

Religious monasteries have a Rule, and we can glean sound principles from those "Regulas", but our domestic "rule" is different. If my children have a religious vocation, they will choose to accept a specifically religious rule, but that is a different thing. For one thing, it is freely chosen by each member of the religious community, with a vow that is made after much conscious, prayerful discernment. It is meant to be different from the married, lay vocation. The outcome is hopefully the same, but the means are different, and this may be one of the main differences.

So perhaps it is OK to have a wider view of consistency in my house management that allows seeming "inconsistency" in the service of my real goals as keeper of the home, that acknowledges the need for regularity AND some variability? I hope so, anyway!


JennGM said...

As usual, lots of food for thought. This is wonderful. I was thinking along the same lines of how my cleaning reflects some of the liturgical seasons, also. Thanks, Willa, for sharing these brainstorms!

Alice said...

>Whatever they do in life, I want them to realize that the >pace will and ought to vary when a loved one is ill, a >new one is born, a little one reaches a new milestone or >an older one gets involved in a new interest.

Excellent post, as always, Willa. It makes sense that we should adapt and take a step back during certain times and seasons of our lives. Sometimes I think that unforseen challenges in particular are a reminder that God is in control of our lives, and our plans are not always His plans.

Thank you for your insight.

Henry Cate said...

As I read your post I thought of Paul Grapham's essay on good and bad procrastination:

He makes the point that to be an effective person we need to learn to put off the less important stuff.

At times the right answer is to not clean the house and focus on the more important things.

Rebecca said...

I think it all is an ebb and flow. In my home, everything works this way, homelearning, housework, etc. Periods of intensity followed by almost neglect of it all. It works best for us this way.

Karen E. said...

This is a terrific post and you inspired me to post some reflections on the same thing -- some conclusions I reached awhile back when my priest suggested that I "accept the rhythms of my life."

I always love coming here. Thanks.

Amy said...

Coming in late - I have a ton of your posts bookmarked for reading, but they are all so good and "meaty" that it's taking me awhile! :)

I'm glad you posted this - I am just now coming out of my typical "first year with baby" fog and we are *attacking* the house with gusto. It's hard not to think there is something wrong with me when I go into the slower times. It's so nice to hear it called "rhythms" and to see it's internal goodness.