Housework is probably not on many people’s lists of favorite things to do. I tend to get frustrated over having to put aside the more interesting or even spiritual pursuits in order to dust or do laundry. But I do value housework. I don’t get excited about the need to dust, but once I get started, I enjoy the clean surfaces. I like the results of picking up, sweeping, doing laundry, washing dishes, even if I am not fond of the process. But even the process can be lightened up with listening to an audiobook, podcast, or music, or conversation while working with someone.
I’m embarrassed to confess this, but, believe it or not, when my husband and I were first married, I often wouldn’t do dishes until we ran out of clean silverware. We didn’t have a dishwasher, and I was a part-time student with two part-time jobs and the adjustments of being newly married. Plus both my jobs involved cleaning – a person’s home and five banks (my husband and I did the banks together – nice job for students because it could be done any time the bank was closed), so by the time I got to my own home, well, who wanted to clean then? But that meant that washing dishes, plus everything else I didn’t get to, took up a big chunk of time on Saturdays. I eventually learned it’s easier (and more sanitary and less disgusting) to clean in smaller doses as I went along, especially once I had children and no longer had big chunks of time to do anything.
I’ve been in homes where housework wasn’t valued – where I would have been afraid to eat or use the bathroom, where bugs crawled all over everything. I’ve been in hotels where there was pink stuff growing in the corners of the shower and the bedding looked questionable. I’ve been in restaurants with a waitress that acted like she could care less about serving and food that was under or over-cooked or unidentifiable. I’ve even gotten food poisoning from restaurant food. It makes such a difference when people care.
I just finished reading and reviewing True Woman 201: Interior Design by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss yesterday, and one of the chapters I most appreciated dealt with work. Before discussing “keeping the home,” they couched the discussion in the greater spiritual principles that work is good, that we work because we’re made in God’s image and He works, that Jesus did humble physical labor longer than He worked as an itinerant evangelist and teacher. In the course of that chapter the authors quoted a couple of feminists of the past concerning housework:
“Women’s work within the home gives her no autonomy; it is not directly useful to society, it does not open out on the future, it produces nothing” (Simone de Beauvoir).
“Women who adjust as housewives, who grow up wanting to be just a housewife, are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps … they are suffering a slow death of mind and spirit” (Betty Friedan).
Wow – pretty strong stuff. It made me wonder – did they live in a pigsty, then? Or did they hire housekeepers but devalue them as “lesser” specimens of womanhood? Or did they value housework if someone was paid for it but not if women did it in their own homes? Reminds me of the G. K. Chesterton quote, “[Feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”
I decided to list all the advantages I could think of for housework:
1. Sanitation. I have been in homes where there were roaches crawling over caked-on food on counters and appliances and toilet seats and sinks were black. Bleah.
2. Sense of peacefulness. When things are chaotic in the house, it’s hard to relax. But when everything is in order with my surroundings, my mind and heart feel more orderly.
3. Not being embarrassed if someone comes by unexpectedly, or not having to do a major overhaul before having people over. There may be shoes off by the couch or a newspaper or glass on the end table, but there’s an overall sense of order and cleanliness.
4. Saves time. Staying on top of things is much easier than having to do major clean-ups.
5. Being able to find things rather than having them get lost in the shuffle or buried.
6. Save money. Things last longer when they’re taken care of, plus you avoid purchasing things that you forgot you had.
7. Releases you to be creative in other areas. For some of us its hard to be creative in a mess.
8. Multitasking – with some chores you can listen to music or a podcast or an audiobook while your hands are busy with something else.
9. Almost instant gratification. You can see the dish pile diminishing and the dust disappearing.
10. Sense of accomplishment. I’ve been thinking over this post for a few days, and just this morning while listening to Robinson Crusoe heard this passage, in which he brings supplies into a cave. “At first this was a confused heap of goods, which, as they lay in no order, so they took up all my place; I had no room to turn myself.” Then he tells how he arranged things, made furniture, fixed a place to hang his gun, etc., then “so that, had my cave been to be seen, it looked like a general magazine of all necessary things; and had everything so ready at my hand, that it was a great pleasure to me to see all my goods in such order.”
Of course one can go too far and make everyone feel like they can never relax for fear of getting something dirty or out of place. You want a place where everyone is comfortable, not a museum. I knew of one women who did all sorts of things around the house that she thought a good wife was supposed to do only to find that those things didn’t really matter to her husband: he’d rather be greeted by an attentive, peaceful wife than neglected by one who was in a constant frenzy over the house. It’s good to confer together over these things. Some people don’t mind a little dust as long as clutter is picked up. We all have things that “bug” us or make the room feel unclean, but then have other things we can live with, at least for a while.
And we don’t have to go all Disney princess, singing “Whistle While You Work” while bluebirds tie bows in our hair.
And there are seasons and moments of life when housework takes a back seat (when a young child is in the house, when there is a “teachable moment” with a child or an opportunity to sit and play with him for a moment, when a husband wants you to do something or go somewhere with him and leave the dishes for now, when a friend needs a listening ear, when you’re tired, etc.).
And it is ok to pay someone to clean your house: it’s not a sin if you don’t do it all yourself. Even the Proverbs 31 lady had help. I’ve known elderly or working women to hire household help for various tasks or people to hire help for special occasions. By the way, if you’re a mom, it’s perfectly ok and even a good thing to have your children do household tasks. It’s good for them to learn to pitch in, to learn the value of work, to value keeping things clean and orderly, to train in that way for their own homes and jobs. We always had the attitude that kids doing work wasn’t just “helping Mom,” but rather instilling in them that we all pull together as a family to get things done (more on children and chores here).
But the point is that housework is valuable and does provide meaningful service, for ourselves, for our families, for guests.
Of course, the feminists quoted probably didn’t have any problem with a woman swishing a broom occasionally: what they particularly disliked was the idea of a woman being a full-time homemaker. I’m glad for many of the choices available to women today, but one of them is being a fill-time homemaker (I realize that not everyone who wants to be at home can be). I prefer the term homemaker to housewife, because I am not married to my house: I am creating a home. In a sense every woman is a homemaker, because every woman has a home, whether she’s single or married, has children or does not, works outside the home or does not. And as someone who has been a homemaker for 36 years, full-time for 32, I can tell you it isn’t a mind-numbing, useless existence. It can be as creative as you make it.
Some years ago I wrote Encouragement for Homemakers, and want to pull a couple of quotes from there:
Homemaking—being a full-time wife and mother—is not a destructive drought of usefulness but an overflowing oasis of opportunity; it is not a dreary cell to contain one’s talents and skills but a brilliant catalyst to channel creativity and energies into meaningful work; it is not a rope for binding one’s productivity in the marketplace, but reins for guiding one’s posterity in the home; it is not oppressive restraint of intellectual prowess for the community, but a release of wise instruction to your own household; it is not the bitter assignment of inferiority to your person, but the bright assurance of the ingenuity of God’s plan for the complementarity of the sexes, especially as worked out in God’s plan for marriage; it is neither limitation of gifts available nor stinginess in distributing the benefits of those gifts, but rather the multiplication of a mother’s legacy to the generations to come and the generous bestowal of all God meant a mother to give to those He entrusted to her care.”
I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.
What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow.
~ Martin Luther
And I’ll add this one just discovered in the True Woman book:
“The reason we give priority to managing household responsibilities is not that vacuuming, dusting, or cooking are intrinsically valuable or satisfying tasks. It’s that we want to create a peaceful, orderly, welcoming environment conducive to nurturing and growing disciples for the kingdom of God” (p. 154).
So take heart as you go through your home bringing order out of chaos: your work is both valuable and meaningful. And perhaps be inspired by this:
The Blue Bowl
All day long I did the little things,
The little things that do not show;
I brought the kindling for the fire,
I set the candles in a row,
I filled a bowl with marigolds—
The shallow bowl you love the best—
And made the house a pleasant place
Where weariness may take its rest.
The hours sped on, my eager feet
Could not keep pace with my desire.
So much to do! So little time!
I could not let my body tire.
Yet when the coming of the night
Blotted the garden from my sight,
And on the narrow graveled walks
Between the guarding flower stalks
I heard your step, I was not through
With services I meant for you.
You came into the quiet room
That glowed enchanted with the bloom
Of yellow flame. I saw your face;
Illumined by the firelit space,
Slowly grow still and comforted—
“It’s good to be at home,” you said.
~ Blanch Bane Kuder
Encouragement for Homemakers, which, incidentally, contains my favorite ever comment from my husband.
Happy Housewife Day!
I confess: I don’t really like to cook.
A Real Home.
Wanting things to be “perfect.”
A Homemaking Meme.
Another homemaking meme.
A prayer for home.
Two views of housework.
Meditations for daily tasks.
Thy list be done.
The Value of Homemakers.
(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday)