I remember sitting in a small group a few years ago, and I heard another mama utter these words: "I just can't go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink."
I remember my head dropping and my heart sinking as I pictured the pile of after-dinner dishes (and after-breakfast-and-lunch dishes) (and after-last-night's-dinner dishes too) that were "soaking" in my sink and on my kitchen counters.
I knew I would never be like her. I would never, ever be the type of housewife who could maintain a spotless kitchen. Or a spotless anything, for that matter.
Years later, as I sit here writing this post, I realize that statement is probably true. My house will never be spotless. But as I sit here writing this post, I do have an empty sink and a dishwasher full of clean dishes. And while nothing is ever spotless, most areas are peaceful.
My floors may not be mopped daily, but they are swept so that babies aren't eating dust bunnies and they are "spot mopped" to keep little bare feet from stepping in sticky spots. My bathroom isn't cleaned daily, but there are clean towels in place and a counter and toilet that get wiped down after the morning rush. My bedroom hasn't been vacuumed in ages, but the bed is made, the dirty clothes are off the floor, and the shoes are put away.
I know now what I didn't know then: In our home and schedule, nothing will be perfect. But everything can be peaceful.
And as I think about the difference between the housewife I was then and the homemaker I am today, I realize there are a few things that have slowly and steadily brought peace and changed the way our home functions:
1. Be the first one up in the mornings. I know, I know. This is a hard one. Believe me, this was the hardest transition for me to make, but there's a reason it's the first thing on the list. Getting up even 20 minutes before my kiddos has been the number one best thing I have done to maintain peace in our home. Since our home is so small, I can't accomplish a whole lot during those early morning hours without waking up the whole family. But what I can do is go to the bathroom alone, brush my teeth, and drink a cup of coffee without reheating it six times. Often, that's the ONLY time in my day I can do those things, and I quickly became addicted to it. I check the calendar. Plan my day. Make sure clothes are laid out for the kids. And start breakfast. Then there's the added benefit of greeting my family with a smile and a hug when they come bleary-eyed padding out of their rooms. That's so much better than the usual, "Give mommy a minute to start the coffee before you ask me for anything, and no, I don't know what's for breakfast."
2. Plan to be ready 30 minutes before you have to be ready. I am a stress shouter. It's true. The more stressful the situation is, the louder my voice gets. When we are running late, a simple "go brush your hair" can quickly escalate into a "IF YOU DON'T STOP CRYING ABOUT THESE TANGLES, I'M GOING TO CUT THEM OUT!" Oy. I have tried many things to keep myself from stress shouting, including snapping my wrist with a rubber band and putting a quarter in a jar. Nothing has helped. So the solution that Husband came up with? Eliminate the stress. Okay, okay. I know we can't REALLY eliminate stress. Things happen. Shoes get misplaced. Gum finds hair. Diapers explode. Stressful things happen. But the difference here is this: have I allowed time for them? It generally takes our family about an hour to get out the door if everyone is showered and clothes are clean. Add a couple hours if everyone needs showers and I have no idea what anyone is going to wear. So if we need to walk out the door at 3:00pm, I calculate all of our times based on being ready at 2:30pm. And guess what? We have NEVER been completely ready 30 minutes early. There's ALWAYS something that slows down the process, even if it's just slow movers. But in the midst of the stress, I am not shouting because I know we have allowed time for it. Lost a shoe? Everyone stop and help look. Diaper explosion? Just change the baby's outfit (and my shirt). Slow mover? Take a minute to help her get dressed. You can't love in a hurry. So start just 30 minutes earlier than you have to, and make some room for love in the process.
Tweet: You can't love in a hurry. So start just 30 minutes earlier than you have to, and make some room for love in the process.
3. Make the bed and take out the trash. Or, ya know, have Husband make the bed and take out the trash. My husband works several jobs outside the home so that I can work inside the home full time. That's why I don't ask a whole lot of him in terms of daily chores. But two things he always does for me: make the bed in the morning and take out the trash in the evening. Both things give me some much needed "white space" in my home, a place where my eyes can land and see something in order. It's a momentary mental break from the messes that may take over other areas at any given time. But there's also a practical reason: my bed is my all-purpose surface. I sort dirty clothes, fold clean clothes, sew up holy clothes, snuggle for homework reading, nurse the baby, and allow my introverted child some alone time - all on my bed. If the bed doesn't get made, all those activities move to another place in the house and, usually, cause chaos in that space.
4. Use the One Touch Rule. I have a bad habit of just tossing items into a room. If I find a towel in the living room? Just toss it in the bathroom and hang it up later. Random sock? Toss it in the bedroom, in the general direction of the dirty clothes basket. Kid's toy? Stand in the playroom doorway and toss. The problem with this method is that, very quickly, every room in the house is littered with items I plan to "put away later." So our rule? If you touch it, put it away. It takes a little discipline, and a few eye rolls (mostly from me), but the outcome is palpable.
5. Recruit the kids. With a few exceptions, I don't pick up toys or clothes that belong to my oldest two kiddos. They are eight and five and old enough to clean up after themselves. If they leave a mess in their rooms when they leave for school, it stays there until they get home and clean it up. They also have daily chores they do when they get home from school. Usually, it only takes them about 30 minutes, and it allows all of us more time for the fun stuff. Who loves a fun mom? We do!
6. Do small clean-ups at transition times. On days when the kids are home all day, the messes can pile up quickly. Toys, dress up, shoes, clothes, crafts, Legos, lunch dishes, baby dolls... Oh my! Then we have to end the day with a HUGE hours-long cleanup time. So instead, we do cleanups during transitions. If they're playing in the playroom and want to go outside? Sure! Just pick up the playroom first. When they come in from outside asking for snack? No problem! Go put away the outside toys while I get it ready. Want to paint after snack time? Absolutely! Clean up your snack so we have table space for painting. I like the kids to be kids; so I don't do the whole "one toy at a time" thing. But we do use the "one space at a time" rule. When we get ready to leave one space or activity for another one, do a quick 5-minute clean up. Easy peasy.
7. Empty the dishwasher every morning. Then fill it up with dirty dishes throughout the day. Turn it on before bed. Repeat daily. Thank you, flylady, for this little tidbit. No dirty dishes in the sink at bedtime! Score!
8. Put down the phone. Oh, man. This point could have an entire post unto itself. I'm in the middle of reading Hands Free Mama by Rachel May Stafford, and it is rocking my world. If you haven't read it, go now. Get it. Thanks to this book, and a few other factors, I have recently instituted a phone-free time from the hours of 3:00pm to 7:30pm (the time the kids get home from school and the time they go to bed). This has made a HUGE impact in how our afternoons feel. Trust me on this. Do it for a week. Or even for a day. Pick a block of time to put down the phone or computer or what-have-you, and just be present. It's addicting, I promise.
9. Work during your productive time. We all have a peak time of day, a time when we can get the most done in the least amount of time. For me, it's mid-morning. Usually about 9am to noon. And what I have realized is that if it doesn't get done during that time, it most likely won't get done. Or it will get done, but it will take me a lot longer, and I'll hate it the whole time. Find your best time: early morning, late night, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and plan your day around that time. If my priority today is to fold all the clean clothes, I do it during that time. If my plan is to hang with friends (an activity that, while enjoyable, saps this introvert's energy), I schedule it during that time. Trip to the park? Mid morning. I even try to get dinner started in the morning by prepping my food or starting the crock pot. If I waste those hours, I know that day will be a wasted day.
10. Let it go. But not like Elsa. Like a peaceful homemaker. Know that nothing will be perfect. Seeking perfection in any one area of our lives can cause us to neglect other areas. A perfect house could mean a crabby mama. Aim for peace, not perfection. And let go of anything that doesn't contribute to that peace.
If these tips can help an Unlikely Homesteader like myself, I'm confident they can aid you in your journey too!
What do you do to maintain a peaceful home? Is there something I left off the list? Let us know, below in the comments!