Living Between Two Sins—Messy vs. Immaculate

Not long ago, we hosted dinner guests. I had already determined that I wouldn’t be doing extensive preparation for them for many reasons:

  1. I’m busy and tired and don’t particularly enjoy housework anyway.
  2. They have a small child and know the challenges that go with keeping house while child-rearing; I relied on the “mom sympathy” card heavily.
  3. It really is all about the fellowship and conversation.

As I quickly vacuumed (the centers of the rooms and high traffic areas) about an hour before they arrived, I remembered how Chris and I used to clean and scrub and prepare for hours on end for dinner guests. It would take us at least 5 hours or so to clean a 900 sq. foot apartment, set the table, and prepare the meal. We never conveniently closed doors or shoved something out of sight.

(In hindsight, now, I wonder, What were we doing?)

Mostly I remember being exhausted as we sat down to dinner and to enjoy our guests. I was tired, not to mention I had hours of clean-up ahead of me (by the time I handwashed my china, crystal, tablecloths, and napkins, of course).

I still have a twinge of guilt today when I don’t put in that amount of time and work to prepare for guests.

So, there’s that side of me: the side that actually wants to out-do and impress but calls it “southern hospitality” in order to sanitize the underlying sin. Perhaps some have purer motives of sacrificing for others, but I can freely admit mine are tainted. While I do want people to feel comfortable and “special” in my home, I think I’m a bit more motivated to have them think well of me.

And then there’s the other side of me that somehow rebels against the grain of “nothing’s worth it.” About ten years ago, my parents stopped doing much at all to celebrate Christmas. Of course, they still enjoy the holiday with all of us, but they stopped hanging any sort of decorations (tree or otherwise). They stopped getting any type of gifts for the adult children and stopped the fun tradition of stocking stuffers.

One year my mom talked us into having ham biscuits and fruit—a “finger foods” kind of buffet instead of a sit-down meal because it was “less trouble.” Last year, my sister and I said, “No way!” when the ham and biscuit suggestion came up. We have since commandeered the menu and come up with our own solution about what constitutes a Christmas dinner. Call us high maintenance but we like a plated, hot meal together since we only get to have it twice a year.

So, I guess what I’m saying is I have a hard time reconciling all of this. I read blogs who speak of creating elaborate meals on the fine china eaten in Sunday best; especially at Christmas, we are to “go all out” because we are welcoming a King.

I get that. I do. But I have to say that sometimes I struggle to be free enough to say that I’m OK with eating on Chinet paper plates because I’m tired or have demanding children or a full schedule or whatever. And I don’t like feeling condemned for a cluttered laundry room and plastic cutlery use.

Yet I believe our loved ones are worth the effort. To me, a sweetly-folded paper napkin can represent as much thoughtfulness as a cloth swan; a remembered tradition can be as reverent as showing up to dinner in a three-piece suit.

This Christmas, as I sit right now surrounded by littered carpets, toothpaste-splattered bathroom mirrors and multiple baskets of unfolded laundry, I am searching. Searching for a middle ground between two sins: one of apathy to the point of disregard and one of superficiality to the point of extreme self-centeredness.

Quite possibly, my Christmas guests this year will have to step over a pile of laundry to eat a meal on china—or something like that.

Photo credit: wax115 from

Ideas for Back to School Routines

Back to school routines: chore chart

Wow. We’re almost back to school, and I’m overjoyed with ecstasy I hate to see the summer end. We’ve gotten into some really bad habits this summer, though, which bears a direct correlation to my Type 1-ness  and my P-ness (on the Myers-Briggs profile), I’m afraid. We’re going to bed too late and waking too late. We’re eating breakfast at 8:30 or 9:00 and staying in our PJs until noon.

So, it’s time to turn this ship around. I’m working this week to put some plans in place and communicate our expectations to the kids. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Back to school routines: chore chart

A chart of what’s required before school in the mornings:

  1. make beds
  2. get dressed
  3. eat breakfast/put dishes in sink
  4. brush teeth
  5. put on shoes
  6. brush hair

Weekly chore routines are going to be consistently enforced (pray for me!), with everyone doing his or her part. Here’s my chore chart; it’s five-columns (one for each member of the family, including Mom and Dad) with these chores listed:

  1. dust living room, dining room, and laundry helper
  2. vacuum living room, dining room, hall (high traffic areas)
  3. clean bathroom sinks, vanities, mirrors, toilets, gather trash/recycling
  4. grocery shopping, food prep, kitchen clean-up
  5. laundry

I use a clothespin with each family member’s name on it. Each clothespin will rotate weekly among numbers 1-3 (those are for the kids), while I’ll take 4 and Chris will have 5.

We will just require these chores to be completed by Saturday at noon. Sunday is a day of rest, and the clothespins move on Monday.

I figure this is the bare minimum we need to maintain order, we’ll all thrive in the structure, and maybe the kids will learn some responsibility skills. The rest? I’ll “catch as catch can” and not worry about it. Really. I can’t. I’m going to be working more this school year and will do well to just keep the wheels turning. Or maybe my dreams will come true, and we’ll get to hire a housekeeper.

We’re also cutting way back on TV and video games this school year. Again, pray for me to be a consistent enforcer, because my kids love their screen time. But I know there are so many more worthwhile and edifying things they could be doing instead.

Isn’t it amazing that at the beginning of the summer I had dreams of our family sitting in circles singing Kumbaya, reading stacks of library books, and doing flash card drills until everyone had leaped an entire grade level in reading and math? And here we are, drowning in our Super Mario Brothers video game addiction and sassy attitudes.

Are you anything like that, too? (Please tell me I’m not alone.)

How are you getting ready for back to school at your house?
How do you handle chores and screen time limits? Share with others in the comments below.


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Housekeeping Routines and Maintenance Are No Fun, But They Work

I discovered something last week.

No truer words have ever been spoken than:

A stitch in time saves nine.

You see, I have fallen off and on the wagon of daily routines and housekeeping “maintenance.” I have been a FlyLady devotee—and I have wallowed in my dirty laundry. (I’m great at exploring all places on the spectrum.)

But last week, I decided to try something.

I decided I would put on my big girl panties and just. do. it.

Just. Do. It.

Empty the dishwasher before your day begins.
Photo credit: vilhelm from

Wipe out the bathroom sink, make the beds, and empty the dishwasher before the day begins. Keep the laundry moving (OK–it’s not all folded and put away, but it’s in process) and the dining table cleared of debris. Keep the kids’ backpacks cleaned out and papers put in the right places.

And you know what? I did it.

And I learned what I knew all along. FlyLady is right. If I just do the bare minimum of maintenance every day, I’m not faced with creeping junk and visual clutter. And I finally timed myself to see just how long it really takes to straighten beds and wipe down the bathroom counter. About 10 minutes. The dishwasher takes me about 10 minutes and my own bed takes about 2 minutes to make. If I really hustle, I can have all the areas cleared and tidy in about 15 minutes total.

15 minutes.

Really? I’ve been neglecting a 15-minute task and in doing so, my motivation takes a beating all day long. Not doing these things really impedes my productivity in other areas, especially my writing and blogging.

You know what I’m discovering?

It’s hard to see anything in your house when there’s clutter, junk, and debris obstructing your view.

So, put on your big girl panties and just do it. Yeah … you may not like it, but it will help you see more clearly inside your own house. I promise.


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