The work that is never done

I believe the thing about housework that makes many wives so stressed out over it, is the fact that it never ends. The same things must be done over and over again, such as:

* Dishes to be washed

* Laundry to be washed, hung up, sorted, folded and put away

* Ironing for items that need it

* Floors to be swept and mopped

* Dusting shelves and other surfaces

* Meal planning and shopping (better in this order than the other way around)

* Food to be cooked and meals to be served

* Garden upkeep, if you have a garden

* Taking care of your animals, if you have any

* Making up the beds and changing the bedding

And of course, in addition to these and other tasks which must be done daily or weekly, there are countless other missions, seasonal or annual, such as re-arranging the closets and pantry shelves, getting rid of clutter, major planting or harvesting done in the garden, etc.

If you’ve ever woken up to the thoughts of everything that must be done and felt overwhelmed, I’m with you. That’s the main difference between office work and housework: in your home, you can never be really “done”. You can’t even walk away from the things that aren’t undone, because your home is also your working space (and your living room table, perhaps, serves for dinnertime, school, sewing, ironing and your husband’s computer business).

So what can we do? We can fret over everything that hasn’t been accomplished yet and turn our life into a pressure cooker, or we can ease up a little, slow down, and do what must be done with a smile, not forgetting to seize the moment for small joys of life – a particularly fine morning on which we choose to head out to a picnic at the park, delicious meals served at a table which perhaps still has computer parts piled at its end, and evenings of relaxing in the garden while sharing ice-cold watermelon for a summer dessert.

And accept the fact that neither today, nor tomorrow, nor next year there will be a moment when we are “done” with housework.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, I’m not saying all this as an elaborate excuse to do nothing. Orderliness and cleanliness are the cornerstones of a peaceful home, and I’m all for scheduling and planning, cooking and baking, cleaning and scrubbing and getting to all those nooks and crannies once in a while – only it isn’t really possible to have it all together in one day, and even if it is, some things might be more important. Better split a large project in several days than become impatient and brush your whole family aside.

There are of course also those things where your work can be simplified and/or reduced, especially during the busier periods of your life. For example, since Tehilla was born, I haven’t done much ironing. I also deliberately choose to buy clothes which do not require ironing. In your garden, you can choose plants which are easier to care for; meals can be a simple affair. Around here, during the week I usually serve simple one-course meals such as soup, crustless quiche or pasta, or bread and an array of cold salads on those days which are so hot that you can hardly bear to cook.

Nothing Special

I was always one of the top students in my class; I grew up hearing how talented I am, how I’m capable of doing anything I put my mind to. While I was studying for my degree, it was the same – I kept hearing how intelligent I am and how much is expected of me. Yet even then, I already felt the pull of my heart to be a wife and mother, and shortly after getting out of university I was blessed to meet a man who appreciated a wife who works in her home and cares for the children.

The few years that followed were some of the most intense of my life. I’ve had two children spaced close together, and many months were a blur of sleep-deprivation and constantly changing diapers. I’ve mostly gotten into stride now, so much that the addition of a third baby to our family went relatively smoothly, and I’m able to enjoy my life with my children, however…

… I had to step down and confess that I’m nothing special after all.

It was a humbling realization.

Am I doing important work? Yes. I’m raising my children and providing a safe haven for my family. Am I spending my days in a worthwhile, productive way? Yes (well, at least I try). Am I irreplaceable for my children? Yes. Flawed and imperfect as I am, I am the only mother they have. Would I trade what I do for anything else? No.

But still, I do just what women all over the world do. I take care of my children and the house, I clean, I cook, I do the laundry… I’m doing the same work countless generations of women always did. I can no longer pride myself on some very expertly written paper that got top grades, or on a lecture I gave in front of a professional, interested audience. There’s no applause, no impressed audience, and no financial benefits. Today’s achievements consist of cleaning the stove, mopping the floor and reading a chapter of Pippi Longstocking to my children.

This led me to re-evaluating my worth, based not on what I managed to do (which someone somewhere can do better, no matter how hard I try), but on my being what I am… a wife and a mother. Like any woman, in the sense of what I do, but uniquely important from the perspective of my family and precious as a child of G-d.

Mostly this has been a process of shedding layers of pride. This is no longer about my talents, my expectations, my ambitions, my capabilities… it is about taking care of others, humility, and lots and lots of prayer. This may sound like sacrifice, but it isn’t really, because my journey is shaping me into a different person, one I like a lot better, and also one who is a lot happier and has a much truer sense of self-worth and dignity.

Doing the Thrifty Thing

The ability to make a small income go a long way can be a make it or break it factor for a simple life at home. It can be the one thing that allows you to stay home with your children, helps your family get out of debt,  or enables you and your husband to pursue your dream of starting a self-sufficient homestead or starting your own business, rather than doing the daily 9-to-5 grind until you retire. It can tide you over a lean period, or help you save towards owning your own home. And in a way, spending less is more than earning more, because there’s no government tax on what you save.

I have had many people tell me that living on one income is “impossible”. It is not. In our family, we have gone through not so much poverty, but financial instability – periods of nice paychecks followed by some pretty hard times. We always made it, though, and not just survived, but thrived – and learned a lot along the way, too.

‘OK, OK, I agree with you. It is possible to live on one income. But why would you want such a miserable life? And why do you want to deprive your kids of everything their friends have?’

 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see anything bad or immoral about liking nice things, wanting to be dressed in pretty and fashionable clothes or to go on vacation. The problem starts when we become enslaved to these things. When we become so wrapped up in them that we forget what’s truly important.

 

What about children? Won’t they feel deprived because their friends have more brand-name clothes and go on vacations more often? Since I’m not a mother yet, I can’t know for sure. But here is my experience. I was raised by a single mother who worked very hard to support our family. We only had her small income and had to make it somehow. Occasionally, I wished I could have more new toys or clothes. But this is not what made me miserable as a child, and indeed, it isn’t what matters in the long run!

 

Frugality isn’t about being miserable. It’s about creativity and challenge. It’s drawing the line between what you need, and what you can do without. It’s homemade presents and costumes made from altered old clothes. It’s not signing up to a dozen afternoon activities, and instead having a blissful opportunity to explore freely and with curiosity. Playing outside. Climbing trees. Spending time at the local library. Drawing and writing, making stories, playing games… I loved doing all that as a kid, and I was never bored! My children, in turn, love it too. Who said a child needs a big house and a heap of expensive electronic gadgets to be stimulated? Look at us. We have lots of things. Does it make us happy?