Cleaning to Make Room
in Our Lives
by Dodie Hermann
I can remember it like it was yesterday, though it was 15 years ago. I called a friend to try to figure out what was wrong. It wasn't the first time. Many times I had called to say how I felt so out of control. She always made me feel better...for a while.
I guess this time she knew I needed a more permanent help, and she decided to go out on a limb. After listening to me complain about all the things that were wrong, she was quiet for a moment, and then said in a slow, quiet voice, "Clean your house." I was so horrified, I didn't know what to say! But my friend continued, "I'd be depressed, too, if my house was a mess. You have stuff everywhere. You can't clean because you have to move all that stuff. You need to get rid of it. You'll see how much better it is."
I was dazed. Then I felt defensive and angry. How dare she call me lazy! I grew and canned much of my own food, I made almost all the kids' clothes, and made crafts to sell besides. Why, there was no one any busier than I was! So busy that I didn't have time to clean. It was my life that was affecting my house, not the other way around.
"I'll show her," I thought. And I started tossing things. It was okay for a while, as I went about the house tossing useless things that were just cluttering up the place. But then I got down to the real problem. As I looked around at all the canning jars and lids, boxes of fabric, trim, and patterns, and all the other stuff that I considered "necessary," I realized that what I needed to get rid of most of all was some faulty thinking.
I always told myself that these were things I was doing for my family, they were the things that made me a good mom. I thought that they showed that I was willing to do more for my family than most moms were. But right now, as I looked around, I realized that these were the very things that were keeping me from having the kind of family life I really wanted. How many times had I neglected to put a good dinner on the table because I had been too busy canning or sewing that day to think about supper? How many times had I spent money we didn't have at fabric sales because it was just too good a deal to pass up? And what did I have to show for it but a messy house and a lot of frustration?
So, away it all went. I kept the canner and my sewing machine, but decided that I would no longer stockpile supplies for future projects. This is not to say that I don't do things for my family anymore. On the contrary, I feel that I can do more for them now that I don't have all that clutter getting in the way. And I don't have the feeling of being overwhelmed that I had when I tried to do everything on a grand scale. Well, it's been over 15 years since I cleaned my house. No, I don't mean I haven't cleaned house in fifteen years! But that's how long it's been since the day my friend told me to 'clean my house.' Is my life much different from what it was back then? What have I learned?top
Well, I have learned that balance is a wonderful thing! I have learned that something that brings satisfaction in measured doses can become a dreaded chore when taken to extreme. I have found that I can still enjoy a wide variety of interests if I don't try to make a career out of each one.
I have learned to measure the value of what I am doing and evaluate how it affects me and my family. I have realized that whenever I think I can save a dime on some activity it is important to see if it will cost me a dollar somewhere else. I have learned that boxes of bargains are nothing more than junk if they aren't being used. I have learned that cleaning can be a joy without all that stuff to deal with, and that life can be a joy without a long list of projects calling to me.top
When I first started to let it all go, it was hard, but I felt so desperate to have some control over my life that it was worth the sacrifice. I felt as though I were on a lifeboat and could take along only what I needed to have a purposeful life. I tried to keep too much at first, but as I would feel my lifeboat sinking, I finally threw off one thing after another until I could float freely.
Of course, that is not to say that I got rid of special things. And it is not to say that I quit doing things for my family. But I had to visualize the kind of family life I wanted, keep only the things that would contribute to that picture, and get rid of things that were interfering with it. That wasn't easy, as there were several things that I thought were important just because I liked doing them, not because they had real value to our family. Over the years I was able to find that I could cultivate interests that were truly beneficial to the family, and they now bring me more satisfaction than I had from the things I gave up.
It is a constant struggle, as anything can be taken to extremes. I have had to learn some of the same lessons again and again. I have to reflect occasionally on what I have learned in the past fifteen years. The situation may change from time to time, but the principles always remain the same. And it is always a learning experience. I wonder what I will learn in the next fifteen years?top