Moms, do you feel overwhelmed by the mess in your house?

I know I do.  We are at a stage where the amount of upkeep needed just to keep our household running is staggering.  Five kids plus two parents equals a lot of daily living.  If we all walk in the door and take off our shoes and set down bags, etc., it’s an instant mess.  I finish the laundry, and there are immediately 7 more dirty outfits that were worn that day!  Oh, we try to wear things more than once where we can, but with kids the ages of ours, it’s just not realistic.  Since we homeschool, we are home most of the time creating messes.  School papers, pencil shavings, books, puzzles, toys, dishes, and crumbs, crumbs, crumbs.  We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and the dog tracks in mud every time he goes outside.

It can be extremely overwhelming.

Finding Perspective in the Mess of Motherhood

One recent morning around 10:30 a.m., I headed upstairs with Janie to put her down for her morning nap.  In the few short hours since getting up I had already changed diapers, served breakfast, and worked on multiple school subjects across three different grade levels.  We had started the day with a clean house, but already the kitchen island was a cluttery mess of cereal boxes and jelly drips, and books covered the floor where Jonathan had been “reading” during school.  I stifled a sigh as I walked past all the clutter and headed upstairs.  At the top of the stairs I encountered three overflowing laundry baskets that I had forgotten about.  I had intended to get laundry going before breakfast, but that project was overtaken by… I can’t remember what! In that moment, I thought, “I CAN’T DO THIS!!!!  THERE IS NOT ENOUGH OF ME TO COVER ALL THIS MESS!!!!

The boys do help with chores every day. We are training them to be good workers, and we are seeing progress in their ability to make short work of a big mess. But their helping is not 100% helpful yet. My husband has patiently trained our oldest to clean bathrooms, and now he is working on the second son. The oldest is now learning how to really wash dishes and get them clean. Our home is a work in progress. We strive for order, but it doesn’t always happen. “Tuesday is mopping day” doesn’t work in our house, at least not right now.  Sometimes we mop because it’s an emergency, and sometimes we let the dirt sit because we just physically cannot get to it.

This week, I read a fantastic article on Tim Challies’ blog about productivity and keeping the house clean.  He mentions one of my favorite verses in the book of Proverbs, one that reminds me of the worth of all these people in my home.  (You can go read it now if you haven’t – just make sure to come back, ok?)

Challies’ article reminded me of an something that is foundational… A clean house is not my highest aim as a mother!  It’s not the ultimate goal!  The state of the house is not an accurate measure of how productive I am as a mom. This is simple, but easy to forget, especially if you’re like me and enjoy a certain level of order.  At this stage in my life, the only way to have a spotless house is to sacrifice spending time on the things that actually matter the most.

However, the balance to this is that a clean and orderly home is a tool that I can use to serve my family.  

When the house is in order, it’s easier to find things. We don’t purchase things that we already have.  There is a higher chance that library books will be returned on time (and all of them too!) and that the bills will be paid on time. People can relax. The home is an enjoyable place to be.  We strive for clean.  But as a tool, the home is an instrument for our use, not the other way around.  I don’t want my mood and my focus to be dictated by the overflowing mountain of laundry and the perpetually sticky floor.  I want to fight against my temptation to react in anger when yet another cup of juice is spilled on the floor.  I love how Challies’ article pointed out the idea of the home as a work space.  With five kids and homeschooling, our home is definitely a work space!  We are being productive at home, and that creates mess.  Our home is a place to learn and create and do.  It’s not going to be pristine.

It has helped me to look for the productivity in our home.

This week, productivity has included:

  • Learning the words to an Easter hymn with the boys.
  • Having a conversation about what Jesus meant when he said we must be “born again.”
  • Helping Aidan complete a project for school.
  • Helping Owen learn to read and ride his bike.
  • Doing a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle with Owen, because putting together a “grown up puzzle” has been an aim of his.
  • Time spent teaching the boys that kindness matters in how we treat each other.
  • Time spent working through bad attitudes.
  • Climbing and exploring outside, even though it means getting dirty.

So how can I approach the mess?  It’s a heart attitude that says, “My highest goal is to glorify God, to love Him, and to love the people in my home.”

Love God and love people!

It’s not a checklist (although those are helpful!), it’s a mindset.  It’s realizing that sometimes the best thing that we can do for our families is to restore order in our homes, and other times the best thing we can do is go with the flow and love the people.

I think that there is a good reason that the Bible does not tell us how clean our homes should be.  We all have different sized houses, different numbers and ages of children, and husbands with different preferences and tolerances for mess.  We have different commitments, different schedules, and different energy levels.  Some days, I am able to love my family by having all of the laundry done and a special dinner cooked (homemade beef stew is a favorite treat), and other days I love them by serving sandwiches on paper plates so that there is less clean-up to do and we can be together.  And you know what?  I think that in each one of our homes, our kids think it’s more important to feel loved than to have to dig for socks in the laundry basket.  I don’t want to let my quest for clean turn me into a stressed and grumpy mom!

Our house is crazy, but I want it to be a happy crazy.

If you’ve read this far and were hoping for some practical tips, here are some things that are helping me in this current season:

  • Work on an after meal routine where each child has a job to do to help clean up.  Try to leave the kitchen clean, or at least sort of clean.
  • Deep clean one area each day, or at least a couple of times a week.  For example, I might thoroughly clean our office or the living room, or move everything and clean the kitchen counters. Over the course of the week, most things get dealt with.
  • Hire help!  I have someone whom I can call to help when there are things I just can’t get done.  She is fabulous!  I don’t want to pay someone to clean every week because I don’t want the boys to feel like, “Oh, the cleaning lady does THAT!” They need to learn to help.
  • Get rid of clutter, or pack up problem toys for a while.  You know – the ones that never get picked up all the way…

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  1. JJ Apr 2, 2015

    When I look around and see a lot of evidence of us "living" in our home, I sigh a little and shake it off. I'm happy we are family living and doing together, making memories and leaving behind proof. :o)


    1. Sarah Apr 9, 2015

      Yes! So true. I want to be making happy memories, not "mom is always grumpy about the mess" memories!

  2. Jennifer Apr 7, 2015

    I struggle with this as well. Something that has helped me recently is an article I read (sorry, cannot remember the source) about being grateful within the mess. When you have a big pile of laundry, you can be grateful for having enough clothes for your family, and a washing machine to clean them. Dirty dishes? Grateful you have the means to provide food for your family. This bit of wisdom has helped me. It doesn't fix the mess, unfortunately I still have to do that, but it makes it more tolerable. Also reminds me to enjoy the moment, because eventually the kids will grow up and there won't be as many messes to clean up.

    1. Sarah Apr 9, 2015

      That thought has helped me too. Do I really want no laundry? Or no dishes? Not at all, because that would mean no kids around! Thanks for commenting!

  3. There's Just One Mommy Apr 8, 2015

    Oh, I have been feeling the "I can't get it all done" bug lately! The homeschool classroom is a mess, toys are everywhere... And I've been trying to get some big cleaning done, but you are right, a clean home isn't really my goal right now. Being there for my kids is.
    Love your tips -- going to work on some changes here!


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