I'm still thinking about Elizabeth Foss's housecleaning posts, and am pondering Danielle Bean's, too. Some of what they have to say I've found quite valuable--we can all be challenged to do better, in all the facets of our married vocations: housecleaning, cooking, teaching our children, being present to the members of our family, reaching outside of ourselves to help a neighbor or volunteer for a good cause, and so on.
But the reality is that just as most of us have room for improvement in these areas, most of us also have unique paths we're walking. The honest truth is that when we see posts like this start to crop up we can either be glad of a good reminder, or be irritated at yet another source of mother-guilt, or fall somewhere in between.
And, as Danielle said, people have all sorts of baggage about this topic. For some people a reminder to declutter and get organized is a welcome call; but for others it could be a source of temptation, to spend too many hours sorting socks into little boxes because this work appeals to them, and too few hours planning or preparing meals because this work doesn't.
I found myself reacting a bit negatively to some aspects of these posts. One in particular surprised me a bit. I love my husband. I want to create a clean and tidy environment to the best of my limited abilities, and given the challenges of the space I have to work with. So why did I keep reading passages about how doing these things is showing our husbands how much we respect all their hard work, or how doing these things is a reminder to our husbands that we take our obligations to please them seriously, and frowning at the words and phrases?
I think there were two things about this idea that bugged me, frankly. The first is that my priorities tend to be: teach school, cook, do basic stuff like laundry and dishes and vacuuming, and then, if there's any time left over, work on the whole "decluttering" issue. Let's be honest, ladies: teaching school is pretty darned near close to being a full-time job, unless all your children are under six or seven (and taking care of children under those ages is also pretty darned near being a full time job). I kept thinking of a cartoon I once saw, in which an immaculately suited husband enters a messy house and greets a disheveled wife holding a crying baby and being tugged on by two crying toddlers with the question, "Gosh, honey, didn't you do anything today?"
The second thing that bugged me is that husbands are not entirely clutter-free creatures. Don't get me wrong--I'm not going to bash Mr. C., who works hard, respects my efforts, and doesn't place impossibly high standards on my housecleaning. But any married woman knows that husbands have a tendency to produce some clutter here and there--and if you clean it up, you'd better remember where you put it, because invariably something that looked like a bit of broken plastic is going to be a key replacement part for a cell phone, TV remote, flux capacitor, warp engine, or other similar device.
So I'm disinclined to sort through and put away all of Mr. C.'s clutter unless Mr. C. is available to help. But I'm certainly not going to greet him at the door each evening with a nagging request for him to point out which magazines he's done with, or which books he's ready to take to the used book store, or where he wants me to store the stuff he brought home from the store yesterday for a maintenance project he plans to do this weekend--so the clutter gets to stay for a while.
Now Mr. C. isn't an untidy person, and he's quite inclined at regular intervals to do a big, sweeping decluttering of his stuff all on his own. But, shocking as it may be to contemplate, there may be a husband or two out there who isn't radiant with the gem-like qualities of Mr. C., and so in a spirit of helpful charity to husbands who want to show their wives how much they respect their wives' efforts to keep a tidy home (not to mention the cooking, schooling, and general house-running), I offer the following list:
1. The project that is obviously not finished may not be either a) a project or b) unfinished in your wife's eye. Let her know you're still working on it, and that you'd like the components to remain where they are. However, if the project involves sharp tools and you have a toddler, be prepared to compromise on this.
2. If you have a collection of items which you'd like to leave out somewhere in the house, think about a way to store or display these items that keeps them off of the floor or the kitchen table. Hanging shelves are nice; it's even nicer if you offer to install them.
3. If you hate putting away clothing at night that you might decide you want to wear the next morning, consider purchasing a coat rack or antique hall stand if your bedroom is big enough to hold an item like this. Even a chest at the foot of the bed is better than piling these items on the floor, on the only chair in the room, or on the bed itself.
4. If you are reading several different books at once, and don't want any of them put on the bookshelf or even closed as this will lose your place, then you need two things: bookmarks, and a space on your nightstand to set the books. If you don't have a nightstand, a charming basket will do, especially if you buy two so your wife can have one, too.
5. If there is some space in your house, particularly in the attic, basement, or garage, where you keep various tools and equipment, take responsibility for this space, and think of a good way to organize it. Don't be afraid to ask your wife for suggestions unless she's already told you she wishes you'd throw all that junk away; but don't be surprised if her suggestions are really enthusiastic and involve the expenditure of some time and money at this place.
What I'm trying to say, albeit a little facetiously, is that like everything else in a marriage, the effort to keep a clean and tidy home takes both parents, not just one of them. Sure, the division of labor is going to vary a lot from one family to another; sure, the day-to-day tasks end up being the responsibility of mom, or of mom and a few helpful children, more often than not. But that doesn't mean that the responsibility for creating a restful retreat from the world rests only on mom's shoulders; chances are that with the baby sling or the cookbook or the lesson plans already up there, there just isn't room.