Seeking a Housework (r)Evolution
"Woman's Work is Never Done..."
("But is anybody's?"
Up until very recently (like, a couple of days ago) and for years now, I've spent a lot of my waking hours accompanied by the vaguely uneasy sensation that I'm Not Doing Enough. I am embarrassed to admit how often I have made myself crazy by assuming that since my to-do list is never done, then I should do more, be more efficient, Just Try Harder. (Because, I mean, efficient people don't feel this way, right??) (Even though I KNOW this is silly! I've been known to prepare a meal for a hundred people that is ready on the dot of Dinnertime; if I do say so myself, I'm a pretty efficient person.)
Anyway, last week a few things happened. First, I drafted a Family Vision Statement and Manifesto, which made me think, Wow, we are really a Super Awesome Family, of which I'm proud to be a member. Just by writing up this list of goals and visions and ideals, I also realized how much more "balanced" I would like my life to feel (this word kept coming up repeatedly while I writing).
So then Jeff was telling me how he and his coworkers have a real-time graph that informs each person in the company how much billable-to-clients work he or she has completed that week (as opposed to work that is not billable to clients but is still necessary for a given project; employees are paid by the company for both types of work). Each employee's graph also shows whether he or she is reaching a certain target of billable hours for that week. The thing is, projects have to be completed in stages, by accomplishing discrete tasks that are organized by priority, not by whether they're billable-to-clients. So it's not like this graph can help encourage Jeff to do anything besides worry: whether or not the company can bill a client for his time, he is spending all day doing necessary work.
Anyway, I started thinking about my own work, which often seems like such a blend of nebulousness, and a bunch of never-ending projects, besides--even when I have a chance to decide which tasks make sense to do first.
So this weekend I made some lists. (Since really, I am an efficient person! And I love lists.) (I locked myself in the bathroom and pretended I was still Busy long after I'd finished, when really I was writing, so that I could finish the lists with only three or so interruptions.) (This trick doesn't work often, because even Eliza was on to me by the end, and managed to push the door open.)
I am a mama, and along with this comes all sorts of crazy work and euphoric moments of pride and happiness and all the rest; I spend untold hours paying attention to my kids. But Jeff and I probably couldn't quantify our parenting "tasks" even if we tried, so I kept most of these off my lists. We also homeschool our kids and Jeff spends many hours per week making money; I kept these tasks off my lists as well.
But then there is...the rest. This "stuff" (otherwise known as "housework") occupies most of my waking hours, and some of Jeff's waking hours, and 18 hours per week of our Wonderful-Helper-Person-Karen's time (although she is primarily doing childcare too).
I decided to list (see below) the basic tasks that, to me, are useful or necessary for helping our household run smoothly, and making our home pleasant to live in.
Here are some thoughts relating to these lists:
I don't feel like I have built enough downtime into my work/day. I am not the only one who does the tasks outlined, but when I have a spare minute, I mentally run through which tasks are still to-be-done. Unless I know that Jeff or Karen will take care of a particular item on my list, I assume that coordination (meals, etc.) will be up to me. It feels like there are almost always un-done tasks on my lists, so...when should I stop working?? This is something that I don't always know.
I wonder if, instead of focusing on whether I'm doing all that needs to be done (like Jeff's not-too-useful graph at work), I should focus instead on whether I'm completing the things that are most important. Instead of, say, putting away toys or used laundry, or prepping vegetables for dinner while Eliza naps, maybe I should more often prioritize relaxation for myself (this also, I hope, will benefit our family). Sometimes I do this already, but not without more confusion and guilt than seems strictly necessary.
I wonder if I have prioritized too many tasks, period, on these never-ending to-do lists. I wonder: Should I ask for help (from whom)? Should I let things slide (which ones)? How much "downtime" do I "deserve"? Since it's probably not possible to quantify this, how can I better allow myself "time off" without guilt?
The majority of tasks on these lists are hugely rewarding and fulfilling to the extent that I feel energetic, am happy to be nurturing our family, and feel fairly good about my life's balance between "work" and "play" (which are often the same thing, but not always).
These identical tasks can foster resentment when I feel enslaved to them, or am overly tired, or feel responsible for more than I can reasonably accomplish (unless I don't take breaks).
These tasks feel most challenging when I am alone with kids and feel overwhelmed.
This means, of course, that if I build in more downtime, then something's got to give.
Except I'm not always sure how this can work. For example: most of these tasks must be completed in our small house, and I find it much more pleasant to work in a relatively tidy and clean environment. Therefore, when I'm tired and facing a long to-do list and the house is dirty, my choices feel limited to: (A. Do all the housework on my own, or (B. spend my day in a less-pleasant environment. In an effort to present scenario (B., I am generally trying to do a little bit of cleaning all through the day, rather than using those random minutes to take breaks or do something a bit more fun.
And yet, here are some of the things that happen when I maintain a never-ending to-do list while rushing around and telling myself that I'm Not Doing Enough: I don't take the time to enjoy my kids as much as I could, because I'm nearly always multi-tasking when I'm with them; I don't take care of my own needs until I get stressed to the max, and I similarly don't spend enough time attending to or having compassion for Jeff's needs; I don't enjoy tasks that are otherwise fairly enjoyable; I don't appreciate the ways that my work is super fun and rewarding; I don't appreciate the large amount that I am doing, and all that I am capable of.
I am nearly certain that there are more expansive, less binary ways to view this housework situation. I'm working on manifesting some interesting solutions.
I plan to keep thinking about these lists, with input (I hope) from the rest of my family. Back when Ben was having crisis after crisis, sometimes all day long, I didn't feel like I had a lot of time for this. Now, maybe I do...
I am very curious: how does housework get prioritized in YOUR house? How do you decide when you've done "enough" and it's time to rest or do fun things that are just for you??
Food, Cooking, and Kitchen Tasks:
Tasks Performed Multiple Times Per Day
- Meal cleanup
- Putting dry dishes away
- Prep cleanup (prior to each meal)
- Other cleanup (after kefir, yogurt, broth, etc. etc.)
- Setting table
- Clearing table
- Putting leftovers away/consolidating
- Wiping down counters
- Sweeping under table (Ben's chore)
- Cleaning table (Jem's chore)
- Give boys' supplements as necessary
Tasks Performed Once Per Day
- Making, or heating & serving, breakfast
- Assembling/serving lunch
- Cooking dinner (usually 1/2-2 hours, prior to the meal or spread throughout the day on various prep tasks)
- Planning ahead/defrosting
- Making kefir
Tasks Performed One or More Times Per Week
- Planning menus
- Making grocery list
- Grocery shopping
- Picking up CSA farm share
- Picking up milk
- Working at the CSA farm (in season)
- Making/bottling/storing broth
- Making fun "extras"
- Making large batch (2-3 gallons) stew for breakfasts
- Making yogurt (1-4x)
- Making fermented veggies (1 gallon per week)
- Cleaning stove (1-5x)
- Reorganizing/wiping down fridge
- Refilling spice jars/herbs/coconut oil/etc.
- Scrubbing/shining sink
- Sharpening chef's knife
- Emptying compost (2-5x)
- Emptying chicken bucket (2-5x)
- Making/straining/storing tea
- Cleaning drain board
Tasks Performed One or More Times Per Month
- Making butter
- Making water kefir
- Making coconut kefir
- Wiping down range hood
- Vacuuming fridge coils
- Making vinegar
- Juicing vegetables (in season)
- Finding recipes
- Organizing the pantry
- "Decanting" and consolidating ferments
- Organizing deep freeze/top freezer
- Coordinating pickup of meat, cream, broth bones, etc.
- Picking things up, straightening, and putting stuff away (all through the day)
- Clearing surfaces (table, piano, deep freezer, etc.) (multiple times per day)
- Making beds (daily)
- Putting away worn-but-still-clean clothes (daily)
- Feeding and watering chickens (3 mornings per week; Ben's chore)
- Putting chickens to bed (3 evenings per week)
- Laundry washing/drying (2x week)
- Laundry folding/putting away (2x week) (Ben and Jem do their own laundry, with assistance, and put it away, with reminding.
- Taking out trash and recycling (2-3x week)
- Vacuuming (1-2x week)
- Watering houseplants (1-2x week)
- Paying bills/staying on top of logistics and phone calls/insurance issues/etc. et. (ongoing)
- Greenstar co-op shift (2 hrs./week)
- Helping the boys clean and de-clutter their room (2x month, with lots of help from the boys)
- Changing sheets (2x month or so)
- Going through and getting rid of the Constantly Mounting Piles of magazines, paperwork, statements, receipts, etc. etc. (1x month or so)
- Coordinating chicken feed pickup (every three weeks)
- Organizing/straightening storage loft (monthly)
- Balancing budget/Gnucash (monthly)
- Reorganizing closets/storage and Getting Rid of Things We Really Don't Need (every few months, and ongoing)
- Dusting (my piano, and many other surfaces when-they-get-really-bad)
- Washing windows/screens/sills/window frames/radiators/fans/etc. (seasonally)
- Mowing lawn (1x week, seasonally)
- Wiping down sink (daily)
- Wiping down toilet and floor around same (daily)
- Wiping out shower with vinegar (after each shower)
- Deeper cleaning (1x week)
- Wiping down mirror (2-5x week)
- Really Deep Cleaning (once per year...)
- Many tasks, ideally at least a half-hours' worth daily, including watering, planting, staking, fencing, weeding, harvesting, mulching, etc. (in season)
- Fill with gas (when needed)
Special Tasks Relating to Baby and Kid Care:
- Pumping breastmilk (2-3x day)
- Making, pureeing, and storing baby-soup (2-3x week)
- Preparing bottles
- Sterilizing breast pump parts/bottles/nipples (1x week)
- Bottle-feeding Eliza (3-5x day)
- Researching Ben- (and sometimes other children's-) related health stuff (ongoing)
- Implementing, or coordinating and paying others to implement, additional Ben therapies, etc.
- Taking Eliza to poop in the toilet when she wakes up in the morning (or otherwise dealing with her poop)