How I learned to love housework

iStock 000000297239XSmall How I learned to love houseworkI am not a naturally tidy person. To put it bluntly: I’m kind of a slob. It’s hard to say whether this is due more to my laziness or to my lack of attention to detail, but I’m the type of person who can step over piles of dirty laundry without noticing them, who forgets to sweep the kitchen floor until there’s an audible crunch when I walk across it.

So you can imagine that when I first left the career world to become a housewife after my son was born, things didn’t go smoothly. I found keeping house frustrating, since the ratio of effort to payoff just wasn’t there for me. A spotless kitchen wasn’t that different to me than a kitchen with dishes stacked next to the sink and a mystery sticky substance coating the floor in front of the fridge, so the work of getting it clean seemed like a waste of time. Sometimes my husband would come home from work and gently mention that he might clean up a bit, and I’d be baffled. What was there to clean? The house seemed fine to me. Then I’d watch him pick up a dirty sock off the living room floor, vacuum some crushed Cheerios from the rug, remove some empty sippy cups and crumb-covered plates from the side table. With each item I’d say, “Oh, that? That bothers you?”

I had settled into a sort of routine of shuffling around the house and doing the bare minimum, occasionally stopping to sigh and ask myself what other arbitrary things might need to be done. I didn’t resent the work, but I did think it was mostly pointless, and I never did it because I wanted to; I’d just put myself in the mindset of imagining what a neat freak would do, and mimic that.

And then I found God, and everything changed.

One of the most surprising results of my conversion has been that I’ve developed a love of housework. I’ve seen a complete reversal in my old attitudes about the tasks involved with keeping the house in order. This doesn’t mean that my house is super clean all the time — I still have that lack of attention to detail and the whole five kids under seven thing that means that my house is messy a lot of the time, but the difference is that I now value a clean house, and I almost always enjoy doing what it takes to get it that way.

How did God change that? Part of it is probably due to the Christian emphasis on service and selflessness, that I’ve come to understand that the path to joy is a path that involves work and personal sacrifice. Some of it might be that it’s easier to manage the craziness of having a bunch of little kids when things are clean. But the biggest thing that changed for me was when I came to understand that order is of God, and that the fight against chaos is a fight for good.

When I was first reading books about theology, the idea of God bringing order from chaos deeply resonated with me. I’d always had a love of astronomy and physics, and when I thought of clouds of scattered dust coalescing into planets, smatterings of planets organizing themselves around a sun in a dance carefully orchestrated by the laws of gravity, I could see the hand of a great Organizer at work. I delved into books that talked about how so much of good and evil falls along the lines of order and chaos: life brings order out of random elements, death returns it to chaos. Peaceful societies are orderly, war is chaotic. What separates beautiful music from annoying noises is the harmonious organization of the notes. And so on. When you take a look at the big picture of the battle of good and evil, you see that so much of what the devil does simply involves destroying order.

At first all of these thoughts were confined to my head and the pages of books, but then I began to see these themes in my daily life. One day I was standing at the sink, rinsing soggy cereal out of bowls and placing them in the dishwasher, and it hit me: I was bringing order out of chaos. Suddenly, the value of this mundane task was no longer subjective. This wasn’t pointless drudgery; it was God’s work! It was a small-scale version of what God did when he created the planets, the galaxies, and life itself. I shut the dishwasher door, wiped down the counters, rinsed the sink clean, and swept the floor. When I stood back to behold the order I had brought to this place, I knew — could feel – that I had won a little battle against evil.

I’m still lazy and will never be one of those women who just can’t sit down because she’s always cleaning something, but I can honeslty say that once I understood the spirituality of housework, I have mostly enjoyed it. The more I’ve meditated on my work as a cooperation with God in the timeless fight against the forces of chaos, the more it has become satisfying to me on a deep level. In fact, some of the best moments in my spiritual life in the past couple of years have been when I was standing in my house after a good cleaning session, looking around at the triumph over the disarray that once reigned, knowing that I just won a victory for God.

New here? Take a moment to introduce yourself, or say hi on Twitter at @conversiondiary.

Enter the Conversation...

51 Responses to “How I learned to love housework”
  1. Gina says:

    Hmm. I found God at age three, and 32 years later, I’m still a hopeless slob. This could be a problem. . . .

  2. Phoebe says:

    Have you read “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work”? It’s a short little essay on just this topic.

    http://www.amazon.com/Quotidian-Mysteries-22Womens-Madeleva-Spirituality/dp/0809138018

  3. Sue says:

    I was just thinking along the very same lines – thank you for putting it so well!

  4. Kimberlie says:

    I think my dislike of housework comes from my inherent perfectionism (why bother because in 1.5 seconds after it’s clean one of my 4 kids or husband will have it dirty again) or from rebellion against my mother’s obsession with neatness to the point that if there was one cup in the sink we would be late for church because it had to be clean before we left. My other HUGE problem is my inability to organize properly so that everything has a place. I feel like I just shift clutter from one room to the other until I finally get so fed up I just throw it all out (sorry landfills).

    The oddity here is that I crave calm, I crave an uncluttered environment, I want the peace that comes from a clean and orderly house, but I live with 5 other individuals who do not share my vision. So I end up resenting the constant nagging to help clean, the threats of toys thrown away due to lack of care and respect, the lack of recognition for all that I do, etc, etc. I certainly have not learned to embrace an attitude of service.

    Will you pray for me? I truly want to find joy in being a homemaker but I am just not there yet.
    Kimberlie recently posted..My Many Names

  5. Katie says:

    I’m certainly not proud of it, but even being a detail-oriented person by nature hasn’t been a help to me in the motivation necessary to ‘keep house’. Occasionally, I will ‘get domesticated’ as I refer to it, and actually enjoy cleaning my bathrooms, washing and drying (but not folding or putting away) laundry, sweeping and vacuuming, for a few hours of a Saturday. However, I would be lucky if that domestication showed up once a month.

    I know I feel guilty about NOT being more active in this area of my life, and now I see (better?) why it DOES matter. With prayer, I’ll be able to conquer this apathy and laziness, and perhaps create the opportunity to light a desire to serve others more frequently!

    Thanks so much for sharing, Jen!

  6. weavermom says:

    I really enjoyed this. I’ve been enjoying housework more in the last couple of years, and had no idea why other than the order out of chaos satisfaction. I’d never thought of the spiritual application of that however and enjoyed reading that perspective. Thanks! :)

  7. Rick says:

    I love this post. I’d love to share it with my (not entirely tidy) wife, but I’m not sure there’s a good way to do so without offending her.

  8. Barbara C. says:

    Jen, thanks so much for the new perspective! That’s the first time that housework has made sense as God’s work beyond the whole “embrace your vocation” yada-yada…

  9. Colin Kerr says:

    Good for you, girl. Seeing God in every facet of our lives is what He wants. So often our lives are governed by motivations that are anything but praiseworthy – desire for others’ esteem, money, luxury, etc. If we fail to attain our goals, what is left for us? Even if we succeed, then what? With your mindset, you see God in the beginning, middle and end. Life is hard; washing dishes and taking care of children other than for love of God seems an impossible task. And all those who have lived much harder lives than either of us, they did it knowing that God was beside them.

  10. Jenna says:

    This is fantastic! I always spent my days trying to get “everything” done as fast as possible so I could sit and relax. Of course, “everything” never gets done, and I found MYSELF in a constant state of chaos. I never had time to relax it seemed. Then, for some reason I cannot recall (although it was surely God’s doing), I sat down one day and read the book of Ecclesiastes. It really taught me to enjoy what I was doing at the moment, and that some things can wait until later. It changed my life! Now when I am rushing around to get things done, I remind myself to slow down and figure out a way to enjoy the task at hand. I also learned there is a time for everything and some things can wait. Almost the opposite problem you had! This post reminded me of what I learned and made me smile :) Thanks!
    Jenna recently posted..Pregnancy Prison…Ok, it’s not that bad!

  11. Dear Jen,
    Please subscribe me to your Conversion Diary. I received your emails before, but since I’ve changed email addresses, I haven’t succeeded in resubscribing. My new email address is: smaryroberta@visi.org.
    Thanks and God bless you!
    S.Mary Roberta Viano
    Georgetown Visitation Monastery
    Washington,DC

  12. I think it’s funny that your husband is the tidy one. I don’t see that as often… I was a huge slob but have also become much tidier thanks to the teachings of St. Josemaria and Teresa of the Little Flower. I am most likely (knock on wood) not going to be a martyr and sacrifice my life in some dramatic way, but both of those saints have taught me that my sink is my altar, the place where I offer myself through my work as a prayer to God. Moms can be saints in the middle of the chaos, not so much by having an immaculate house or perfect children, but rather by starting with little things one thing at a time. Sometimes I think it would be easier to lay down and die rather than tackle my scary closet that sends the children running in fear from unidentified objects shower on their heads. But I have to remember that these little unpleasant tasks can be offered as a prayer for someone or some intention for the glory of God. I like how you said it, there is an ordering of chaos element as well. But I am also comforted by the fact that the results aren’t everything, meaning even if our work gets ruined over and over and we never actually get completely out of the chaos, our work makes us holy when it’s turned into prayer. Great post!
    The Boring Blogger recently posted..And now the angry old man returns…

  13. Alli says:

    I’m in the interesting position of being a housewife after my husband was a househusband. He spent a year taking care of the house and working on his thesis until our son was born and we switched roles. While he was the one home all day, I never understood why my stacks of clutter could bother him- now that I’m the one spending many hours in the same few rooms, I find myself heaving heavy sighs at a cereal box left on the table.

    I’ve been working on finding joy in keeping the house neat without bitterness when it’s more work than I think it should be. I think this idea of creating order out of chaos may be helpful!

  14. Thank you for sharing this. I think you’ve captured the idea so very well. I think I’ve always felt intuitively that having order in our lives was somehow on the path of walking faithfully but I’ve never been able to capture that idea as well as you have.
    For me it’s been more about the parable of the talents… If you are faithful in what you are given you will be given more.

    Your perspective gives me a whole new appreciation for that old adage “cleanliness is next to godliness.”
    Suzanne @ Delightfully Organized recently posted..Cues From The Workplace: 7 Forms of Waste

  15. I, too, found a love in housework after I changed my perspective. I realized that it’s not about how I feel good/proud when things are put away and clean, but rather it is my duty and sacrifice for God and family. What a well put post!
    Grace in my Heart recently posted..St. Anthony Miracle!

  16. Moni says:

    I’m recently undergoing a tidy/ordered conversion in my household (and heart) too! I’m not a very disciplined person in general, hence the messy house. I think it was St. Ignatius of Loyola who said something about someone’s room being a window into the state of their soul. yikes!

    A friend recommended a great book to me, A Mother’s Rule of Life, and she talks about that in there too. And it’s been very helpful, thinking and praying about my RULE of life and one of its aspects being keeping the household.
    Thanks for your post, it was another boost of encouragement to try and get myself (and the kitchen and sock drawer) in order!

    • Jennie says:

      If St. Ignatius is right, there’s an awful lot of dust in my soul. Food for thought!

  17. paige says:

    i love this – these tiny shifts in perspective – finding the *good* in His work for us – is valuable.
    paige recently posted..circle of moms – top 25 homeschool blogs

  18. I know I am more peaceful with myself and with my children when the house is in order. Not perfect, but decluttered.
    Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith recently posted..Tackle It Tuesday #4: Clean out the Junk Drawer

  19. Kelly says:

    I have always wanted our home to be a “haven” from the world but the last few years is feels more like a “hovel”. I have the same blindness for mess and a lack of good housekeeping skills. I can’t blame my mom, she had the right balance and my sisters all seem to manage okay without obsessing. After viewing the “flylady” website and commentary I know now that house management is a SKILL set that I’m going to have to work at.

    I’ve also recognized the spiritual dimension in that a messy house feels like a spiritual battle. It is an open invitation to chaos and the opposite of a foundation of peace.

    Please add me to the prayers.

    St. Martha (of Martha & Mary fame) pray for us!!

  20. Erica says:

    Ohhhh! You are kind to share this perspective! I wonder if I could learn it and grow in this way as well. Hmmmm. I do dearly hate housework. Hmmm.

  21. Margo says:

    I know exactly what you mean about the good vs. evil in terms of keeping a neat, clean house. Recently I had a priest come to my home to say a Mass and an hour or so later a horrible smell of sulfur filled my upstairs rooms. After that it started targeting my downstairs bathroom on a daily basis and the only way to get rid of it is to sprinkle Holy Water and Blessed Salt around the bathroom, say a prayer and put the Crucifix in there for a while. It’s amazing how fast the smell disappears, but it sure leaves my bathroom looking like a war zone. Well, I suppose in a way it is. I have no doubt that the Devil loves to destroy order, as you put it.
    Margo recently posted..True Devotion to Mary – (6)

  22. My mother always told me that the biggest change she saw in me when I decided to get baptised (age 14), was that my room was suddenly much cleaner. My bedroom always looked like dump, but from that time, it was generally tidy. After I graduated, I spent a year at home, caring for my little brother and doing housework and I truly enjoyed cleaning the house. Unfortunately, now that I live on my own, my house isn’t as tidy. I guess that’s because it’s just me living there. If I know I will have company over, my house is tidy and clean, but if it’s just me, it can turn in a war zone very quickly.
    Your post inspired me and I hope it will help me to keep my house clean and tidy. Thanks!

  23. This is so encouraging. Thank you!!
    Elisa | blissfulE recently posted..Thermomix

  24. Joyce says:

    WELL said!! As a semi neat freak, I’ve always been intrigued by this whole question of how anyone can abide messy surroundings, leave alone function within that. I know there are many contributing factors to whether we are neat freaks or “messies”, not the least of which can be “baggage” from our childhood. I love how this challenges us to enjoy keeping order for the right reasons……to glorify God and not to relieve our anxiety or to try and create perfection, etc.
    Your article affirms for me why it has always felt so “right” for me to keep an orderly home…..beyond the obvious reasons. I will now challenge myself to focus on those right motivations and not do it simply to relieve inner anxiety and turmoil.

  25. Beth says:

    First time commenting- I enjoy reading your posts :) I am the opposite. I am a little obsessive about keeping my house clean and sometimes feel like I am missing the point by being so obsessive about it. I need to work on cleaning for the right reasons too :)

  26. Elaine says:

    SO encouraging — thank you!! I also tend to not “see” clutter AND have a neat-nick husband. My efforts to keep our home semi-orderly are usually to please him, but this post encourages me to meditate more on also pleasing HIM.

  27. elizabethe says:

    You and I are having some long distance mind meld. I was thinking this exact thing about 3 weeks ago as I was cleaning up the bathroom and had to remove some bugs who had taken up residence in the corner. Housework is the front line of civilization. Without housework, daily, routine housework, there would eventually be no distinction between indoors and out as the bugs and mold and other not so pretty nature came in, ate the wood, destroyed the structure and made it unlivable for humans. Housework keeps civilization from disintegrating.

    I also am not a naturally clean person. I have that exact experience with my husband as you, where he comes in and says something like “this room is not CLEAN” and I look around and have no idea what he’s talking about. I have to ask him “what, specifically, do you think needs to be cleaned at this moment?” and he’ll say something like, “the floor needs to be swept.” or “there’s butter on the wall” or, “that pan on the stove is dirty”. Some thing that I just didn’t notice. Or thought I didn’t notice.

    What amazed me when I was literally forced to keep a clean house (we put our house on the market, put about 75% of our stuff in storage and I had to have the house immaculate every time I left) is how much less anxiety and stress I had and how much more energy and determination and clear headedness I had. I always thought I didn’t care if the house was messy, but I did. I just thought I was kind of scatterbrained and anxious, like it was my personality, but it turned out, I was really affected by the house being messy.

  28. Maggie Dee says:

    Thank you! Wow…what a paradigm shift for me. I had never thought about housework (or the rest of my tasks) in that way before. The whole thing was beginning to seem so pointless to me. My home and work like is one constant hamster wheel. Between bookeeping and laundry it just never ends. I’ve really struggled with the fact that it seems like the tasks don’t get to a finished point so I’ve been very passive aggresive about my attitude and let things slide with keeping organized these past few years. “Working with God to bring order out of chaos”. I think I can finally begin to see a point to it all now.

  29. rose says:

    I have learned to make my work a prayer…
    xx

  30. What a beautiful reflection. Someone already mentioned it above, but the book “A Mothers Rule of Life” was really helpful to me in learning to keep the house orderly and doing so happily. I’m not a naturally neat person either, and my husband really is, so it has been something I’ve tried to work on since we got married. I’d never thought about how housework is “making order out of chaos” but that is so true, and something that I will keep in mind!
    Hope you are enjoying the precious little one!
    Katie @ Wellness Mama recently posted..How to Make Kombucha Soda

  31. Jennie says:

    Thank you, I needed to hear that. I tend to be lazy, not seeing the messes. I also have problems with depression and anxiety but that’s a story for another day. If I can remember that creating order out of chaos is God’s work, then maybe the kitchen counter will get cleaned off more often and the laundry done. Thanks again! I love your blog!

  32. Amanda says:

    Okay, I’ve got all sorts of new blog post ideas running through my head now, thanks :) I’m one of the perfectionist-types who becomes so caught up in getting the housework/organizing right and then drops the ball on it entirely. I’ve read A Mother’s Rule of Life and while I loved the book, it also somehow didn’t make anything click with regards to housework for me the way your short blog post did. Definitely checking out that Quotidian mysteries book as well!

    Hmm, maybe this post could inspire my packrat, messy husband too.

  33. tanya says:

    You do know, don’t you, that you’ve been gifted with some extraordinary graces? This is not something everyone experiences with conversion to Christianity/Catholicism. But, I’m glad for you! (and a little jealous)

  34. Great post! I so easily forget that most of my struggles in life (homemaking, motherhood, etc.) have to do with my own heart issues. The laundry isn’t done because I’m selfishly spending too much time on the computer. The kids are “driving me crazy” because I’m not seeing discipline as a means of turning their hearts to the cross. I’m not experiencing joy because I’m viewing my daily work as a chore instead of a privilege and a calling. I think God is speaking to this sinful heart of mine. Thanks!
    Amy @ Gospel Homemaking recently posted..Tell Your Time Sale!

  35. Honey says:

    I was in agreement with you about not noticing so much the messiness of home life. But somehow the Holy Spirit didn’t pass along the housekeeping gene to me. I’ll keep pondering this though and I am working on having a servent’s heart. Thanks for sharing your story.

  36. TXMom2B says:

    This post is brilliant! I am annoyed by visual clutter but put off housework as a boring chore. I won’t start liking it, but seeing it this way, as cooperating with God, elevates it from brainless work to valuable spiritual exercise.

  37. What an amazing perspective! I have really struggled with this, too – for all the reasons you listed (what mess?), as well as what some other commenters have said. I’ve found a website that’s really helpful to me: flylady.com. She talks about using housework as a means to bless your home and your family, and letting go of perfectionism by using her system of baby-steps. It’s awesome! Thanks for sharing your experience, Jen.
    Elizabeth @ Coppertop Kitchen recently posted..Grilled Chard Salad

  38. Claire says:

    I LOVE this post. I too tend to be a slob, and I’m an only child as well as an introvert . I, however, really dislike the mess, but I am lazy! (blush) A couple of months ago I made myself get off my lazy backside, start a daily workout and begin straightening out my house. It’s not easy, but I keep telling myself that my husband works hard and deserves to come home to something resembling a home instead of a mine field. I have always disliked the hours of work needed to make the house habitable for company, and to do so meant that piles were thrown into spare rooms. Talk about CHAOS!!!!

    I highly recommend to anyone looking for an easy routine to check out http://www.flylady.com. Marla is upbeat, happy and she makes getting your house in order fun. She tells us to stop being perfectionists and details simple cleaning and organizing routines.

    I’m about to return to work full-time for 2-3 months and I am DETERMINED to not let my house get back to the state it was in when I worked full-time and after I was home for 6 months.

    I’ll be praying for all of us. Clean your house for Jesus and offer it up for the conversion of souls and the poor souls in Purgatory.

    God Bless. ;-)

  39. Thanks for this reflection on the spiritual, Godly side of housework. Though I can be very organized, and usually am on top of things when it comes to bills, work, and ministry things, our place is practically never neat and tidy.

    Reading this has inspired me to go wash the dishes. Dirty dishes really seem to irk my husband, but they don’t bother me. Thanks for this incentive to be good wife and spiritual diva.
    Trisha Niermeyer Potter recently posted..Kevin’s Birthday Flashbacks: 1997 & 1998

  40. Sinea Pies says:

    You make a great connection with loving God and wanting to be organized. I am not sure that it always connects with BEING organized but we have it in us to be like Him! Is that photo really your sink area? If so, it looks beautiful!

    I have a huge project coming up … renovating our house of 30+ years…and blogging may be a challenge. Do you ever guest post or allow reprints of an archived article from your site? Let me know. Ducks n a Row is going to need some TLC.

  41. Alison B. says:

    Thank you for these encouraging words. So easy to forget these simple points.

    I receive such inspriration from you blog – thank you for all that you do.

    Take care,
    Alison

    http://www.AtTheEndOfTheDrive.blogspot.com

  42. Gillian says:

    When I was first reading books about theology, the idea of God bringing order from chaos deeply resonated with me. I’d always had a love of astronomy and physics, and when I thought of clouds of scattered dust coalescing into planets, smatterings of planets organizing themselves around a sun in a dance carefully orchestrated by the laws of gravity, I could see the hand of a great Organizer at work. I delved into books that talked about how so much of good and evil falls along the lines of order and chaos: life brings order out of random elements, death returns it to chaos. Peaceful societies are orderly, war is chaotic. What separates beautiful music from annoying noises is the harmonious organization of the notes. And so on. When you take a look at the big picture of the battle of good and evil, you see that so much of what the devil does simply involves destroying order.

  43. Gillian says:

    I posted that asking for some examples of these books…

  44. Jasmine says:

    Thank you! I cant tell you what an inspiration this is for me as a new wife and mom. I am not a slob, but I hide dust and dirt with ‘neatness,’ if you know what I mean. Things may not move from their place but the place is not CLEAN! >_< This post is going to be a wonderful meditation for me. Thank you for writing it. =)
    Jasmine recently posted..Signs of the Times

  45. Zaida says:

    Jennifer, this post is soooo helpful to me! I am simply a disorganised and lazy person!!!!! I do work a pretty challenging job, and have 2 kiddies at home, but I have to face facts – I will sit with a cup of tea and a novel any old day and let the hosue fall down around me. Your thoughts about “order” and God just might (might, mind you) have a positive impact on me! :)

  46. Imelda Cleveland says:

    I am not a slob, but I hide dust and dirt with ‘neatness,’ if you know what I mean. I love how this challenges us to enjoy keeping order for the right reasons……to glorify God and not to relieve our anxiety or to try and create perfection, etc.
    Imelda Cleveland recently posted..Heather Penko