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Trying to become a woman who knows

By Dalene Rowley

I don’t take kindly to housework. There are aspects of it, such as dusting and scrubbing toilets (do not get me started on ironing), that I feel are beneath me. I find it frustrating to spend time and energy on chores that so quickly and easily become undone.

Simply put, there are other things I’d rather be doing.

A good friend of mine cross-stitched and framed the following especially for me:

A clean house is the sign of a wasted life.

But to be honest, I don’t really believe that.

Yesterday I labored early to scrub my stove, catch up on the dirty dishes and mop the kitchen floor. I was supposed to bake pies as well, but family from out of town dropped in and I dropped everything to visit with them. Then my husband and I took our nephew to watch the BYU-UTAH game (it was one of the best football games I’ve ever witnessed, thanks for asking). It was a cold night, the game went into overtime and then there was much rejoicing, so we didn’t arrive back home until late. I was chilled to the bone and dog-tired. But I’d invited family and friends over for today’s annual Thanksgiving dinner round two (it’s all about the leftovers) and I knew I would hate myself today if I didn’t get the pies done last night.

So I baked pies until just after midnight and then willed myself to complete the last batch of dishes before going to bed.

As I got up early this morning to boil the yams before church, I felt the leftover aches in my feet and my back. I glanced at my puffy eyes and I wondered why I wasn’t still in bed. I thought about how this task–though self-imposed–was a labor of love.

I pondered the to-do list for this day and how I am s-l-o-w-l-y coming to realize that cooking and cleaning and creating a house of order can be labors of love. The tasks themselves may be menial, but I believe meaning can be found through our sense of purpose in accomplishing them.

Admittedly, I am still working to find that sense of purpose.

What about you? Do you find a sense of purpose in the tasks at hand–whatever they may be? When it comes to your labors, how do you feel the love? Do you dust? (Because I still can’t wrap myself around that one.)

About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

41 thoughts on “Trying to become a woman who knows”

  1. I wish I felt more purpose in the tasks, and I think the more I complete them, the more purpose I find. I love having a house that I don't have to be ashamed of, but it's hard to capture the vision when the clean house only happens sporadically. I wish I had better habits, but like you, I'm slowly getting it.

    When I can't see what's happening on TV because the screen is so dusty… I dust. 😉

  2. I love the feeling of a clean house, and that it what motivates me to do the work to get there (and to maintain where I can). But I also find purpose in some things, like folding laundry. My husband likes his clothes folded a certain way. It used to bug me that he was so particular. But now I feel like it's an expression of love to do things the way he likes them.

    The chore I have a really hard time with is making dinner. Eleven years into marriage, I haven't found the joy. But there is joy to be found, and I am trying.

  3. I feel about toilets the way you feel about dusting. But I do them. A lot of people stream through my house and it's hard to keep on top of everything, but I like how when it's clean it feels like home. I want people to feel that.

    My problem is more with clutter on the kitchen counter. I swear it multiplies when I go to sleep.

  4. I don't dust, but my son does. 😉

    I delegate whenever possible. Not to get out of doing the task myself, but because we're a family and we all share in the work together.

    We try to pick the tasks that are least offensive to us. My husband doesn't mind cleaning the toilet (yes, prayers and offerings were given when I learned that). My son doesn't mind dusting. I don't mind doing the bulk of it.

    I keep perspective by remembering the *people* I do these things for. I also keep perspective by remembering that I'm caring for gifts given to me by Heavenly Father. It's good stewardship. I've been given furnishings and a home and show respect and gratitude to Heavenly Father by caring for those gifts.

    Now some of my gifts have been the children I'm entrusted to raise and nurture. Those gifts have priority over the objects. So sometimes it's a delicate balancing act to care for the human gifts instead of the worldly gifts. I try, try, try to keep my stewardship over those human gifts the highest priority!

  5. Just don't write the date in my dust and we're fine.

    There are some cleaning chores that I really enjoy doing because I can see the difference so quickly. So many of the things we do don't offer immediate feedback like vacuuming or whipping the counters down can. Sure they have to be done frequently, but then you get that immediate result frequently too.

  6. A few years ago I had an epiphany about home chores. I was working part-time and all homemaking felt like it was just hard work. Some things happened in our family that led to the decision that I needed to stop working and just focus on home.

    Somehow that decision helped me to learn to think of my home chores as service I was giving my family. I learned to like doing laundry because I could think about each family member as I folded their clothes. I don't really care for dusting, but I read a poem about how it is embracing the things that you love, which helped me to enjoy it more. (I also really like the Method Good for Wood wipes from Target, they have a yummy almond smell that almost makes dusting enjoyable.)

    When I have an attitude of gratitude for my home and a feeling of stewardship, I find my chores feel more important and fulfilling.

  7. My six-year-old loves to dust. We're moving her over to window duty so the three-year-old is becoming the designated duster. I honestly don't care about what other people think of my house; it's not immaculate, but I try to keep it comfortable and usually tidy up when I know people are coming. I have been in a few homes that were really truly dirty, and it is uncomfortable to be there. Like others, I try to include my family in taking care of our home as much as possible. Our kids are little and we're mostly all home all the time so right now it's not hard to spend a few hours cleaning the house together on Saturday morning. Hopefully it's something we can keep up as they get older.

    I've also come to enjoy keeping my house clean and tidy. It really does have a better feeling when things are picked up and put away. I also try hard to help everyone who lives here to understand that I'm not the only who cleans up; it's our family home. I am kind of selfish about cooking though since I love to do it so much. It's hard for me to share that with my kids 🙂

  8. When I clean, I purposely don't clean everything. I vacuum my stairs so I can leave a little clutter on the landing. I clean the living room so I can leave the pile of papers in my basket alone. It's a literal thought of "I will clean this so I don't have to put that away." I know it's strange, but it keeps me sane. And we do what Kari talked about – take care of the least offensive chores. The husband takes care of floors, dishes and toilets, I cook, vacuum, dust, and scrub sinks & tubs. And now we're teaching our toddler to pick up/practice throwing skills into the basket.

    But I can honestly say that cleaning does not fulfill me and I get little or no gratification from it. Except ironing. Ironing makes things perfectly flat, which is oddly fulfilling.

  9. There is a debilitating (at least for me) circular nature to cleaning that drives me nuts: it's never really done. The minute the clothes hampers are empty, someone spills, vomits, falls in mud or otherwise dirties their clothes. The minute the floor is beautifully scrubbed, the kool aid gets spilled. That never-ended-ness of housekeeping is often discouraging to me and at times has led me to give up, just a bit, or set my sights somewhat lower (maybe a slightly sticky floor is still okay?)

    I love a quote hanging in my friend's mother's home (she had it really small by her kitchen sink). Although I can't remember the actual wording, the idea has changed how I look at cleaning and why I do it. The quote said something about how our homes are temples and sacred and that we should set the orderliness and cleanliness of the temple as our goal for our home. Temples are peaceful and conducive to quiet reflection and I have noticed that having my home clean, if only for that brief instant in time, brings peace into my home. I need all the peace bringers I can invite into my home for there are far too many forces bringing chaos and discontent. This same idea was reflected in the conference talk last April about homes and temples by Elder Stevenson. Here's the link, but I don't know how to hypertext it: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1032-31,00.html

    This whole idea of peace bringing still doesn't make me whistle while I work, but it gives me a purpose–akin to a runner's high (cleaner's high?)–to work toward.

  10. My mom used to have this sign on the door: Come in, sit down, relax, converse. Our house doesn't always look like this, sometimes it's even worse!
    And I have always thot clutter was love!

    But now I am married and like Millie – I see housework as blessing my man and our furries. I can do service for them each day. Make sure he gets the best clothes hangers, try and figure what he wants the house to look like – and I like the idea of our home as a temple – our moods follow the state of the house.

    I also am able to feel this way because I am trying to follow flylady.net, that i learned about from someone on these comments a long while ago –

    you ladies touch all areas of my life!

  11. It's hard but I keep trying to find meaning, love, joy in everyday, household chores. I tend to whine, seethe and then cave in and force myself to do it.

    There's got to be a better way. A way to change our natures and bodies to obey our spirits. Because "cleanliness is next to Godliness," right? We know that and yet still…

    The Amish focus soul heart and hand on their household tasks. They are there, fully present, giving themselves over to whatever it is they're making: butter, cotton dresses, barn raising.

    Although I'm LDS, part of me wishes I were Amish, to "get" that part of daily chores. But even then, I suppose, there are no guarantees. (sigh)

  12. I find meaning in these things because they truly are aspects of creating a beautiful home.

    When I was at BYU an apostle gave a devotional where he asked us what our grades were like? And what did our dorm rooms look like? He suggested that one is indicative of the other. I've found it to be true for my life. When my house is out of order and constantly messy, my attitude is usually not the best and I feel out of sorts. When my house is clean, I feel like I can breathe deep and easy.

    That said, I have two small children that I adore spending time with. So this is a constant balance and I frequently neglect the kitchen (buy pies instead of bake them) so I can snuggle on the couch or build train tracks.

    I have had a lot of extended family comment about the different spirit in our home (only member here). I know that some of it has to do with cleanliness and order as well as just being kind and happy within our walls. There is deep satisfaction in creating that kind of environment.

  13. I would much rather be painting, creating, sewing, sleeping, playing, doing something fun than clean or cook any day. But I find if my house isn't somewhat clean and picked up, those things are much harder to do and enjoy. I try to have my kids keep most things going: kitchen, bathroom and vacuuming, but I find myself doing it more often than not just to keep up. About every other month I go on a rampage and ground everyone on Sat. morning to at least DO SOMETHING. It's so much easier to keep on top of it than to play catch up.

    I just can't wrap my head around cooking. I've tried. Heaven knows I've tried. I just hate it. After 20+ years of marriage enough is enough. We eat out alot. Or the girls come up with something. I figure if there is food in the house, no one will starve. And if they do, it's their own fault. (Obviously when my kids were young ones, it was my duty.) And as for dishes…paper and plastic makes for easy cleanup. Just sayin…

    Dusting…hmmm…hubbie does it. We try not to touch the shelves but sometimes when an accidental swipe happens you notice how dusty everything really is, and it has to be done.

  14. We have had a cleaning person since I started part-time employment about 11 years ago. Although homemaking in general is important and sets a tone in the home, I don't see anything sacred about cleaning. I did it when I was home full-time anyway, but it's not how I want to spend my time, and I can't think of any good reason not to outsource. We provide legal and honorable employment for someone who is glad of the work.

    That said, we do cook dinner just about every night, rarely eating out if we are in town. He does Saturdays, and I do all the others, as my schedule of getting home is a bit more flexible.

    I love that the OP took time out for the football game. Gotta watch that Martha/Mary balance.

  15. For me it was learning to direct my housekeeping instead of being directed by its demands that made the difference in my capacity to find it rewarding.

    When my children were little I read the book "Side-tracked Home Executive" which made me laugh and gave me a way to divide, conquer and put in perspective my housekeeping skills. It taught me to get myself to ignore the dirty, demanding kitchen floor because I knew when it was going to be cleaned–I'd scheduled it for specific times each week–and there were other things more important just then.

    When they were older I read "Sink Reflections", a similar book, to get back into that sense of mastery of the chores and to learn ways to reduce clutter.

    Both books helped me be present for the tasks when I undertook them and find a sense of progress and accomplishment instead of constantly running to catch up, wishing I was doing something else and feeling discouraged by a sense of never-endingness.

    Of all the work I do, housework is not the most fulfilling nor the most service oriented, but we are friends and I am at peace with the generally clean middling ground (not "House Beautiful" nor a sty but generally presentable and clean). It's much more peaceful than when I was first trying to figure out how to keep a tidy house.

  16. There is just way too much commentary going on in my brain about this post. (I just can't bring myself to bore even one person who might read my wandering, paradoxical, Mary/Martha, tangent-y thoughts.) So, I will say, "nice job Dalene, I enjoyed and can relate to so much of your post" and leave little quote:

    "Housework is something you do that nobody notices
    until you don't do it."

    Oh, what truth!

  17. I hate housework. I'm a lousy housekeeper. The worst part is that even though I'm lazy, I have a crazy guilty conscience. So I have a messy house AND I feel guilty about it. It would be so much better if I had less guilt, or if I had more motivation to clean. But I'm stuck where I am—cluttered and guilty.

    I blame my mother. It's so much easier that way 🙂

  18. Who ARE you, kik~? And when have you ever been inside my house!? You're making me nervous. Come on, out yourself! 🙂

    In truth, my home isn't all that organized or clean (I mean, come on, people, I have five kids–four of them boys!) I will admit, though, that I like having a clean house. And I quite enjoy most housework (scrubbing toilets excepted).

    Here's my philosophy: you should strive to keep your house only as clean as makes you happy. If you don't mind clutter, then for heaven's sake, don't worry about it!

    And I blame my mother, too, Heather. 🙂

  19. I am a neat freak. If there is so much a pencil out of it's place, it makes me crazy. I work fulltime and have two kids, two dogs, a cat, and a husband. One day, our house cleaner who came by only when I was in crisis mode asked my husband who cleaned our house on a regular basis and he said "we do." And she said "you are too busy to clean your house. why don't you hire me more often?" And those words were wise beyond measure. So we did and I don't clean and scrub anymore and it's revolutionized my life. Sure, I gotta put the dishes in the dishwasher and put the laundry away, but I have a very clean house and a lot more time on my hands. And everyone is much happier. The money I spend on my maid is the best money I spend all month. 🙂

  20. P.S. I don't love cooking though. Well, sometimes I do. But not the day-after-day-after-day "what's for dinner" kind of cooking. Ugh. But one day I was reading about Mother Theresa and berating myself for not doing more to feed the hungry and clothe the naked when I had an epiphany. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked–that's exactly what I was doing every single day! Suddenly those onerous tasks of cooking endless meals and doing mountains of laundry took on a sort of holiness.

  21. I'm asthmatic. Dust is a health hazard, so things definitely get dusted, and vacuumed.

    One thing I figured out a long time ago is that housework will take exactly as long as I give to it, so I'm fine with giving about 1 hour a day (including meal prep). That gets broken up into a lot of small segments, but I figure, if we'll all develop tidy habits, there shouldn't be that much to do on a daily basis. 14 years and counting, and that's pretty true.

  22. I enjoy cleaning, when I get around to it, because it is something I can do that doesn't require deep thought. My mind can wander where it will. I get some good ideas and solve some problems during cleaning time. The other reason I enjoy cleaning is that it is something that I can control. I can see the results immediately and I know that my efforts have made a difference.

    The more often I clean the more often I feel useful.

  23. One thing that caught my eye was when you said that you felt housework was beneath you. Why is that? Is anyone "too good" to roll up their sleeves and do some work? Any work that is honest is something that is given to us for our good. Think of Adam and Eve. There are actually a couple of talks from last conference about the enobling power of work. I think it is common thought to feel like some work is beneath us but I think that is the wrong way to think about it. I think if we can approach work as something that is helping us to become Christlike I think we can see the purpose in the drudgery.

  24. "Come in, sit down, relax, converse. Our house doesn’t always look like this, sometimes it’s even worse!"

    Traci I'm going to cross stitch that and hang it in my the entry way. On a similar note in my kitchen I have peaking out above my kitchen cupboards the saying "Dull women have immaculate homes"

    Joking aside I think that cleaning and can be a manifestation of love. I am not a very effective housekeeper but when I have a partcularly productive day my family apprecates it.

    I also like Kari's idea that caring for gifts shows respect and gratitude, both for the people and things in our lives.

    I love to entertain and have people over because it forces my hand in the cleaning department. It shouldn't be that way but it is. Entertaining is domestic therapy. I have a high tolerance for chaos which is a blessing in many areas of my life but as far as keeping a tidy home not so much. When I have people over I can see things through other eyes for a bit and can raise the level.

    I have a 9 year old and nothing says I love you to her more that if I clean her room. 🙂 Speaking of cleaning I had better stop commenting on Segullah and get to it!

  25. "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries." AA Milne

    I had this quote up in my office for several years until we moved houses. Though I firmly believe in the peace of order, I'm not nearly as good at it as I would like and paper clutter quickly becomes paper chaos regardless of what sort of new system I employ (4 of 5 kids in school = daily paper onslaught and that doesn't count the adult paper onslaught coming through the mailbox daily!)

    And as for housecleaners, I have worked as a housecleaner before–it helped pay for college. I currently have every other week cleaners come and help me maintain cleanliness and order. It is a great blessing in my life that we can do this. It means we don't go on vacations much, but the regular infusion of help with the peace goal is well worth it in my mind. And all traces of guilt I had on the subject were eliminated when attending the worldwide leadership training some years ago and Elder Oaks (or Holland, I can't remember) said "Housework can be delegated. Homemaking can't."

  26. Why is it that I can have the house tidy one minute, and one 6 year old walks throught the room, leaving it in utter chaos again!?!

    Laundry and dishes seem endless, too. Hope there are housekeepers in heaven!

  27. faith.not.fear–exactly. it gets undone so fast!

    heathermommy–i am not at all opposed to hard work. i was just saying that some tasks just seem to be more worth the effort than others. the point of my post was that we find meaning and purpose in housework when we look beyond the task to why and whom we are serving–when we see it as a labor of love.

    sharlee–i love your thought about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

    angie f.–love that quote. thanks for sharing.

  28. I've shared these quotes before, but I think they are relevant here.

    Chesterton notes our low capacity for being able to deal with monotony and says in a moving passage: “It is possible that God says every morning, `Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes all daisies separately, but has never got tired of making them.” The divine delight in what seems to us to be mere repetition is one clue to the sublime character of God. Since we must, at times, accept what appears to us to be routine, repeated experiences, we too, if we try, can find fresh meaning and fresh joy in the repeated experiences. God’s course is one eternal round but it is not one monotonous round. God is never bored, for one who has perfect love is never bored. There is always so much to notice, so much to do, so many ways to help, so many possibilities to pursue (Neal A. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way, p.84-85).


    Repeatedly God has described His course as reiterative, “one eternal round”…. We mortals sometimes experience boredom in the routine repetition of our mortal tasks, including even good works; and thus vulnerable, we are urged not to grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9; D&C 64:33; 84:80; Alma 37:34). But given God’s divine love, there is no boredom on His part amid His repetitive work, for his course, though one eternal round, involves continuous redemption for His children; it is full of goodness and mercy as His long-suffering shows His love in action. In fact we cannot even comprehend the infinite blessings which await the faithful—”eye hath not seen, nor ear heard . . .” (1 Corinthians 2:9) (Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, p.53-54).

  29. The household that I was raised in had the unspoken mantra that the kids were for the house rather than the house was for the kids. We knew that order and cleanliness were absolutely paramount, and we were required to keep the house spotless above all else. We lived in constant fear of getting in trouble for messing up the house. Now that I am a mother to five, I still insist on a relatively clean house and delegate a lot of chores to my kids, but there is no question that the house is for the kids. Keeping a clean house should be for the benefit of everyone: to maintain a peaceful and orderly atmosphere and to facilitate a full family life. Cleaning keeps the chaos under control, teaches the kids to respect their home and themselves, and teaches responsibility. If I am organized I can get dinner on the table more quickly, spend more time with the kids, and relax more in peaceful surroundings. What I don't ever want is the kids afraid to have fun, play, invite their friends over, etc., because they are afraid of messing up the house and getting in trouble. Everything can always be cleaned up when the fun is over, and the more organized the house was to begin with, the quicker and easier the clean-up is. I guess my point is, I think a clean, well-organized house is important, but that it shouldn't overshadow what is really important; the family that we are trying to provide an orderly home for!

  30. I loved Kathryn's reminder that the quote is "An IMMACULATE house is a sign of a wasted life." For me, the word in caps pretty much says it all. When you spend enough time that your house is "immaculate," you may be overdoing things a bit. (Have you ever visited those people who sort of follow you around cleaning up after you instead of sitting down and really spending some quality time with you?) Enough said.

    My rule of thumb has always been "straightened up" and hygienic. I do think that's important. But I sure don't beat myself up about a little bit of clutter. Life is too short!


  31. A clean, tidy home is important to me. I don't love doing it, but I do it anyway. I do love cooking though, it is my therapy and gives peace. Recently I have been very ill. The basics only were done for 2 months while I struggled with health issues. For the past 10 days my husband has taken over while I have been in hospital and recovering at home in bed. Today I came downstairs and cried. He really has tried hard, he's done the laundry, the cleaning, the food, taken care of 3 children and their schedules, looked after me, carried on with a full time job and his calling as Bishop. I still cried because I cannot live with a mess. I need tidy to keep me calm, mess jangles me up. Now I am going back to bed where I cannot see the mess. I am grateful for all he has done, truly, but I did not realize just how much I need it to clean and tidy even when I cannot see it.

  32. I become a giant grizzly bear if my home is not clean. Not fun for anyone to be around. I spend a lot of time picking up my home. It makes me happy to walk in and see a clean counter, and things put away.
    It is however a never-ending process, so I never feel "done".
    Do I do this selfishly for me, or for my family? I honestly don't know.

    As far as dusting, and toilets… I don't do them at home. I have set aside money my entire marriage and I hire a house keeper 1 or 2 times a month to do those things. I'd rather cut back in other areas than have to do it. But I really don't mind doing those things for others, which I have done for my kids, new mom's, etc. Weird.

  33. Kay, I feel the same way as you do about needing things to be clean and tidy—I actually start to feel depressed if there's clutter. And it's so hard to be down in bed and know that everything is in chaos downstairs. I'm sorry that you've been ill and I do hope you feel better soon. Sending hugs your way.

  34. I actually function pretty well around clutter, but my hubby doesn't. He has a gift for being able to eliminate it; I don't. (In fact, maybe my ability to deal with clutter is tied to my inability to take care of it — I have adjusted? Also, trying to tackle it sorta shuts me down; kinda weird, perhaps, but real.)

    We finally figured out that since he has the strength and the need, he would take more responsibility in our partnership for that. I do most of the rest of the household stuff from bills to cooking to laundry to food storage and everything in between. But he is now taking care of the clutter and it has helped us all. I feel more free to focus on what I'm good at in the home, and he's less frustrated and more at peace because the house is cleaner.

    Now I'm just working on not feeling guilty for that weakness while I watch him work his magic. 😉

  35. It's important to me that my house be clean and tidy. It's very frustrating when it is not. But I also have times when I can let it go and only work on the essentials: loading the dishwasher, wiping counters, keeping bathrooms clean.

    I know that I am making a difference for my family. The children play more with their toys when things are organized and rooms are clean. We fight less when dishes aren't piled up on the counters. We enjoy sitting together as a family in the living room when toys aren't scattered all over and it is vacuumed.

    I've learned how to pace myself so I clean a bit everyday. That helps tremendously.

    My real weakness is teaching my children how to help.

  36. Hugs from me, too, Kay. I wish I knew where you lived because I am much better about cleaning someone else's house than I am my own (I don't have to watch it get dirty again in five minutes like it does at my house). I'd be right over with a dishcloth and even a dustrag.

    Tiffany W.–teaching the kids to help requires so much more effort than just doing it one's self. Keep at it though. I try not to live my life with regrets, but my kids are older now and I so wish I would have been better at that part of the equation. Getting teenagers to help is so much more difficult!

  37. I hate dusting and ironing! 😉

    I do get stressed when the house is a wreck… my office is full of things that should've been filed weeks ago.

    I used to have a breakdown every few months due to the messes…but now I realize… a family lives here. There will be time enough, lonely times when it will be spotless… but I don't want that time to come too soon.


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