Archives for January 2013

Clean Enough {Musings of a Recovering Clean Freak}

cleaningThe top four best days of my life are as follows:

1)      The day I placed my faith in Jesus.

2)      The day I got married.

3)      The day my son was born.

4)      The day I got a housekeeper.

Yes, you read that right. Let me explain that forth one . . .

I love a clean house. By clean, I mean clean clean. Deep down clean . . . get out the toothbrush and scrub in the crevices clean . . . take a deep breath and enjoy the glorious smell of Pine Sol, Pledge, Windex, and Ajax all mixed together clean . . .  gleaming white baseboards clean . . . absolutely no fingerprints or doggy nose marks on the sliding glass doors clean. So clean that someone could make a surprise visit to your home and the first words out of your mouth would be “I’m so glad you’re here!” instead of “I’m so sorry the house is such a mess!” You get the idea.

When the house is “dirty” (i.e. not clean clean), something happens to me. I get antsy. I can’t focus on anything. I can’t relax. I feel like a domestic failure. Worst of all, I can’t take a nap without bearing an overwhelming sense of guilt. Terrible.  Just terrible!  (Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not much.)

My husband knows this, so when I was about 6 months pregnant he said the best words a soon-to-be mommy can ever hear: “When the baby comes, we should get a housekeeper.” I’ve seriously never been more attracted to him than in that moment! Who knew my husband was so romantic? We quickly got to work making room in the budget for bi-weekly cleaning, and the week after Shep was born, Kathy entered our lives.

I vividly remember the first time I walked into my house after what I affectionately call a “Kathy clean.” It was nothing short of absolute bliss. Bliss infused with the heavenly smell of cleaning products. Bliss coupled with the anticipation of a guilt-free nap. Bliss with a side of bliss as I marveled at the sight of dusted fan blades – an incredibly rare thing in this house. And to think that it all happened without me – what a thrill!!!!

That was the day I realized that super heroes don’t always fly. Sometimes they clean!

If hiring “Super Kathy” was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced, it’s no surprise that telling her a year or so later that we needed to redirect that money elsewhere was downright awful. Since then, I’ve gone back to the “clean-it-when-I-get-a-chance” method, which basically means that at any given time only 1/8 of my house is actually clean clean. Now my only hope for walking into my house and being met with the sweet aroma of my favorite cleaning products is accidentally spilling a bottle on my way out.  Life without Kathy means that my fan blades and blinds are perpetually dusty again and that the little toys and crumbs way up under the couch will probably stay there until we either get a new couch, move, or I have an entire week all to myself to do nothing but clean – whichever comes first. (I can tell you right now, it won’t be the third one.)

Every single day, I live with a nagging sense of “should” when it comes to the state of my home. The floors should be swept and mopped more often. The laundry should be put away the same day I wash it. The slobber, nose marks, and finger prints on the sliding glass door should be scrubbed off. The shower grout should be treated. On and on it goes.

If I’m not careful, that nagging sense of “should” can turn into a nagging sense of shame, discontentment, and an unhealthy longing for better days (i.e. Kathy days!). If I’m not careful, my self-made notion of what it means for my house to be “clean clean” can become way too important. It can snuff out my joy. It can wreak havoc on my priorities. Worst of all, it can distort my perspective on the people I love most. My precious child (and his incessant mess-making) becomes a burden. My sweet husband (and his laid-back “why clean today when you can put it off for tomorrow?” attitude) becomes an irritant. As the messes grow, the pressure builds until I’m just one crusty bowl of cereal left in the kitchen sink away from snapping.

In other words, having a “clean clean” house can become a full-blown idol in my life.

On the domestic front, January has been rough. The 6 months of 2012 in which I spent every spare minute buried in the pages of 1 Corinthians are finally catching up with me. I’ve got piles of paperwork – lots of piles – to sort through. If all you saw was my spare room, you’d swear I was a recovering hoarder. Emails and book orders are coming in a whole lot faster than I can manage. I want so desperately to be genuinely thankful for every single one, but there’s a part of me that just wants it all to stop. And yes, all of my Christmas decorations are still up . . . mocking me . . . reminding me of how pathetic I am. All I have to say for myself right now is that my toilets are clean. So if you stop by, make sure you check out my toilets.

Here’s the point of all this rambling: My definition of “clean enough” is way off. I desperately need a new one – one that more accurately reflects biblical priorities. One that enables me to be a woman of joy and godly contentment regardless of how long it’s been since I vacuumed. One that frees me to genuinely enjoy and gladly serve the ones I love regardless of how messy they are. I’m not quite done thinking this through, but here’s what I have so far:

  • When I can’t clean one more thing without forsaking precious time with my Savior, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without unconsciously forcing my husband to go to bed alone . . . again, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without crushing the spirit of a little boy whose greatest thrill in life is playing on the floor with his mommy, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without ignoring dear friends whose fellowship and encouragement I desperately need, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without missing an opportunity to be a listening ear and source of comfort to someone who’s hurting, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without getting too busy to marvel at and actually participate in the work of God all around me, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without forgetting the blessing of having such precious people to clean up after, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without giving up the thrill of simply hanging out with my husband, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without my awareness of God’s grace getting swallowed up by a lengthy list of things I must scrub, dust, and/or disinfect to feel good about myself, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without trading the minimum amount of sleep I need to effectively do the things God has planned for me, my house is clean enough.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We only have so many days here on this earth, so we must diligently seek to use them wisely. When they come to an end and we stand before the Lord, I really don’t think He’s going to care how well those blinds were dusted. In fact, I know He’s not. A clean home is a good thing. But a clean home at the expense of a content heart and compassionate attitude is not.

So put down the Windex and go play with your babies, do something fun with your teenager, call that friend back, marinate in the Scriptures, have a much needed conversation with God,  write that thank you note, connect with your husband, hang with some girlfriends, say “yes” to that ministry opportunity . . . whatever it is, just do it.

Because I’m pretty sure that your house, though perhaps not quite “clean clean”, is indeed clean enough

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