How I Found Joy Through Being Present At Home

My dirty secret? Dropping the obsessive cleaning.

It's too easy to forget what matters most.
It's too easy to forget what matters most.

It’s Saturday afternoon and the rest of my family has it right. While my husband and kids relax in the living room, I’m busy cleaning. You see, no matter how much time I devote to our house, it’s always a mess, and messes drive me crazy. The race to make our home feel fully clean is a losing battle. Barely keeping up feels like I never stop moving. 

I hear laughter from the other room and feel resentful.

A few minutes later it’s quiet, too quiet.

Wait, is my husband actually taking a nap?!

Why am I the one doing all this work?

I justify the division of household labor based on the number of hours worked for financial gain. He works overtime and I work part-time in the afternoons, from home. We’ve divided up the duties and my logical brain is satisfied. If I worked more paid hours, I’d demand more help.

I don’t want to look back at my life and think, wow, I really spent a lot of time cleaning.

Then one Sunday, after I’ve spent every free moment doing chores for at least the past week, it hits me. I’m wasting my life obsessively cleaning my house. I even ignore my kids so I can do things like vacuum and reorganize toys for the billionth time. If it weren’t for my work or the physical need to stop and take care of my children, I might never take a “break.”

I’m reminded of a post-it I stuck in my kitchen a few months earlier. “Is this how you want to spend your life?” At the time I was obsessively checking my phone and feeling like I was missing being present with my kids because of my screen addiction. Now I’ve replaced my phone with cleaning and my obsessive tendencies are in full effect.

This is NOT why I decided to stay home with my kids. 

I think back to the simpler days when I was home with one toddler and not working regularly. Each morning revolved around an adventure together. Maybe the library, maybe the park, maybe a walk through our neighborhood. I often thought to myself, this is as good as it gets. I was afraid to break the spell and have life return to its regular grind. 

Somehow having a clean house didn’t matter as much, (although having one child and more “free time” undoubtedly made it a little easier to keep up). Whatever it was, I was taking the time to enjoy motherhood with my daughter, and I had to let some things go in the process.

Which brings me back to now. I don’t want to look back at my life and think, wow, I really spent a lot of time cleaning or staring at my phone or {insert any other waste of time}. Instead, I want to remember those seemingly endless days playing with my children, the mornings we explored running creek beds and the afternoons we built forts in our living room. 

I want to remember those endless days playing with my children, the mornings we explored running creek beds and the afternoons we built forts in our living room.

So, I reworded the question and made new reminders all over my house, "Choose how you want to spend your life." The fact there’s any choice in the matter is a true gift. I know I’m lucky and it feels stupid to waste these few years while they’re young trying to keep up with a self-made to-do list.

I need the reminders... Everywhere!
I need the reminders... Everywhere!

I also knew there must be short-cuts and secrets to not wasting every moment cleaning as a homemaker, so I reached out to moms and got great advice. The most helpful tip? I started setting timers twice a day for cleaning all the random things that bugged me. The kitchen and laundry didn’t count, but everything else was fair game and I had to do it in short bursts, so I started to prioritize what kept me from feeling at peace and let everything else go. And, it worked!

I also made my daughter a sticker chart. It turns out four-year-olds really can learn to do chores. Who knew?!
I also made my daughter a sticker chart. It turns out four-year-olds really can learn to do chores. Who knew?!

Suddenly, my mornings were free again to really focus on playing with my kids. We started doing fun things like going to the fish hatchery and having adventures in our own backyard. And, to my great surprise, the house really didn’t feel much messier than those weeks when I was spending every available moment chasing our stuff from room to room. I’ve even watched television on my own. Gasp. It sounds ridiculous but I was really wasting my life cleaning.

It sounds ridiculous but I was really wasting my life cleaning.

The thing is, it could’ve been anything. I could’ve been wasting my life on my phone like I had before. There are so many distractions in the world. Timers and reminders help — reflecting on what obstacles we create for our happiness is even better.

Now, I look at my husband on the weekends and don’t feel resentment. Instead, I know he and the kids have it right. They prioritize down-time and time together because it’s in their nature and because, at least for my husband, there are designated hours for all the should-dos. Consciously deciding how to spend these precious moments is exactly how I want to live my life.

This is where I want to be, not alone in the bathroom scrubbing the floor.
This is where I want to be, not alone in the bathroom scrubbing the floor.

Senior Editor, Mabel + Moxie olivia.obryon@livingly.com
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