We don’t have a single “clean freak” in the family. Some of us have always had a high tolerance for “messy”; some of us have learned over time that “messy” isn’t worth stressing about. That would be me.

I grew up with my mother and life with Shirley is a very clean life. She cleans all the time. She cleans while she talks, while she watches television, before she leaves and when she gets home. She hates dirt and dislikes conflict, so she’d rather just take care of it — immediately and thoroughly — herself. This made life very nice for me. I grew up in a clean, clean home. Everything in its place. Knick knacks arranged. Pictures hung on the wall. Very little work.

When I met Paul, he lived with another bachelor who was as messy as himself (both complained the mess was the other guy’s fault) and a ferret who used the dashboard of his Volkswagen van as a latrine. When they arrived in our driveway and met my mother, it was a clash of two different worlds. My mother saw that van and had to clean it — which she did. The boys were really thankful.

Within a month it had returned to its previous state.

Without the changing of habits, things in our lives don’t change. My mom has a saying to help her stay on top of cleaning: C.A.Y.G. (Clean As You Go). We can huff through a dreaded a chore once in a while and bring about short-term results, but the problem is still there. Forming a good habit creates a rippling effect of good change. It affects many other things in our lives.

When I’m having a problem with Ingrid being argumentative and attention-seeking, I try to form a habit of spending 15 minutes of focused attention everyday with her. If sibling fights trouble me, I try to reinstate a homemade breakfast around the table. Talk together. Start conversations. I figure by focusing on forming a positive habit, the negative one will disappear.

A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.” Desiderius Erasmus

Sometimes we get too focused on the problems and we get frustrated with short-term results. Change our habits; change our lives.

Thanks to the Fly Lady and Charlotte Mason, I’ve tried to focus on forging good habits and not getting results. In regards to cleaning, results mean I walk around the house shouting at my family, “This is ridiculous! How do you people live this way! What is it going to take to get you to take some pride in yourself, our family and our home?” (All the while, piles of clothes sit on my dresser and hair gathers in the corners of my bathroom). Something had to change.

A few weeks ago, I had a breakthrough. My parents came for a visit and, for the first time, I didn’t freak out on my family trying to get the house clean. After analyzing the situation, I went through a series of steps to deal with a long-term problem.

First, I realized I was feeling judged (even though my mom has never said anything) about my own choices of priorities being different from my mother’s. I needed to accept myself for choosing differently. For her, clean is a top priority. For me, it wasn’t. I could choose to accept it or change it.

I chose to accept it.

Second, I realized I did need a certain level of clean in order for me to feel comfortable. It was at a far messier level than my mother’s but I still had a level. I needed to figure out a plan for us to keep at that level. I hate cleaning, so I offered to exchange with my family the other chores such as cooking and laundry for cleaning. They gladly accepted. Moreover, I decided to attach a wage to cleaning so they would learn to translate work into money received. I often hear others say they prefer not to do this because kids need to understand that contributing to their families is the motivation. Good point. But, since I hate shopping, my children rarely, rarely get all those little perks that happen so often in other families — that ice cream treat, a new outfit, new shoes, a new toy, etc. I just don’t ever get around to doing that for our girls. Paying them means they can treat themselves to these things — an iced coffee with friends, a new swimsuit, whatever. I hate shopping. They like it. If they have their own money, we’re all happy. It suits us.

So the house got cleaned to a level in which I felt comfortable. The girls got paid. My parents visited. No one got yelled at. We were all happy.

Next case in point — the garage. The garage is not my responsibility. I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut about things which are not my responsibility. I believe because the state of the home generally reflects upon the woman — especially when she’s a homeschooling mom — there is a certain discomfort in having an extraordinary mess in what others would consider “my area”.

Again, I have to distance myself from perceived or real judgments from others. I either must take personal responsibility for cleaning the garage or leave it alone. I’ve chosen to leave it alone. As I walk through the garage, I sort of close my eyes until I reach my office. I shut the door, close the curtains, and do what I’m supposed to do: write. I keep my mouth shut and negative comments to a minimum.

But …

I did suggest to Paul that perhaps he could create a habit of cleaning the garage during a pipe smoke. He likes to smoke his pipe. He must do it outside. The two could go together. He could clean while his bowl of tobacco lasted. I know he would appreciate having a cleaner space to work in.

We’ll see.

We’re really a bundle of small rituals. The key isn’t to do something once. The key is to create a ritual which will lead to a lifestyle you love and enjoy.

I’m realizing this with my writing. I shouldn’t focus on “getting this novel done.” I need to create a ritual or habit in which writing gets done regularly. I’m not accomplishing a task but creating a lifestyle.

What kind of “pipe smokes” would help you create lasting habits in your life?

 

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