I don’t have a real job, with W2s and end-of-year bonuses, so I was surprised when my husband told me that I “make everything into work.” I work, don’t get me wrong, but I haven’t had a job outside the home in more than ten years.
Efficiency is important to me, and since discovering minimalism several years ago, I’ve been attempting to make my life reflect that. I don’t waste time on things that don’t bring me joy, I clear out stuff that isn’t ideal to make room for the stuff that is. While I would not consider myself Type A, I suppose there is a sliding scale and people aren’t all or nothing. For example, I should be editing my book that is almost as old as my daughter, but instead I’m shooting my feelings into the abyss of the internet on my blog. But if I see you unloading the dishwasher one item at a time, I might scream. Everyone knows the most efficient way to unload is to touch-up dry and stack all the items in categories based on their position in the kitchen and then take each stack where it belongs all at once. Right? Clearly.
Valuing efficiency and being a parent are completely at odds with each other. Children are the very least efficient creatures to roam the planet and it is difficult for me to go with the flow. I remember watching an episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8 and realizing that spectators were giving Kate a hard time for micromanaging and seeming inflexible. Um, she has eight children. You can’t just wake up every day and see what unfolds when you have eight kids. Imagine not having structured meal times and just leading and endless parade of snack retrievals as each kid decides they are feeling peckish. Kate was getting shit done, and the more years separate my pre-kid life and my post-birthing life, the more I appreciate her.
Saturdays are for relaxing and thanking our lucky stars that we get a brief respite from homeschooling…for an hour or two. Then it’s time to do all the laundry and clean the house, because my soul is a hollowed out husk when homeschool ends each weekday and I am not doing more than the necessary maintenance my home requires before I make and clean up dinner. Sunday is much the same, with time for savoring a cup of coffee and a cooking show, and then washing all the sheets and towels, followed by remaking the beds and vacuuming. My family relaxes after a long week of work/school, and I rehab the house that has gone to seed after a week of minimal care. I need things to be in an organized and somewhat clean state to get through the week, so my weekend work helps me relax to some extent during the week.
Everyone chips in to help, but they don’t seem to understand that taking a day off does not exist when you are an adult. Why don’t we just snuggle and watch cooking shows all day? Because taking Saturday “off” means doing all the laundry and cleaning the bathrooms on the day I also wash and replace the linens and vacuum. It’s not like cancelling your plans to chill at home, it’s skipping work that absolutely needs to be completed by the following day, and doubling the next day’s chores. I used to give myself a “day off” but the next day was always miserable, so what is the point?
Yes, I know, to make memories with the kids! My kids are really good at independent play and sometimes don’t even notice I’m not in the room but instead am upstairs stripping beds. If anyone asks me if they should have multiple children, this would be my number one argument. We let them run their own play time and only step in to break up fights. It isn’t so much that they miss me when I’m working, it’s that if I’m working they are annoyed by the nagging feeling they should also be working. Chores are rewarded with marbles that can be exchanged for screen time on the weekends, and with the exception of the middle kid who says no to everything, the system has been successful. I used to beg and plead for the boys to sort the laundry, one of their official chores, before I could fold it, but that often delayed my own work, so now I ask a couple times and then do it myself and no one gets marbles bc MOM HAS SHIT TO DO.
I didn’t always have a set plan, and we do edit as we go if necessary, like doing the laundry a day early so there won’t be clothes everywhere during a birthday party, but as time goes by I’m learning what is efficient for our household. Before the pandemic, I had a cleaning schedule so that I wouldn’t have to do multiple time-consuming chores each day. Mondays for bathrooms, Tuesdays for vacuuming, Wednesdays for mopping, etc. But homeschool put a stop to that. At first I would try to slip away to clean and inevitably there would be some emergency while I was absent — a clogged glue bottle or a confusing math problem. My house is certainly not as clean as it was before the pandemic, when the other inhabitants would occasionally leave so I could thoroughly right the ship, but I try and keep things livable. One of the things that helps make cleaning efficient is limiting clutter, so basically minimalism is the mother of efficiency.
As a parent, it’s hard not to seem cold when you’re looking to always keep things moving along. When the kids want to just play around in the bathtub I am looking for a reason to get them out and dressed. It’s one thing to play aimlessly in the playroom but the bathtub is for getting clean and that’s it. When we go for a walk I want everyone in their sneakers to ensure a decent pace, and a destination planned in advance. My family used to go on walks when I was a kid and it used to drive me insane to know we were “just walking” without a plan. Like, where are we headed? How long will we be gone? Should I wear the cute sneakers or the reliable sneakers? Are we going to see other people we know? It drove me batty!
There are lots of “play doughs” you can make for kids to fiddle with in the kitchen, and my kids love to help me cook, but I can’t understand making a dough that isn’t food, or making a mess that doesn’t at least result in a meal. If they’re going to throw flour everywhere there had better be a cookie in it for me. I do a lot of kitchen projects with the kids, so I’m not totally militant and joyless, but I’m also not interested in making a lot of extra work for myself when I have so little time to spare.
Honestly, this is probably how I got married. “I am having so much fun with you and I love you with my whole heart, but I need a clear destination, even if it’s far into the future.” My poor husband had to declare that he would gladly marry me when I finished college in three years because I don’t like to walk without a destination. I sometimes read the last page of a book if I’m getting impatient with the plot. Like, do they end up together? I’m not really emotionally invested in their relationship, but I need to know what happens at the end. I am also a binge-watcher. Often I’m enjoying a show and want to see more, but just as often I need to know what happens next whether I like the show or not. As in, the acting is embarrassing and the plot is nonsensical, but does that guy die?
That being said, I still wouldn’t say I’m Type A and I do occasionally let loose and, like, do the laundry on a totally different day. In a ship full of holes you can’t take a personal day, you have to keep bailing. The holes are just part of the ship, not anyone’s fault, just normal wear and tear, but we can’t afford for it to sink. Our “ship” is our entire world in a pandemic. It’s school, work, entertainment, restaurants, a laundromat, and a place of rest (for an hour or two on weekends). We are all doing our best to keep ourselves afloat during this unprecedented year, and sometimes it’s hard to strike a balance that works for everyone.