You know those homes. The ones where you feel at peace the moment you step through the door. Each air diffuser in its place letting of some sweet fragrance. A blooming Woolies orchid on display in front of each big framed mirror and a few more lining the kitchen windowsill. Not a dish in sight. Shining granite counter tops with a display of gleaming kitchen utensils and floral coffee mugs. Plush rugs adorn an unsoiled tiled floor. Dark wood furniture polished until it reflects the room on the top. Sparkling white bathroom surfaces with white, luxurious towels hanging on wrought iron towel racks.
I could go on…
Just the description of this makes me relax.
I may exaggerate but I think many homes in South Africa look like this. Few look like mine!
Here’s how a description of mine would go…
A mountain of crusted dishes say, “Welcome to my home!” as you walk through my front door. Pegs and random items of kitchenware are sprawled across my kitchen floor with a few tea stains marking the cement. Crumbs cover my dining room table as well as greasy Bovril fingerprints and an open peanut butter jar. Carry on upstairs and you’ll find bits of grass, shredded tissues and some sock fluff on my landing. In the bathrooms there are muddy marks on the floor where sink water has spilled over the sides and I’ve accidentally slipped in it. Wash baskets overflow with dirty laundry and clean washing creates a replica of Mount Everest on the spare room bed. A clothes horse boasts some wet cloth nappies. The study, well let’s just say we keep that behind a closed door. I’ve been trying to clean it since November last year. The floor of my daughter’s room and mine is decorated with toys, tissues, socks and underwear. Our couch is another replica of Mount Everest. Our white linen is dappled with muddy cat paw prints.
The worst of it all is that my daughter is only responsible for half the mess!
The carpet looks like it hasn’t been vacuumed for a few weeks. And that’s because it hasn’t. All surfaces have a dust coating that sparkles in the sunlight. They also haven’t been dusted in a while…I’ve lost track.
As for shining bathroom surfaces! Hah! A ring of brown film circles the bath. A soapy paste coats the surface of the sink. And dirt from the ceiling coats the tops of the toilets. Lovely!
Whatever relaxing thoughts I began this post with have vanished. Because this is my reality.
We South Africans have an amazing answer to housework. It comes in the form of another person. There are many names for her, some nice and some not so nice. Most people call her “my domestic worker” or “my maid”. This wonderful woman is employed once, twice and sometimes up to seven times a week to clean the house. Some of these ladies “live in” and cook dinner as well! I would venture to say that most of the middle to higher class South African population have one or even two.
And so, there is a standard held by South African women that houses are supposed to be immaculate. And if not immaculate, only a few clean dishes in the dish rack and perhaps a dirty plate and mug are permissible. The odd toy on the floor is allowed because, well, children. Maybe there will be a basket of clean washing standing in some out-of-the-way corner of a room. But that’s about as far as a “dirty” house gets. And then, there’s mine.
You may ask why mine is so different?
We do not have this wonderful lady in our lives. When I decided to stay at home with my daughter, we decided I’d take the job on.
When I got married and moved into a tiny flat with my husband, we both felt that there was no need to employ someone to help us. As long as I live, I will never forget the day where I stood to admire a clean kitchen for the five minutes it was clean with not so much as a dirty coffee cup in the sink. Nor will I forget the day when I fell into a heap on our bedroom floor sobbing because housework was so overwhelming. And it never ended!
We now live in a massive house and have added a toddler to our home. My life is housework. Picking up toys, dishes, hanging the washing, picking up socks and underwear, bringing in the washing, dusting, vaccuming, putting away clothes, sweeping, putting away random items dumped on every surface, dusting, dishes, mopping…and bathrooms, my worst!
I honestly feel like that’s what I do ALL day! I whinge to all my friends each time I see them. (They all have help once a week at least).
So I’ve got to ask myself…
Is the standard of South African homes too high? Is my standard too high?
I’ve realised what my problem is. Pride. I don’t want my home to look unkempt. I don’t want people to think I’m lazy or that I don’t care. I don’t want people to judge me. So I break my back to clean my house. And let’s be honest, I think that is every South African woman’s problem. We are house proud. And if the house isn’t clean, it’s because the maid hasn’t come or, “She’s coming tomorrow.”
“The problem with self-esteem – whether it is high or low – is that every day we put ourselves on trial.”
– Timothy Keller
I’ve come to realise that my pride and my ego had to take a bit of a knock. Things could seldom be immaculate. And if they ever were, it was one room at a time. My house is seldom clean. My house will never be clean all at once. Is that okay?
It hasn’t been easy to accept. I really put pressure on myself to achieve the impossible in the beginning. My grand aim each week is to get through the whole house once. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.
Maybe we need to let our tiaras slip a little and realise we are among the few countries in the world where a large amount of the population has house help. Maybe we need to stop judging and start understanding. Maybe we need to allow our homes to look a little lived in and not apologise for dirty dishes. And maybe we need to stop making excuses every time someone walks through the front door. Maybe I need to drop my standards and just live.
In twenty years’ time when I think back to being a mom at home, I don’t want to remember the frenetic stress of cleaning my own home. I want to remember reading books, building tents and creating a home filled with a treasure of memories. More important than clean bedrooms and sparkling surfaces are kind hearts, loving words, shared laughs and good clean fun.
“Dull women have immaculate houses.”
I think this is so true! Another thing similar to this is I have to constantly remind myself is — am I neglecting hospitality because I want it to “look” a certain way? Like- will I only have people over if we can have a lovely cooked meal with pudding and fancy salad… when maybe all we really can have is bean soup.. and realizing rather than waiting until my house, or my cooking, or my budget is perfect, to just invite people in to where we are. But pride definitely does get in the way!
Lots to think about!
Frances Stimson says
It’s a battle we fight continually. How I long to find the balance between being diligent and constructive with my time and not letting pride invade and ‘keeping up appearances’ loom too large. But ‘amen’ to making kindness, hospitality, concern and love for others, laughter and memory making – and giving time to those little people – the more important pursuits!