“But I didn’t DO Anything!” Finding Accomplishment as a Homemaker

Keeping a home isn’t the same as keeping a job. The world of paid work gives you almost constant reminders of what you have and haven’t achieved – and thus validation. Home making has none of that. It’s hard and messy and often lonely, too. There’s no manager to keep you on track – you ARE the manager. Your employees are all shorter than you and make all sorts of ridiculous demands in return for their wage.

They are also, paradoxically, your customers, and by God you’d better keep them happy. They love you and irk you by equal turns. These customers think they’re always right. And they get crabby when you tell them no.

When your house is constantly messy, your kids are declaring war on each other every five minutes, and dinner is probably leftovers – again – it’s hard to see progress in your life.

Every homemaker has days (weeks, months …) where it feels like absolutely nothing productive happened. If you have  a spouse that works outside the home, that feeling is often reinforced by them, whether they mean to or not.

Part of this is human nature. It’s harder to see what HAS been done than what hasn’t. Productivity is often tidier than chaos, so it slips through the cracks. If you walk into my kitchen, you won’t see the three hours of cleaning, tidying and scrubbing of bench tops I did – you’ll see the pile of dishes I was too damn tired to finish, and the not-quite-overflowing trash can I spent most of the day filling. You won’t see the freezer full to the brim from my latest batch cooking sessions – you’ll see the flour trails on the lino and the egg spatters dripping down the cupboard doors.

If you head to the lounge, you won’t see the hour of putting toys away and picking up tiny bits of crap so that ten minutes of vacuuming could occur – you’ll see the giant cocoa ocean on Chipmunk’s table, and the detritus of a hundred “I need to put this down somewhere safe right now so I can stop the toddler drawing on the walls” moments littering the desks. You won’t see the hours I spent reading to Chipmunk or drawing dogs for her – you’ll just see a pile of badly stacked books and scraps of scribbled paper.

Nobody sees the fifteen minutes of chasing cobwebs, trying to stay sneeze-free when the dust blows up.  Nor do they see the daily battle to keep the bathroom sink clean, the toilet scrubbed, children bathed, fed, brushed, changed…..

Nobody sees the day-to-day grind of keeping a home. They just see the mess left when the grind gets too much, when we finally say “stuff it all” and hide in the bedroom playing Candy Crush for an hour.

We’ve been conditioned by most of the working world to feel crappy if we haven’t hit our KPIs (that’s Key Performance Indicators, something almost every corporate want ad will list). Hell, even (especially?) MacDonald’s has a frenetic focus on how fast, how efficient, how satisfying their employees are. (I would argue that MacDonald’s and other fast food outlets are more performance driven than many Fortune 500 companies, but that’s another post for another time. Maybe.)

When you’re a full time parent and home maker, your KPIs can be subtle. Many of the most satisfying ones – the ones that stop you from throwing in the towel and “getting a real job” – are invisible to anyone outside the family unit. Hugs from the toddler. Half-understood, baby-speak conversations as they drift off to sleep. Counting cars on a walk to the park. Pride at Chipmunk’s pride in her own accomplishments – the satisfied “I did it!” after weeks of struggling to master a new skill. These are the things that make me glad I’m here at home.

But that doesn’t stop the discontent when my house is trashed. The visible KPIs are still there, still needing attention. Still showing the world that I’m a terrible person because I choose to play with Chipmunk instead of dust my skirting boards. (Disclaimer: I’m being dramatic, folks. A little dust doesn’t get me down that much. Dishes, on the other hand…)

When I feel I need to remind myself that I am, in fact, a productive member of society,  I start a “To Done” list. It’s like a to do list, but it’s what I’ve done that day. I’ve also seen it called a “ta-dah” list – as in, “Ta-dah! I actually DID stuff!”

It has varied levels of detail, depending on how depressed I feel. During my worst bouts of nothing’s-been-doneitis, I list everything from “brushed my teeth” to “fed Chipmunk breakfast” to “remembered to check the mail”. As I start to feel better about myself (and thus start to become more productive) the list tends to narrow to things like “watered & weeded the vegetables”, “patched all the jeans”, “made dinner + freezer food (spaghetti sauce)”. Even three days of listing my accomplishments helps me realise that while the house looks like a bomb hit it, the laundry is piling up, and we’re almost out of toilet paper, I HAVE made a dent in it all.

A “to done” list is also a great tool for satisfying (or flabbergasting if it’s preserving season!) those inquisitive idiots busybodies non-homemakers who are always asking “so what do you DO all day?” You can whip out your list and show them.

Next time you’re feeling tired or frustrated because you “never get anything done,” try writing it down. You might surprise yourself with how productive you really are.