Saturday, November 22, 2014

Raised in a Filthy Home to Becoming a Neat Freak

I {TheJoyFilledWife} am a self-professed clean freak. To say that I’m a bit obsessive compulsive and perfectionistic when it comes to the condition of my house would be an understatement and a half! Contrary to how most people are who fit into that category, I do not think that being so overly rigid about the condition of my home is a healthy way to live. I think that cleanliness and tidiness are extremely important, but, just like anything else in life, we can turn it into an idol if we are not careful to keep it in proper perspective. My husband has helped me relax a little bit and to get to a place where I can see a crumb on the counter without feeling stressed.

My “neat freak-ness” is much less about what my guests will think and much more about how my home makes my husband and me feel. My husband grew up in a very tidy household and his family had a housekeeper who cleaned weekly for almost his entire life. I, on the other hand, grew up in the opposite type of home. My mother absolutely hated just about every aspect of her domestic responsibilities, from cooking, to cleaning, to organizing, and so on. She was actually a pretty good cook, but she constantly verbalized her displeasure of cooking meals and I am 100% certain that her displeasure in cooking influenced my displeasure in cooking. When it comes to a tidy household, however, that is something I intentionally became proficient at as I grew up because of how unhealthy and chaotic the conditions I grew up in were. To give you an illustration of how bad things truly were, I will set up the scene for you ~

On any given morning, I would wake up to clothes, toys, papers, household items, food, beverages, and remnants of unidentifiable items completely covering the floor. Many nights, I would have nightmares about a killer breaking in to get my family and the floors and rooms being so covered with junk that I couldn’t reach them in time to save them. Most mornings, I would just lay in bed, completely overwhelmed and anxious at the thought of even getting up. When your entire home is filled up with junk, sometimes piled as high as mid-wall, it is very difficult to feel very motivated to do much of anything.

Three incidences come to mind when I think about how disgusting the conditions were in my home growing up. The first one was walking on top of various clothes and items on the floor to get to the other side of the living room and feeling something crunch under my feet. Horrified yet curious, I removed the items underfoot and found what I had stepped on: an extremely stale piece of dried buttered toast that had been abandoned by its owner. I shook my head in disbelief, wondering how long that piece of toast must have been sitting under those clothes and who would have left the remnants of their breakfast on the living room carpet without giving any thought to what would become of it.

My second memory was of a time when my mother had asked me to move a lamp from one of the bedrooms to another. As I opened the door to my sibling’s room, I smelled a horrible sour odor wafting through the air. With junk covering every inch of the floor, beds, dressers, and so on, I didn’t bother trying to figure out where it was coming from. As I reached toward the outlet to unplug the lamp, however, I noticed the smell getting stronger and more putrid. I looked around the surrounding area and gasped in disgust as I located the source of the stench. It was a half-consumed glass of moldy orange juice. The mold had been growing for so long that it looked like an island floating in the middle of the ocean with fuzzy green and gray mountain ranges. All I can remember wanting to do was to get as far away from it as possible and pretend it never happened.

My third memory -- one that I want to apologize in advance for grossing anyone out about -- is, by far, one of the discoveries that created the biggest desire in me to change. It was the time of year around our house where siblings were switching bedrooms to give a new set of siblings the chance to rotate sleeping in the most desirable bedroom. We were moving around beds, junk, dressers, lamps, bookshelves, and everything that had accumulated in each bedroom. As you can imagine, with as much junk as was stored in each room, this was sometimes a week-long process. Well, one day, as I was moving one of my sibling’s bookshelves over to make room for mine, I stopped dead in my tracks. Piled up on the side of the bookshelf {where I had just placed my hands} and smeared all over the surrounding wall, was piles and piles of dried mucus that my sibling had wiped on those surfaces instead of using a tissue. I was so horrified, I ran to my mom, at a loss of what to do. She shook her head and laughed, then went back to what she was doing. I asked her how I was supposed to move into a room with something so disgusting smeared all over the wall. She told me just to ignore it.

I realize that, at this point, you’re probably wishing you hadn’t read this post. I feel your pain, trust me. But what I hope to help you see is that, even though I was not a naturally clean or tidy child growing up, my circumstances motivated me to change in a big way as I got older and realized that I didn’t want my future children to grow up in the type of oppressive living conditions that I did. There was no appreciation shown, care given, or thought put into the atmosphere of the household. Our family was constantly late because it would take us hours to find what we were looking for, we wore stinky clothes over and over because all of the clean clothes were mixed in with the dirty ones, and we all lived in a state of mental anxiety and panic because the world we lived in was disorganized, lazy, and chaotic. God is the God of order. He does not desire that we run our households carelessly or lazily. 

I heard my father communicate his displeasure to my mom several times over the years regarding the condition of the home when he came home from work, but nothing ever changed. One day, when I was about 13, I overheard my dad talking to my mom privately about the issue one last time and something inside of me snapped. Disappointed that my mother never cared enough to submit to my father on this issue, and upset at the way none of my siblings were required to follow-through with assigned chores, I vowed in my heart to show honor to my father by granting his wishes for a clean and tidy home, even if I had to give up all of my activities, events, and free time to do it.

From the time I was 13 until the time I moved out as an adult, I single-handedly cleaned and maintained our home each and every day. My siblings were not required to follow-through on any of their assigned chores, so I did every household chore myself so that my father would have a smile on his face and feel relaxed when he came home from working his 6am-7pm job, 7 days a week, so my mom could stay home with us. My siblings and friends often referred to me as “Cinderella” because I would refuse to leave the house and do anything fun until it was was in the condition I wanted my father to come home to. I skipped many events over the years, including birthday parties and my prom, because my siblings had left the home a complete disaster before they left the house. If I let the house remain as-is and went off to the event with them, my father would come home to a house in complete disarray and felt disrespected and unappreciated. I couldn’t bear the thought of that, so I did what I believed was the right thing to do. From the day my father found out that all the hard work around the house was done by me alone, I don’t think a single day went by without my father thanking me, telling me what a blessing I was, how proud I made him, and what a good wife he thought I would make one day. I thrived on seeing the smile on my father’s face each day, knowing that he could see that at least one person recognized all of his hard work and sacrifice and wanted to show appreciation to him for it.

To wrap up this post, I want to say that I don’t think I am better than everyone else because of how I maintain my home. I don’t think that the cleanliness, organization, or condition of our home determines our value in God’s eyes. I merely believe that, as wives, we have been entrusted with maintaining the affairs of our household and how we respond to that responsibility speaks loud and clear to our children, our husband, and others who may be looking up to us as Christian wives. During my teenage years when I missed so many things in my own life to bless my father, there were a handful of times when I felt frustrated and resentful toward my mother and siblings for their utter disrespect for my father. Although many people pointed out that the arrangement didn’t seem fair to me {and at times I agreed}, I look back on those years with gratefulness. Although the situation wasn’t ideal, it taught me how to sacrifice my own desires in order to bless others. The Lord used that situation to teach me how to work really hard and to pay attention to the tiny details that make a big difference over time. Most of all, though, it taught me how important it is for my children to see me serving my husband and blessing him each day, even if it means that I have to give up some of my own pleasures in the process. When we choose to lay our lives at the feet of the cross and exchange it for God’s perfect plan for us -- sacrifices and all --  we will impact the lives of those around us in a bigger way than we could ever have imagined.

For though I am free from all, 
I have made myself a servant to all, 
that I might win more of them.
I Corinthians 9:19