Clean Enough

A clean heart prefers a clean home, but is it possible to be too fastidious about housekeeping?

My husband and children complain that I am a houseworkaholic. They say I never have time to enjoy family activities because I insist on perfection in the home first. I say that a disordered home reflects a disordered life. Who is right?

You are both are right. We believe the answer isn’t either/or; it’s both/and.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Perfection is not attainable. And, even if it were, it would be fleeting, since every house is lived in by messy, imperfect human beings. Therefore, the quest for perfection is a futile one.

You are right that an ordered life is desirable, and cleanliness and order in the house can be reflective of a well-ordered life. However, order in the house is useful only as a means to the end of a loving, active, joyful family life, a life built upon cooperation, self-giving, laughter, shared memories and forgiveness.

If order in the house becomes an end in itself, the house never truly becomes a home. It remains an ordered yet cold and sterile environment, devoid of warmth and happiness. No spouse or parent desires this. No child wants this.

Forgive us for presuming something that may or may not be the case, but, in our experience, we have found that the drive for perfection exists in tandem with “control freakiness.” In other words, the housecleaner who insists on perfection usually finds that the efforts of other members of the family fall short.

For instance, the carpet isn’t clean enough after Dad vacuums, or little Johnny hasn’t arranged the dishes in the dishwasher the proper way. As a result, Mom feels the need to redo the job and insists that, from now on, she has to do it herself so that it will be done right.

This has a twofold negative effect. First, it creates hurt feelings among the other family members who have tried to be helpful. Second, it makes them resentful of the fact that Mom is now spending even more time cleaning — time that they believe is unnecessarily spent, since they were willing to do the work to help her out.

We understand that for some people constant messiness can bring on chronic testiness. In that case, we recommend having one or two rooms kept in showroom shape. Perhaps you can insist on maintaining a meticulous living room, but then not worry so much about a sometimes-sloppy family room. Sometimes we need to learn how to let things slide.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 comes to mind: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” When children are under foot and chaos reigns, take comfort in knowing that this may not be the season for perfect order, but rather the season for joy and for play, and for tolerating the imperfect but sincere efforts of your little ones — and, yes, even of your husband.

The McDonalds are

family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.