Archive for the 'House' Category

Backyard Labyrinth

Monday, June 1st, 2015

In our thirties, my husband G and I moved into our house in 2004 with our then 1yo son Drake, who was joined by little brother Guppy a year and a half later. This is the first house either of us had owned. Prior to that we’d lived in condos or apartments, and had never been responsible for a yard or a home. We had a very kid-friendly backyard, with a playset and a treehouse the former owner, an architect, had built upon a giant stump.

We did not distinguish ourselves, however. Within the first year, weeds took over the play area in the backyard. We waited so long to attend to them that they went to seed. Every year after that was an ongoing, losing battle with the weeds, the most difficult of which was the Canadian thistle, joined a few years later by the stinging nettle. I tried vinegar, we tried digging up the whole playset area. G removed a huge number of thick, stubborn roots, but still, they came back.

Two years ago, I leaned against the huge stump, and it moved. The termites had bored through it, and the bunnies had tunneled under it so that the only thing holding it in place was the tree house, which immediately became off limits to the kids. We had a treehouse removal party, (kind of like a reverse of the barn raising scene in that Harrison Ford Amish film, Witness), and the treehouse went off and became a hen house. But the stump remained, a huge, heavy albatross in our backyard.


We had a stump destruction party, with axes and Sawzalls, but the stump was harder to dismantle, even rotten, than we’d hoped. We had to call in a professional, with professional tools. to chop it to bits.

Removing the tree house got us the momentum in our backyard we needed. We were also helped by the advancing age of our sons, who rarely helped, but at least stayed out of the way and could play on their own without supervision. We got their OK to dismantle the playset, which G had always been prejudiced against. Encouraged by this, he finally took down the ugly chain link fence he’d vowed to get rid of in 2004. Removing the fence and the playset was superficially easy; the hard part was digging out the sunken concrete bases, but he did that. Then, we bought some tarps. A LOT of tarps. And we covered over all the thistle-y and nettle-y areas. We’ve been told by yard experts that if we leave the tarps there from spring to fall of this year, that the summer sun will bake the weeds down to their roots.

Up till a few weeks ago, the tarps were weighted with chunks of trunk, as well as a mix of bricks and paving stones that had come with the house or been used in various ways, like a bumpy, weed-choked patio, that we’d rescued them from. About a week ago, it occurred to me that I could put a labyrinth atop the tarps, and that I had to materials. Walking a labyrinth was something I did prior to having kids. After kids, though, taking a jaunt to walk quietly slipped down, then off, the priority list.

I found patterns online, at and The Labyrinth Society, measured my yard, and started to move the bricks, blocks, and trunk chunks around. This was more complicated than it looked for several reasons. One, a labyrinth is built off a base that is not in the exact center of the space to be used; it’s down and to the left. Two, once I had put in about four of the brick arcs I realized I should align it to weigh down the tarps, and had to start over.

The tarp surface isn’t ideal. The ground underneath is uneven from bunny tunnels and stump removal, plus hard and bumpy from numerous bits of wood. But, it’s not bad, plus, having a labyrinth would be way more attractive than having tarps covered with random stumpage.

It took almost a week to put it together, and I’m still tinkering with it. But we’re killing the thistles and nettles, plus I now have my very own labyrinth, that I can walk whenever I want, built from existing materials that I’ve been meaning to put to good use since 2004.


I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer, but I may finally be getting the hand of this “having a house” thing after all. It’s in no small part to my youngest being 9, though. I don’t think I would have had the energy any time before to do this.

A Moment of KonMari

Monday, May 11th, 2015

My two sisters and I visited my parents to help them clear out decades of stuff. Before you ask: No one died. They’re not moving. This visit was prompted after I got my mom one of my new favorite books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

After reading it, my parents started to sort through the basement and attic, but soon realized they’d need to ask each of us if we wanted this or that thing that belonged to this or that relative. Our solution was to go, without partners or kids, to my parents’ house for the weekend, identify what sparked joy, and move out what didn’t.

We spent the weekend going through bags and boxes. We laughed, we cried, we recoiled in horror. And we had the great good fortune to spend a whole weekend with each other, our nuclear family, as adults.

My mother was the most reluctant participant. She has trouble letting things go. When she and had a few hours to tackle her books, we weeded four shelves, plus one cabinet (not pictured). We filled five banker boxes to donate, and by the end she was getting the hang of it.



What you can’t see is that the four shelves are actually double stacked, with books behind and in front. Both in front and behind, many were stacked horizontally, not vertically, so Mom could pack more in.


After KonMari

There are no longer books hidden behind; all books are visible. Almost all the books are stored upright, with extra space on each shelf.

I think the biggest challenge my mom had was with books she’d bought in the past, fully intended to read, still wanted to, or felt she ’should’, but hadn’t.

I had the same problem when I went through out books. What helped me was to ask, do I feel excited to read this book? Is it something I could read now, if time and too many book groups allowed? Or, is it something I feel I ’should’ read because I bought it, or it was given to me, or I wanted to really read at one point and didn’t get around to. Giving the latter books away was a huge relief to me, and really opened up my shelves to show me the books I really wanted to read.

Have any of the rest of you tried the KonMari method?

Laundry Advice

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

I am working on edits to my young-adult manuscript in progress, and letting myself take laundry breaks but other than that, trying to focus.

Which, as you can see, I’m not doing very well. But, writing is writing, right?

So anyway, a brief housewifely post.

My advice on laundry: When you don’t want to do laundry or are hopelessly behind, do two loads a day. Eventually you’ll catch up but not burn out.

My friend Becky’s advice: When you don’t want to do laundry, do a load of pants. They’re easy to fold.

This guy named Steve I used to know’s advice: When you’re in a bad mood, do a load of laundry. It probably won’t make you feel better, but you will have a load of laundry done.

My current nemesis is that my boys have dark patches on their shirts that I can no longer ignore, because they get greasy hands then use their shirts as napkins. Gah. Need to find a non-toxic solution to get rid of them. Tried Dawn; too stinky floral. Tried Motsenbocker’s; too stinky industrial. Tried Dr. Bronner’s peppermint; cussing useless. Wondering if I’m doomed to having to treat every single stain on every single shirt.

“Around Beauty” by Barbara Barry

Friday, July 12th, 2013


See, sometimes I surprise you, right? Have I ever included a decorating book before? I don’t think I have. And if you saw my house, you’d know why: because decorating is not a priority. It’s more like an expensive foreign country I dream of going to someday, if I can ever get the laundry done, my articles written, and my book groups prepped for. Oh, and if I could afford it.

Over a decade ago, when I worked for a department store, I tried to learn about furniture. One of the few things that took was that I liked the style of designer Barbary Barry, both in furniture and china. A helpful furniture salesman told me that Barry’s style was highly influenced by Eileen Gray. At the time I think I imagined reading up on these women, spelunking in furniture and antique stores, and somehow living in a grownup’s house. Instead, we had a kid, I resigned that job to stay home with him, then we had his brother. And now my sofabed upholstery is hemmed with masking tape. (Hey, at least it’s hemmed, right?) My swivel chairs jingle tantalizingly when they’re shifted. (What’s inside there? Legos? Quarters? The earring I lost three years ago?) But still, a girl can dream. And so, I borrowed Around Beauty by Barbara Barry from the library.

And a lovely book it is. Heavy, with rich photographs on thick paper. With nice, large, accessible text that I didn’t expect to read, but somehow found myself halfway through the book without even noticing, though appreciating and continuing on. Barry shares anecdotes and photos from particular clients, her life, and her own home. She writes about her creative process, and the things that inspire her. I wished for a few more photos of interiors and fewer (hey, just realized as I was typing that that “a few less of” isn’t grammatically correct!) of California flora. I wished for perhaps more solid detail on her life. For example, when she writes that she knew someone in a past life, she’s using metaphor, right? But this is a lovely, diverting book, the kind that is pretty inside and out. A perfect coffee table book. For those of you who have a coffee table, and would buy a book to put on it.

Me, I’m taking this back to the library tomorrow.

Random Thoughts and Laundry Hints

Monday, February 25th, 2013

My friends often ask, “How do you read so much?”

First, I’m a freelance writer and stay at home parents of two kids in school full time. I don’t make much money, but I have a lot of wiggle room in my schedule.

Second, I tell them to come look at my house and its escalating level of filth.

Alas, sometimes the filth gets so noticable, or I need something and unearthing it starts an accidental organization project, which is what happened this morning, and lo and behold, I did some cleaning.

No reading, no writing. Alas, some time on Facebook kibbutzing about the Oscars (which I mostly enjoyed. Socks in the dryer and giant-eyed sock puppets! Shatner! My boyfriend Channing Tatum dancing!)

For me the same thing is true of cleaning that is true of any other work like writing: I don’t like doing it, but I feel good about having done it.

So, in honor of my recent burst of housewifery, some advice I’ve received, or things I’ve learned over the years about laundry.

1. If you’re in a bad mood, do a load of laundry. It won’t make you feel better, but you’ll have a load of clean laundry. (shout out to the Steve who said this, wherever he may be.)

2. Do two loads. No matter how backed up laundry is, if you do two loads a day, you will eventually catch up, and two loads won’t kill you (See #1).

3. Always empty the lint trap before you start the dryer. Clothes dry faster (one of the lessons I learned in college. An expensive one, my parents would agree, but useful.) plus if you forget and take it out once it’s started, things can get clogged and flame-y in there, sez a friend named Jen.

4. If you can’t face doing laundry, do a load of pants. This one’s from my friend The Hoff. They’re easy to fold. Leave the socks and underwear and dish towels for a day you’re feeling more resilient.

5. Powdered detergent, and not much of it. Liquid detergent is a scam.

6. Borax does not dissolve very well and will clog your machine. Beware.

The Great Grout Experiment

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Back before I had kids, I was a once-a-week cleaner. Having kids, and especially moving through a bout of post-partum depression, taught me to tolerate a greater level of filth in the interest of self preservation.

However, now that both my kids are in school all day and my work is occasional freelance writing from home, I must admit that there’s little excuse for the copious dirt and blowing and drifting piles of crap in the house. Other than that housekeeping sucks. To use one of my favorite British-isms, which I think I got from Bridget Jones’ Diary, I am a poster child for sluttish housewifery.

Yesterday the kids had off from school, and I decided to tackle the shower grout, which had reached alarming levels of yuck. It was especially icky in the corners. When I began to research home-made, less-toxic cleaners, though, I found so many options my head spun. Always very curious, though, I decided to make an experiment out of it. I pitched it to the boys, and amazingly, they bought it.

The raw materials:


First, I made solutions using various mixes of water, vinegar, peroxide, baking soda, Barkeepers Friend, Bon Ami, Borax, Dawn blue soap, Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds:


I made a chart so I wouldn’t forget which was which. This was an official science experiment, after all:


Then I applied each solution to a section in the shower, including two control sections at the bottom of Comet with bleach and Clorox Bleach Pen.


I waited about 15 minutes, wiped off, then scrubbed off with an old toothbrush. My experiment returned meaningful results. I was chagrined to find the bleach worked best (though online sources say there’s a risk of it yellowing the grout over time.) BUT pleased to find the natural cleaners worked nearly as well. Anything with Dawn blue turned the grout a little blue, so that was out. Baking soda whitened as well as Bon Ami, Barkeepers Friend or Borax, so might as well use soda–cheaper and less toxic. Water worked as well as vinegar, but perhaps a smidge less well than peroxide.

Here, however, is what convinces me that I should avoid bleach and other toxic cleaners, no matter how effective:


After the test, the kids and I used the remains of the 12 non-toxic solutions to clean the rest of the shower. I am including this incredibly unflattering photo of myself so you can see the cleaner spattered in my hair and on my face and glasses. Cleaning the shower properly is a time-consuming and messy business. Doing it with something toxic like bleach seems ill-advised given the spatter zone, and especially because I had the kids working with me.

Full disclosure. After the boys stopped helping and went off to listen to Harry Potter #4 on CD read by Stephen Fry (which kept making me start and think that there was a strange man in the house, which was kind of true.) I used the bleach pen on some of the most-stained corners. I’m sure it is probably the most expensive of all the options, but it did provide precise application in all the grout lines.

In the end, I have vastly improved grout.


For now. Alas, based on what I read on the interwebs, which is of course always to be believed, what I should do from now on is spray the shower walls down with a solution (I recommend peroxide/water), wipe it down, clean regularly with paste (I recommend a paste of peroxide or water + soda). Alas, alack, I probably also need to remove some of the grout, regrout, then seal and maintain once a year.

Sigh. I miss being a renter and having this be someone else’s problem.

End of Summer

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Summer doesn’t officially end till mid-September, but my older, Drake, starts 2nd grade tomorrow, and Guppy starts kindergarten on Wednesday, so today was really it for the season.

It’s been a long crazy summer with several car and home repairs, a family trip, some health issues that have been addressed, swim lessons, soccer, day camp and I’m sure there was more in there. Nothing serious.

Here’s what I thought I’d do this summer: get to the bottom of the mending pile. Clean the whole house at least once. Stop the thistles in the backyard. Read about half again as many books as I did. Catch up with friends. Ride my bike a lot.

Didn’t happen. I darned a few socks. Cleaned a little here and there. Read some books, saw some movies, hung out with friends and rode the bike, though not nearly as much as I’d hoped. I did my best, and will try to let go of all the rest that didn’t happen.

I’m not sure how to make next summer less crazy than this one. Do less stuff isn’t necessarily the answer. Unless I kept my boys occupied, they fought. And one or both ended up crying. Not fun for anyone. There’s got to be something between exhaustion and pugilism, right?

Some Things That Cheer Me

Friday, April 8th, 2011


A pretty box that a lovely gift came in.

Totoro. If you have not seen the animated film My Neighbor Totoro, do so immediately. No matter your age. Even if you don’t have kids. It’s lovely and probably one of my favorite films. Full stop. The director Hayao Miyazaki is like the Kurosawa of animation.

(Imitation) cherry blossoms. When I lived outside of Philly, spring was my favorite time. I lived in a neighborhood that had a lot of mature weeping cherry trees and I would take walks just to admire them. Minnesota is too cold for cherry trees, so I procured these at a home design store. The sight of them makes me very happy.

Before and Afters

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I am not an efficient or effective purger. My husband is actively opposed to purging. And since the birth of now 5yo Guppy, our house has gone into a slow, steady decline in neatness and cleanliness. I’ve vowed to clean and organize before; my organization tab on this blog is from 2007 (*wince*).

This time, I think I really mean it. I have two cleared horizontal surfaces to show for it. Fingers crossed that I can keep this up.

The magazine table, before (covered with things to donate):

magazine table, before

Magazine table, after:


Entry table, with five years of accumulated non-urgent mail (keep in mind, none of this is quite junk, either; I’m on the DMA’s do-not mail list plus recycle anything that’s obvious. This is all the non-obvious stuff, mostly financial statements):


Entry table, after:


What More Do I Need?

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

At the Sun Times (link from Morning News), Roger Ebert remembers wondering, as a student:

What do I really need that isn’t here in this room? Its dimensions are a little more than twice as wide and deep as I am tall. I don’t know, maybe 150 square feet? Here I have the padded wood chair in which I sit tilted against the wall, my feet braced on my straight desk chair. I am holding the three-inch-thick Paul Hamlyn edition of Shaw’s complete plays. This room contains: A wood single bed, an African blanket covering it, a wood desk and its gooseneck lamp, a small dresser with a mirror over it, my portable typewriter, a small wardrobe containing my clothes, a steamer trunk serving as a coffee table, and two bookcases, filled to overflowing. What more do I actually need?

I enjoyed reading Ebert’s description of his book collection and office, and his admission–only toward the end!–that he’d miss his wife. I am a reader, but also a weeder of books. This has led to moments of regret, though few compared to the number of volumes I’ve gotten rid of. My husband G. Grod is more of Ebert’s stripe. Given his druthers, he’d never get rid of a book. (Alas, we are not the king and queen of infinite space. Or many bookshelves.)

I was thinking along the same lines as Ebert just this morning, as I worked in my office, organized books on our shelves, and spent time in our back bedroom and porch. Those three spaces–bedroom, porch, “office” (aka closet) are about all I’d need in a living space. They comprise my fortress of solitude, for whatever scant time I spend there to read, write and rest. Food and company I find elsewhere. (The latter, in the form of my two boys, usually finds me, first.)


reading porch

I Did This

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

I Did This

Nemeses: small trees
are volunteers no longer
victims, you are now

This morning and afternoon, I worked on this side bed. I cleared a blanket of weeds and about a dozen volunteer trees, digging out roots from 18″ and 24″ down, then pruned the peony. Archeology: I found three matchbox cars from previous homeowner(s?).

Stuck in the Muck

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

“Hear that hum?” my husband G. Grod asked before he left for work. “That’s the sump pump. It’s running continuously. I think it’s blocked. Probably not good.” He paused to shoulder his messenger bag. “Thanks for letting me vent my anxiety about that. I’m off to work.”

I picked up that anxiety right where he left it, as the hum droned on. I went outside to check the outtake pipe. Sure enough, the end of the pipe was frozen solid after yesterday’s thaw and last night’s freeze. I got a shovel, poured boiling water and salt on it, and managed to get the end clear. But the pump hummed on, trying so hard to get water out of our basement. I knew if something didn’t happen, the motor would give, or our basement would flood.

I checked the internet. I called my dad. Turns out the freeze probably went up a ways into the pipe, which was about eight feet long. One suggestion was to hook a hose to my hot water heater, put it out the window, and up the pipe, and move it up as the water melted. This worked, so I set about trying to warm the pipe in other ways, in and out of the house, donning and doffing my muddy boots, and braving the above-freezing but grey, windy and snizzling day. I heated water to boiling, but could only pour it on the pipe at either end–the middle was buried in dirt and ice. I tried a hair dryer on an extension cord, but that made hardly any difference in the wind. I chipped away at the mulch, dirt and ice first with a rake, then with a hand tool, then with a shovel, then with the edging tool. I made little progress through the layer of ice beneath. I also turned off the pump, to save the motor. I’d periodically plug it back in to see if things were clear.

After EIGHT HOURS of in and out, shoveling, ice chipping, water boiling, etc, the sump pumped, and then stopped. That silence was perhaps the happiest moment of my day.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Friday, January 9th, 2009

In a recent attempt to fight back the encroaching filth in our house, I was energetically dusting–not only the obvious surfaces, but down low and up high, too. I whipped my cloth across a high-up nook and dried pine needles rained down. I gave it another swipe, and more needles came down. I was surprised; my husband and I have lived in the house since 2004, and have never had a live Christmas tree or greens in the house. This detritus must have been from the previous owners, so the dried needles were at least five years old. I shudder to think what other “surprises” lurk in the house, waiting to mock my ever-more-lax cleaning standards.

Window Washing Woes

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

How is it that it took most of my life to learn that window washing is difficult? Perhaps because I was doing a crappy job of it and never noticed. But now that I’m a homeowner with two small boys, dirty windows are a fact of life.

It’s cloudy today, so I tried to clean the interior windows. I used a squeegee. I used vinegar and water. And I wound up with windows both still dirty in areas, and streaky in others. And that’s not even taking into account that the outsides of the windows are so dirty that it’s hard to tell whether I’ve cleaned the insides or not.

There are lots of websites with lots of recipes for nontoxic, home cleaning recipes that include vinegar, cornstarch, dishwashing liquid and more. I am not without resources.

Now I understand that commercial from my childhood, “I don’t do windows.” I understand why cleaning services don’t do windows. THEY’RE IMPOSSIBLE.

Reversal of Fortune: A Shift Back to Cities

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

At the Atlantic, Christopher Leinberger, a professor of urban planning, predicts dire things for the suburbs, and forecasts a shift back to urban, walkable living.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s–slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.

Leinberger also notes how this move away from the suburbs is reflected in the media:

These days, when Hollywood wants to portray soullessness, despair, or moral decay, it often looks to the suburbs–as The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives attest–for inspiration.

This is in contrast, and a reaction to, the forces behind the birth of film noir in the 40’s, captured by Richard Schickel in his Wilson Center article, Rerunning Film Noir, which I’ve linked to before:

After [WWII], however, the city’s glamour became much darker and more menacing. Noir quickly noted the gathering flight to the suburbs and the countryside. Or, at least, the desire of many people to join that flight. The genre began to offer this dichotomy: the suburbs as a clean, spare, safe, if not very interesting place to love a plain little woman and to raise healthy, normal children, versus the city, whose glamour was at once more menacing and more tempting than it had ever been.

Back in real life, Leinberger doesn’t think there will be a total reversal, but he does see it moving more towards equilibrium:

Despite this glum forecast for many swaths of suburbia, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture–the shift that’s under way toward walkable urban living is a healthy development….I doubt the swing toward urban living will ever proceed as far as the swing toward the suburbs did in the 20th century; many people will still prefer the bigger houses and car-based lifestyles of conventional suburbs. But there will almost certainly be more of a balance between walkable and drivable communities–allowing people in most areas a wider variety of choices.

I find Leinberger’s article interesting, both because of the media reflections, and because our family lives in a small city house, within a mile of many things. Due to circumstances, we had little choice but to buy our house at the top of the bubble, but this gives me hope that we’ll eventually recoup at least some of that value, as well as continue to cultivate a one-car, walkable lifestyle.

(I thought the Leinberger link came from Arts & Letters Daily, but I can’t find it there. Apologies for the lack of proper linkage.)

My House is a Hydra

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Everything I did today spawned three more tasks. I put something away, but found three things in the wrong place that had to be put elsewhere. Lather, rinse, repeat. I put away clothes, but had to organize drawers so they could fit. I tried to put things in my closet, but had to organize it to find room.

I hate housekeeping; I would rather be reading or writing. Yet I cherish simplicity and order. It’s the domestic Catch-22. Argh.

Canceled Playdate: A Haiku

Monday, November 5th, 2007

We had a playdate with a friend of 4yo Drake’s scheduled week before last that got cancelled that day. He was disappointed, but I was secretly relieved.

Oh, canceled playdate
All that housecleaning for naught
Yet I’m glad for peace

Suburban Dictionary

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Is it just me, or?

Perma-wash: Items to be laundered that sit perpetually in the bottom of the laundry basket, since newer items pile so high on top. AKA LIFO (Last In, First Out) laundry management.

Perma-snot: The dark, hard crust that forms under a child’s nose during winter cold season. Unsightly, but not a breathing hindrance. Attempts at removal will be met with screams of anguish, flailing limbs, accusing glares, and dramatic prostrations.

Just Say No

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

I yearn for a simple life, without literal or metaphorical clutter. Two kids, a house, and modern life, though, seem to conspire against me. Near constant vigilance is required to stem the tide of too much stuff. I give baby items my boys have outgrown to friends. I donate regularly. I take myself off mailing lists, but still, the crap creeps in. One of the most superfluous bits of modern junk is the podcast. I steer clear because life is too short, and my limited time too valuable.

M. from Mental Multivitamin periodically expresses the need for “no”. I recently agreed with Lazy Cow that I often hear M’s advice in my head, and count myself fortunate for it. She is a passionate advocate for the value of one’s time, especially as it relates to learning and writing.

I recently attended a writing workshop. I enjoyed it, and thought the writing within the group was very good. When the address list for the class was passed around, though, I didn’t add my email address. I feared looking snobbish and exclusionary. But I couldn’t subject myself to a mailing list, no matter how well intentioned. Some might argue that it’s quick and easy to delete. But it still takes time, and consideration that I want to spend on my current emails from friends and family, and the considerable backlog of correspondence I’ve got dating from when Guppy was born. The address list went around a second time. I think the woman sitting next to me thought I’d been skipped on the first time around. I steeled my resolve, though, and passed it on. I wish the others well in their writing, but I want to spend what little time I have on my writing, not on email about writing.


Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

When I lived by myself after college, I had few belongings, and I cleaned my apartment weekly. It was usually both tidy and clean.

After I married, I cleaned bi-weekly, and usually kept things tidy.

After I had my first child, and after the first sleep-deprived, bewildering months, I cleaned about once a month, and had trouble keeping things tidy in our small apartment. The influx of baby clothes and toys made things more difficult. Our place was mostly clean, but cluttered.

After I got pregnant with a second child, things really went south. Cleaning fell to the bottom of the priority list. We’d moved into a two-story house with a finished basement. While we didn’t have a lot of square feet, it was still double what we’d had before. We had more clothes, and more toys. We’d accumulated more things, since we had more space to put it in. Our house was neither clean nor tidy.

After I was diagnosed with post-partum depression, my sister Sydney kindly offered to help by paying for a cleaning service. I gratefully accepted, though I was stricken with guilt. Shouldn’t I clean my own house? But since I was struggling inwardly with my emotions and outwardly with parenting, I decided to accept whatever help was offered, and try NOT to feel guilty about it.

Then, as my depression lessened with treatment, my guilt crept back. Shouldn’t I be able to clean my own house? Especially since I now would have a few days to myself with the boys at daycare? I decided to have someone in once more, and see how it went.

It went beautifully. She cleaned while I organized. I got around to projects I’d put off for years. I realized why I’m so bad at cleaning my own house: I can’t just clean. I stop to put things away, or I do laundry AND clean, or I slow down when I have to figure out what to do with something. The benefit of having someone else clean was I could set the priorities (bathrooms, then kitchen floor, then dusting, then vacuuming) and she did them efficiently in that order. She had no connection to what was in her way. I could spend time on the things that usually interrupt my attempts to clean while she cleaned. It was a good combination.

I still feel unreasonably guilty that I am not able to cook, clean, read, write, and care for the boys even if just part time. But seeing that it’s a tandem working relationship, with me organizing while someone else cleans, feels like a much better, and healthier, interpretation.