Let The Ball Drop

by Katy on June 1, 2011 · 31 comments

I suppose that there are people in the universe who can juggle multiple tasks, commitments and goals while giving each thing the attention it requires. I am not one of those people. I noticed this trait when my kids were little. I was able to either keep the house clean or provide an enriching day for the kids. Not both. So, if the house was clean, this meant that I pretty much parked the kids in front of the TV all day. And if the house was a horrific sty, it meant that my kids made forts, had friends over, played with blocks/play dough/Brio or stuffed animal zoo/stampede/school. You could quite literally come over to my house and know what kind of mother I had been that day.

Luckily, my teenage sons are over the couch cushions as projectiles phase of their lives, but I’m still a focus on one thing kind of person. Sure, I’m getting more skilled than I once was, and certainly nothing makes me feel more accomplished than when I have those proverbial multiple balls up in the air.

Dinner planned, blog written, attention paid to my social self, laundry on the line? Ahh . . . .

A perfect recent example would be when I was writing up my responses to Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project interview questions. I knew this interview would be read by thousands upon thousands of people, so I wanted to give it my full attention. And if memory serves correct, I holed up in my spare bedroom, unwashed, still in pajamas and away from the dirty dishes, unwashed clothes and general responsibilities of managing a household. I did not wait until my morning chores were completed, because I knew if I got started on them, then my day would suddenly have disappeared. It took me hours to write and edit that interview up, so in essence, I had to plunk the rest of my responsibilities in front of the TV to make it happen.

I will often let the unending “spinning your wheels” tasks (tidying up, mopping, dishes, etc.) sit idle while I focus on activities to move me ahead in the world. I would rather move forward than spin my wheels. I suppose part of this mindset are my deep seeded feminist ideals. I truly feel that societal pressure to present a perfect hair, outfit, makeup-ed, flat ab-ed self, and perfectly clean and┬ádecorated home to the world keeps women from focusing on more important matters.

So if you come over to my house and find that there is a haystack of shoes in my entryway and a menagerie of dust bunnies traipsing through my living room, you can be assured that I got something significant accomplished that day. Even if it was just attention paid to my social self. So stop giving yourself grief if you’re like me and unable to juggle perfect hearth and home while also sitting under a couch cushion fort.

I promise that you will not be on your deathbed and wish you’d spent more time mopping your kitchen.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Christy June 1, 2011 at 7:20 am

Thank you! I needed that!


Maureen June 1, 2011 at 7:30 am

I also needed this. I work at home as a full time telecommuter, so the lists of things to do are constant, but I still usually have dust bunnies and shoes laying around. They’re on the list of things to do, but when I’m done with work and dinner is on the table, I feel like I’ve accomplished a ton and don’t have much energy for other stuff. But I must press on and do 1 other task an evening. It feels really good to scratch it off the list!


Raf June 1, 2011 at 10:23 am

Ha ha, me too. I’m a freelance book editor, a job I love, and people think it’s cool that I can work at home [which is cool mind you] and “organize my time”. Erm, organize? I wake up shower eat, then work. Fix some lunch or eat leftovers. Work. Dinner (fix it or takeaway or frozen stuff). If I’m late, work a bit after dinner or in the week end. Not much in between! And my house can’t be perfectly clean and tidy when I’m working on a book. But who cares.


No Debt MBA June 1, 2011 at 7:38 am

I definitely do better focusing just on one task at a time, but I’ve had a really hard time admitting that to myself and really incorporating it into my routine. Excellent reminder to focus on what’s really important.


Marianne June 1, 2011 at 7:39 am

My DLH doesnt realize that you cant always multitask and was bugging and bugging me to help him with a project while i was cooking dinner. I kept trying to tell him i needed to focus on cooking the chicken but he wasnt having any of it. Needless to say the chicken wasnt cooked thoroughly and he got a nasty case of food poisoning from it. Me? Im vegetarian so i was only making it for him. Serves him right! ­čÖé


Lisa June 1, 2011 at 10:05 am

Katy I agree completely. Life is short…live it in a way that pleases you.


Kate in NY June 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

Katy, I am totally with you on the whole multi-tasking thing. But I want to add (as a committed feminist myself) that focusing on taking care of the hearth and home CAN be incredibly enriching and forward-moving! Have you read the book “Radical Homemakers,” by Shannon Hayes? It’s a feminist, ecological, anti-consumerist (and definitely frugal-minded) rethinking of domesticity – – – completely fascinating – and right up your alley, if I do say so myself. You might still not be able to multi-task after you read it (Lord knows I can’t) – but I think the book reframes the “spinning your wheels” tasks in a whole new light.


Katy June 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I have not read that book, but will put it on hold at the library. I guess what bugs me is when women feel like they can’t go out into the world until they look perfect. How many men would decline an invitation because they were “feeling fat” or not have a friend over because the house wasn’t brag-worthy?

I certainly find enjoyment and satisfaction in my home and hearth, but I have so much more to offer.



Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending June 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

Yay Katy! Great post!

I can totally relate, and usually to do some writing or something else I consider important, I have to feel like I “failed” at every other item on the to-do list. And sometimes not getting any of it done meant I worked for hours on a short story or took an all-day hike with a friend. Much more important in the scheme of things!

Thanks for the well-written reminder.


Tina (Tightwad Mom) June 1, 2011 at 11:24 am

Thank you for validating me!!!! I am living a similar lifestyle. The laundry might be caught up, but the house is a disaster. The house is clean, but I’m a drooling mess and the kid’s are neglected. I never seem to have it all together, anymore. Sigh, I thought when my kid’s got older, life would get easier. It has in some ways, but in other ways it’s a lot harder (One cannot function well the next day, when one has been up half the night worrying that your oldest child is lying dead in a ditch. When in reality he’s two houses away playing video games and forgot to text and tell you where he is! Grrr!)


psmflowerlady/Tammy June 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

AMEN Sistah! As a Bra-burning feminist, discovering my latent hippie, I find myself slipping into the false belief that because I “can” do it all that I should do it all. I often need reminded that I commute 1-hr each way to a technical, professional career, single parent two teenagers , two dogs and a tortoise, maintain a home and car and regularly donate time and knitting to charity. So, even though I know how to bake bread and cook and can – doesn’t mean that I HAVE to do it all – especially in a week. So, on a good day, I can prioritize what is important versus what is urgent. Other days, I race around like an idiot and nobody around me (including me) is happy. When I can do what my value system has prioritized as “important”, I can let go of what others (ie society and cleaning supply marketers) deem to be important. And in my case, that is pretty consistently letting go of housekeeping – what can I say?


K La June 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Amen! Thanks for the great post!


Rebecca June 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I actually prefer to multi task, I have a hard time just doing one thing at a time, I don’t like it. But as a perfectionist and a mom of 3 with 2 that are also autistic, I have learned to be somewhat realistic about what my multitasking can achieve. I can do quite a few things ok, or just a few well or one close to perfect. For me , most of the time, I will choose to multitask at the ok level, and once and a while pare that back to achieve “better” results.


Katy June 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Oh, I multitask all over the place, (listen to audio books while doing dishes) but I find that sometimes it’s better to do one thing really well than crappily do a lot of stuff.

Like today, my living room and dining room are a mess from a school project, but my spare bedroom received star treatment.

Also, had lunch with a friend and took a nice long walk together. Better than a tidy house any day!



Jess June 1, 2011 at 2:11 pm

This is so true! There’s a level of cleanliness that you need to live happily, but once you get over that level, cleaning won’t make you any happier. And its not like people are going to be like, “Oh, so-and-so’s a really nice person, and an awesome friend, but i can’t talk to her because she doesn’t do her dishes.”

Man, I wish my mom would read this. lol.


Lisa Pie June 1, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Isn’t it funny how you hear the same thing in different ways all at the same time?

I was just sent this link today:


Katy June 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Wow, thanks for sharing that!



Ann June 1, 2011 at 2:48 pm

A friend rang a couple of days ago, saying, “I stopped by, rang your doorbell, but you weren’t home.”
We had been home, but THANK goodness I didn’t hear the doorbell, because my toddler was having an ‘enriching day’ and our house was a total mess. I would have been mortified if I’d let my friend into that state of chaos.
No, I don’t usually make excuses and I know my friend wouldn’t have cared, but there is a tinsy part of me that still harkens back to my houseproud days before child.
Great post!


Raven June 1, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Oh, this I needed to read. I am constantly left to wonder how others manage to get anything real done and still have a clean house. After I work all day, dishes & a bit of sweeping are all I can manage. But if I want to do art or listen to an interview or read something great, I just have to accept that the house might be a mess. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one. ­čÖé


Karen June 1, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Katy, your post reminded me of my childhood and gave me a smile. My mom was definitely a “let the kids play” sort of mom. We had an old two seater couch with gigantic cushions that we used to make into an indoor fort, adding accessories we found around the house. She seemed really happy to let us be creative. We spent hours in our fort, and we had other creative outlets, such as pretending we were in musicals, which involved being either the Jets and Sharks in Westside Story, or the toy makers in Babes in Toyland, which necessitated the use of Mom’s coffee table and all of our stuffed animals and dolls, strewn all over the living room. I won’t even go into our involved Barbie afternoons, but you get the idea.

The other parents on the block were really bemused by Mom’s approach to parenting, but the kids always wanted to come to our house. She’s been gone for 11 years now but I think of her every day and how she truly enjoyed her kids at play.


Scribe June 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I should have stayed home today to do laundry, mop floors, change beds, etc., BUT, I chose to have lunch with a friend who is going through a very rough patch, check out the Goodwill, and stop by the farmer’s market in Sellwood on my way home. I had a wonderful day. Meanwhile, I have a good book and knitting to work on tonight and maybe tomorrow too. I also have puttering to do in the garden and flowers pots to tend. The housework will be there when (if) I get around to it.


ellie June 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm

THANK YOU for a great post – it was exactly what I needed to hear today!

So I get home today, and hubby announces that his friends are having an unexpected get-together at the house tonight. Oh dear…the house is – er, well, okay, not TOO dirty, I guess – if you squint and try not to notice the unwashed windows, dust on the less-used furniture, and the fact that the bathroom floor wants a good scrub. Fortunately, I have just enough time to shove the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and order – I mean, ask him nicely – to please haul out the full trash NOW, before they get here. But that’s all I have time to do, cause oh yeah, I have to run a the dog’s fecal sample to the vet. Oh well. (I pass a friend, feces in hand, on my way out.)

You know what? It really doesn’t matter. They’re all having fun in my less-than-spic-and-span living room as I type. Somehow, they found stuff to eat and drink, and nobody complained that the fridge wasn’t scrubbed this week or that the second-hand dishes don’t match.

Really, when all is said and done – what are we going to remember? The good times with friends, or the fact that the house wasn’t perfect?

We all need to remeber what’s important….even those of us who have neurotic inlaws whose homes always look better than mine (ahem).


karen June 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Great post! Love the last line especially. My kids are older and the house is easier to keep clean now, but I have no regrets about the days of letting them build forts and trains and make houses out of boxes and tap dance on the coffee table! They grow up so fast, and I would give anything to have a day when they are all little and I could hold them and watch them play. They won’t remember if the kitchen floor was clean, but they will remember all the memories they made.


Diane June 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Dear Katie,
Have I told you how much I love you lately?
(But not in a creepy sort of way;)


Practical Parsimony June 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm

My children were not allowed to take the sofa cushions off or throw things in the house, but the would drag out the tiny cars to make interstates that ran past farms with barns and people and gas stations and people arriving home to dinner. So, dishes, stove (from a box) and little tables and chairs came out. At the end of the day most days, I just shoved enough toys around so I would not kill myself during the night if I walked in the dark. They could create one day and come right back to their little world they created the next day. Cowboys on horses co-existed with Strawberry Shortcake. Those days were soon gone. They were missed even when they were old enough to ride bikes in the yard or entertain themselves outside without my checking to see if they were in the street…like every thirty seconds. It was worse when they could ride the neighborhood and visit friends. Those were the days I could concentrate on cleaning or cooking without having to go and watch how something worked they had built or comment on their huge city. In the end, a clean house won’t matter.

Kids liked to play at our house. I was the only mother on the block at one city we lived who allowed kids on the lawn,front or back. We had a baseball diamond worn into our front yard. I was considered neglectful of the grass…lol.


Jo@simplybeingmum June 1, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Katy this post was so well timed – as though you read my mind, it came through on the blackberry late last night as I was just off to bed. I hadn’t had a good day and I was feeling rather annoyed with myself. In my quest to declutter and simplify I am finding that I am spending more and more time of ‘chores’ and I do really hate doing them, but I am on a mission. This evening before bed I found myself moaning at my two young children because the house was an absolute tip (It’s spring hols over in the UK) – duvets on the landing made into camps, cushions all over the play room floor etc etc… What does it matter? It tidies up! Why am I tidying around them? I should be in the camp with them! It’s a balancing act being a good Mom – a balance of fun and structure. What a responsibility being the primary caregiver is ! Jo


Carrie Lee June 2, 2011 at 2:25 am

Thank you Katy! One thing that you didn’t mention that has helped me lately is that it’s all family members responsibility to maintain the household. No woman should feel entirely responsible for the cooking and cleaning unless they live alone. Kids can be taught to clean up after themselves or put away one mess before they start a new one (at least I keep telling myself that!) Husbands can be held responsible, too. At our house I do laundry, he does dishes. Of course my house looked “lived in” when Mom came to visit this week, but as you said, living is more important!


Alicen June 2, 2011 at 5:36 am

I wrote your last sentence down so I can stick it to my fridge when I get home. I agree with the commenters who said they need a certain level of clean to be comfortable having people over. However, I also believe that if your house is too clean and too perfect it can be intimidating to the people you’re having over. They don’t feel comfortable with sitting their drink down or doing anything that might rumple your perfectly clean house.
I have a friend who seems to constantly clean up after me when I visit. I’m not a slob, but I put my water glass down when I finished drinking it (intending to go get more) and the next thing I knew she had gotten up from our conversation, picked up my glass and washed it. I was embarassed that she was cleaning up after me, without giving me any opportunity to do it myself, and I was bothered that she walked away from our conversation to do the dishes… To me that’s taking it way too far! It’s not like she was waiting for the magazine photographer to show up!!


Darcidoodle June 2, 2011 at 10:56 am

I drop the ball constantly. And I’m proud of it. Houses don’t clean themselves, but unless the dust bunnies are having a revolution, the tub is pink and everything needs dusting, who cares? (The kitchen is always spotless, tho!) “People before projects” became my mantra a few years ago, and when I allow myself some grace, I find I’m happier. I may WANT to do it all, but it’s not always necessary TO do it all.

Wasn’t it Joan Rivers that said, “I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later, you have to start all over again.” Amen, sister!


Rosa June 2, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Interesting, but I think it totally depends on your personality. I feel peaceful and happy when my home is clean. If I went on a day long hike with a friend (which I would enjoy), but came home to a messy house, I wouldnt feel comfortable or peaceful in my home until it was clean. I think cleanliness sets the tone for the whole family, and the whole family should be involved in keeping the home that way. I find fulfillment in cleaning and cooking, more than I do in trying to paint a picutre or knit. In contrast, when I was single I lived with some very artsy girls who could work on projects all day and never notice the disaster the house had become. It drove me crazy and I never felt at home or comfortable in that house, But it didnt bother them a bit. Depends on the person!!


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