I had a bit of an a-ha moment out for a walk the other day. I was thinking about how I have a sort of mild obsession with productivity systems, as well as a nagging sense of productivity guilt that has plagued me since childhood.
What exactly am I not getting done, I wondered, that makes me feel so… unproductive? I mean, I’ve had jobs for over 32 years, and I think any of my employers would tell you that I get shit done. In fact, I am often classified as “highly effective” or even “exceptional.”
Any deadline that is within my power to meet will be met. Any deliverable that I can make on my own will exceed expectations. I’m not one to skate by on looking busy, or simply show up. I am productive.
I procrastinate things that probably aren’t that important, but eventually I get them done, and no one dies (or even gets annoyed). I avoid tedious, repetitive work…but I can do it if needed. I ignore stacks of paper, because I don’t like paper. But eventually those papers get addressed, filed away, or (most likely) recycled.
It has been difficult for me to schedule in time for self-care like exercise, cooking, and an early bedtime, but over the past couple of years I have improved greatly on my daily self-care habits and rituals.
So with everything that I am getting done, why do I still feel like I’m not doing enough? Because I have never learned to clean my house.
I am not neat and tidy, and I’ve never found any joy in cleaning. I’ve now realized that this is why it never feels like my productivity system “works.” I ignore or avoid anything related to house cleaning, and then I feel like something is wrong with me.
Is there? Something wrong? My childhood home was managed by a woman who deeply resented housework. My grandma had aspirations for an artistic career, but then she accidentally got pregnant, three times, in the 1940s. In her early twenties she had three infants to care for and feed, and a house to keep up to the standards of post-war America.
She refused. I mean, she would sweep the floor, or dust the cobwebs periodically. She did laundry the old fashioned way—with a wash tub and a wringer—and she cooked meals on an ancient wood cookstove. Who had time to scrub floors after all of that?
Grandma never gave me a chore, so I never learned any of the nuances of keeping house. As an adult, it just never seemed that important to get good at something that offered me so little in return.
Why are women specifically supposed to be good at this stuff? Why do so many millennial women look to icons like Martha Stewart for a way to be a good “housewife” in the twenty-first century?
My husband cleans our house and does our dishes, because that’s the deal we have. I cook. I organize and decorate. But I don’t clean, and I think that’s OK.
If I think about my productivity guilt over the past three decades, the guilt almost always comes from piles of paper (bills to pay, in the past), and a not-very-clean or tidy house. If I just let myself off the hook for those things, I would not need to carry around this sense of being unproductive.
Now that I no longer get paper bills (and when I do I can pay them), and I have a deal with my husband about house cleaning, there’s no reason for me to fix my perceived unproductive tendencies.
And yet there’s part of me that thinks I should want to be Martha Stewart, with an immaculate, organized, and color-coordinated home. I should have a vigorous spring cleaning regimen and know how to properly fold a fitted sheet.
This sense of obligation and mild guilt may come from a deep-seated idea about what it means to be a woman in our culture. It’s not a belief that I hold overtly, but it is still in there somewhere, telling me I’m not “productive” enough because there’s gasp CLUTTER in my living space.
At the end of the day, I do want to live in an uncluttered, minimal, beautiful environment. I’m just not sure that I want the job of home-maker.
I have hired a cleaning service for the first time in my life. While my husband is away for a month on sabbatical, I could do his bi-weekly cleaning routine…but why not let the professionals do a better job? I’ve never been able to afford this kind of thing in the past, but now that I can it only makes sense to outsource this source of productivity guilt.
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