Housekeeping 101: Catholic Style

This is what I’m doing.

This is me doing it….starting with point number one: The Catholic Home is well-maintained. Hold fire until the end please.

When I was a little girl, my mom worked part-time in a local bookstore. She wasn’t gone much—maybe two nights a week and Saturdays. But oh, my sisters and I hated when she left.

“Don’t go, Mom,” we’d all cry in unison. “Dad’s going to make us cleeeeeeeeen.”

It didn’t work. She left, and before the car pulled out of the driveway, Dad was tossing cans of Pledge into my eight-year-old hands.

Life with my father—a former Navy man—was a life filled with cleaning. There are pictures of my sister Annmarie and I, ages 4 and 7, standing on chairs at the sink washing the dishes. We also scrubbed bathrooms, mopped floors, and dusted furniture well before we reached double digits.

It’s not like we grew up in a museum. We spread Legos on the floor and built forts with blankets. We just had to take care of the messes we made. Or hear about it.

Not surprisingly, as a child, I thought my parents’ predilection for order and cleanliness was a horrible plot devised to torture me. As an adult, however, I couldn’t be more grateful. They taught my sisters and I that having things was a privilege, not a right, and that if we wanted nice things, we had to care for them.

From them, we learned responsibility, discipline, and stewardship. We also enjoyed the peace and security that comes from living in a clean, well-ordered home. That’s a peace we all continue to try to cultivate today in our own homes.



The Why

Implicitly, through their stubborn perseverance, my parents taught us the same lessons I wrote about in the OSV article:

Whether our homes are large or small, in the city or in the country, they constitute our “garden,” and we are to care for them, exercising good stewardship over what God has entrusted to us and teaching our children to do the same.

Again, lots of qualifications. A well-maintained home is not the most important aspect of cultivating a Catholic home. It’s way down the list, well, well below, “Loving your spouse” and “Not selling your children to the gypsies.”

Likewise, doing your best to maintain your home does not mean you have to go broke making it look like a centerfold in Traditional Home. Cleanliness is not next to godliness, and caring for the poor (and your children) is much more important than a perfectly ordered home.

And of course, there will be days, weeks, months even, where try as you might, even the basics of homecare are beyond your reach. Travel, illness, and toddlers make messes of us all.

At the same time, though, having a messy home doesn’t make you holier than the woman with the clean home. It just makes you messier.

Treating chaos and messiness like it’s a virtue is a weird modern tick. It’s the flip side of acting like a beautiful home qualifies you for canonization. Both are disordered attitudes, and both make for uncomfortable living. Peace and harmony are found in the balance.

So, how do you find that balance?

In some ways, you have to figure it out for yourself. I can only tell you how I’ve found it (and how the moms whose housekeeping skills I respect the most have found it). Take what you will from this, and ignore the rest.

The How

  1. Believe It’s Possible.

If I’ve learned anything from watching my friends—all of whom have large families (4-10 kids each), lots of children does not automatically rule out having a well-maintained home. My sisters and my three closest girlfriends (2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 children respectively) put my housekeeping skills to shame.

The primary reason for their success, according to one of them (hereafter referred to as Supermom), is that they all operate under the presumption that if you outfit your home like a jungle gym, children will treat the home like a jungle gym.

So, instead, they outfit their homes like they’re homes, where actual grownups live. They set the bar higher, both for themselves and for their children, and while they may not always meet that bar, they surpass the standard that would have resulted from no bar at all.

2. Budget and Prioritize.

Mortgages aren’t the only expense involved in owning a house. If you own a home, something always needs fixing or replacing. Know that going in, making sure that if there’s money to spare, some gets set aside for the unavoidable maintenance costs.

When choosing between competing projects—because there’s always competing projects—prioritize structure over beauty (the roof over the patio) and what will affect the long-term value of your house over short-term perks (new electric work versus the fancy speaker system). Also, make whatever sacrifices you can to act sooner, rather than later. New roof shingles are cheaper than new roof shingles, ceiling joists, and decking.

And eventually, if you wait long enough, you’ll get to do the pretty stuff too. It took 10 years to get my staircase restored, but with new electric, roofing, furnace, and plumbing finally checked off the list, I finally got this beauty all fixed up.


3. Make The Kids Put Away Their Toys.

If they can walk (and there aren’t special needs that preclude this), they can put their toys away. Yes, you have to help them at first, but the earlier you start, the earlier they can do it on their own.

Again, I’ve spent the past 14 years living in Large Catholic Familyland. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. It’s not a myth. The keys to success seem to be the early start and having a place where everything goes—shelves, hooks, and labeled bins (Supermom really stresses the labeling bit).

It also seems to help if you have fewer toys. Keep out only what they really need to play with and give away or store the rest. Children don’t need as much as our consumer culture tells you they do, and the less they have, the more they’ll value it (and play with it).

4. Do Six Little Things Daily.

  • Make your bed at the first possible opportunity. I make mine while the coffee is brewing. It takes 1 minute and 35 seconds (I timed it). And oh, what a difference it makes to my day.


  • Don’t leave dishes in the sink overnight. You know the ones I’m talking about: the soaking pot, the wine glasses, the stray sippy cups. You will never regret the 15-20 extra minutes it takes to wash those dishes (plus sweep the kitchen floor and wipe down the stove and counter). You very much will regret waking up to a messy kitchen the next morning when there are children or guests, clamoring to be fed.
  • Buy Clorox wipes (or the non-toxic alternative). Spend 60 seconds every night, wiping down the sink, toilet and tub. Kids who can be trusted not to eat the wipes can do this chore too.
  • Do a nightly walk through. Look for what’s out that shouldn’t be out, and put it where it goes. Hang your purse up. Move the mail. Straighten the pillows. If the kitchen is already clean and the toys are put away, this should take 5 minutes max.
  • When you undress at night, don’t throw your clothes on a chair…or on the floor. Hang ‘em, fold ‘em, throw ‘em in the dirty laundry. Just put ‘em where they go. Again, not even 2 minutes.

5. Put Yourself On A Schedule.

Admittedly, I don’t do this. But Supermom says that when you’re running a household, this is essential. So, should I ever be in charge of a household, I plan on listening to her.

The basic idea is to treat household management like you would any job, scheduling tasks like appointments. According to her, there should be a day of the week where bathrooms get cleaned, a day of the week where floors get scrubbed, and a day of the week where groceries get bought. If one day isn’t enough for laundry, there can be two.

The upside of this system is it ensures that everything gets done, but in bite-sized pieces. On all but the craziest days, one major cleaning task is usually manageable. Two…not so much.

Likewise, setting aside a day for well-planned grocery shopping saves time (no constant running to the stores) and money (again, no constant running to the stores).

Most importantly, though, this method saves stress. On Monday, you don’t feel guilty for not scrubbing your floors because you know it will get done on Tuesday. Mondays are for bathrooms. When everything has its place in the schedule, it’s easier to focus on the day and moment, and leave tomorrow for tomorrow.

6. When You Can, Get Help.

It is a thoroughly modern notion that people can take care of their houses and yards all by themselves. For centuries, few families went it alone. If you were borderline middle class, you hired help. If you were poor, chances were your mother, maiden aunt, or sister lived with you.

Today, full time help is expensive, and unwed sisters live in homes of their own. But for most of us, help isn’t out of reach. For $40 bucks a month, there are teenagers who will mow your lawn. For $10-$15 an hour, there are struggling moms and college kids who will scrub your floors and baseboards. You don’t need help in your home fulltime to experience some relief. Four hours every other week is enough to give you a break or knock out your least favorite chores. That’s $80-$120 per month. Or, your daily Starbucks habit.

Of course, there are times for all of us, when there isn’t $10 to spare, let alone $120. I’m not saying everyone can afford help all the time. But if and when you can, don’t feel guilty about paying for it. People need work. They need money. You are helping others by giving them a way to earn their daily bread. Seriously, think of this as an act of charity…for yourself and others.

7. Do It For The Right Reasons.

Why we do something tends to affect how we do something. Caring for our homes is no exception.

If you are following your children around telling them to pick up after themselves, just so that the neighbors will be impressed, you will quickly run out of steam…and sanity. If you’re spending all your extra pennies planting flowers so that your house looks like it belongs in a Ballard Designs catalogue, you will never be happy (nor will the people around you).

But, if you’re mowing your lawn faithfully because that’s the land God has given you, and you know it’s your job to care for it, the work becomes easier…and more enjoyable. The same goes for hounding kids, making your bed, and doing that nightly walkthrough. Do it to help your children learn discipline, responsibility, and stewardship. Do it to help yourself learn discipline, responsibility, and stewardship. Do it so that you can more readily open your house to others. And do it so that your whole family can breathe easier…and not get botulism.

8. Don’t Expect Perfection.

Because it ain’t going to happen. Perfection is for magazines. Actual human beings have to live with unending lists of projects and recurring attacks of dust bunnies.

Right now, my list includes replacing a rotting piece of exterior trim, caulking the bathroom tub, patching and painting the basement wall that fell victim to some friends’ children, and detonating the scary basement bathroom where Shelob is breeding a new generation of creepy crawlers.



IMG_0358 IMG_0355


The basement bathroom terrifies me. But the rest, I can live with. This is my home, not a museum. Its nicks and scrapes tell as much a story about the life lived here as does the pretty dining room table and kids’ drawings on the fridge. As long as I’m getting more done than not and trying my best, I can live with the imperfections.

And fortunately, it’s in the trying where most of the virtue is won.



28 thoughts on “Housekeeping 101: Catholic Style

  1. Margo, Thrift at Home says:

    “Treating chaos and messiness like it’s a virtue is a weird modern tick. It’s the flip side of acting like a beautiful home qualifies you for canonization. Both are disordered attitudes, and both make for uncomfortable living. Peace and harmony are found in the balance.” – so well put! I totally agree.

    I loved this post. I agree with it wholeheartedly (Mennonite, 3 children, started with a house we bought from a slumlord and have been renovating in various ways ever since – my big kids are 7 and 10 and they’ve been doing the housecleaning and chores for years).

  2. Jane Kilmartin says:

    You just brought back a flood of memories. Identical in every way with exceptions to amount of hours worked by my mom. Thank you for the post I thought I grew up weird. It certainly wasn’t June and Ward Cleaver. Sent from my iPhone


  3. jmjtotustuus says:

    Beautifully written article, enjoyed it! Yes, my mother taught me to clean and to respect a tidy home. Now I do the same with my 4 children. Things have a place and cleaning is scheduled and tidying happens daily and we are reminded that our God is a God of order. Chaos robs my peace.

    But I no longer make my bed right away. In fact, I pull all the sheets down and let in air after reading Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Later in the day, I might make it or if I think someone may be visiting.

    I think my children, even though they aren’t always tidy on their own, do appreciate a clean home….notice it…and have skills. My oldest son could have a business organizing for Moms. On college breaks he puts the garage and my pantry into streamlined order….for this alone I am so grateful for what my mother taught me and what I am seeing my children learn as well.

    God bless.

    • dangermom says:

      I air out my bed too! (I also read Home Comforts, though I’m not sure if that’s where I got it.) It does mean my bed is not made the second I get up, but I love it. Die, dust mites, die!

      I struggle a lot with housekeeping. We all tend to the cluttery side. I homeschool, so there is school stuff everywhere (and I work part-time, which is sort of ridiculous but God plopped the job into my lap just before we needed it and I’d be crazy to quit). My husband is the clutteriest, and he’s also overworked. He wants to deal with his stuff himself, which is admirable, but it’s hard for him to get to it. I practice patience a lot. 🙂 But I also have hope that a new job will let him be home more in the near future!

      I am LDS, not Catholic, but I’m enjoying this series very much. Thanks. 🙂

  4. Mary Prather says:

    Thanks for this article. I’m a mom whose kids have grown and don’t live at home anymore. When my kids were young we’d sing the “Clean up” song. Everyone would sing along and sooner than later the chore was accomplished. Family sharing of chores also encourages cooperation between siblings 🙂

  5. AnneMarie says:

    I love this!!! Thank you so much for this article; your guidelines are super doable and helpful. I definitely want to put these on my wall or something to go back to over time.

  6. Carolyn Astfalk says:

    What a great post! And what a lovely home you have. Our home and its attendant chaos have been a MAJOR stressor on our marriage and family for a half dozen years now. It’s a big, multifaceted problem, but, oh, how I long to have a semi-orderly, clean home into which we could welcome friends.

  7. Ellen J says:

    This is a great post. Some of the suggestions still apply to us who are now empty nesters, but still want to live in their large home because we budgeted and prioritized and now we’re just enjoying our pretty things! Last year, I decided to hire a house cleaner every other week. I decided that the amount I would pay her was less than I’d earn working the same amount of time. I now have a lovely clean home that is spiffed up regularly. Your Six Little Things are the things I’ve discovered keep my home lovely even on the weeks she doesn’t come – and I never have to face dirty dishes in my sink first thing (pet peeve). I now need to think of a tactful way to share this article with some of my adult children….. 😉

    • Emily says:

      I don’t. And I’m afraid at this point, making one is beyond my technical know how. I’ll ask around though to see if any of my friends know how to do this. Sorry!

  8. DC31 says:

    It may take you 1 minute and 35 seconds to make your bed. But it also takes 1 minute and 35 seconds to take in the garbage pails, and the same amount of time to do this, and that and pretty soon, those little things amount to about 135 minutes a day…actually, it’s alot more than than.

    The large families I respect the most have a healthy amount of mess; it probably is going to look like bomb hit if you have boys, kids in sports, and and lots of bikes, and NERF guns. Over time as some of the kids get into their teen years, you have some additional helping hands and the situation gets a little better. But for quite some time, it’s gonna get kinda messy. Like a construction site. Those get messy too–because you are building something.

    Really clean houses are boring (usually).

    • Rozy says:

      If you wait until children are in their teens to get them to help, you’ve waited too long. As soon as children are walking they can begin to help put things away and the consistent training makes it a normal part of life. I’ve raised five children, four of whom are boys, we homeschooled, and they had projects of all kinds going all the time. I compared my home to a 24/7 Walmart, there seemed to be no downtime to get it all clean at the same time. But! We worked together, had certain areas that were off limits for projects (I called it my clean, quiet room) and each one learned how to do all the chores around the house. Four are now adults and on their own and routinely thank me for teaching them how to keep house.

  9. Ali says:

    I love all of these tips. A mommy of college age kids recently told me that putting herself on a laundry schedule was the single most life changing thing she did in her home when she had young kids. I tried it (any schedule that works for you will work – mine is whites on Tuesdays, colors Wednesdays, darks Thursdays and extras, like bedding towels, etc on fridays.) All clothes must be folded and put away that day too. It has made a HUGE difference. I feel like I’m doing less laundry and spending less time doing laundry because it never builds up. I’m intrigued to try scheduling other tasks, as “Supermom” suggested.

  10. Amy says:

    It’s all in here. Good stuff.
    A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul Paperback – April 15, 2004
    by Holly Pierlot

  11. katecous says:

    This is all very nice, but doesn’t actually at any point discuss any of the reasons families sometimes find keeping tidy a challenge. Nor does it give any insight into how to overcome those challenges. It’s frustrating, because all of those ideas sound quite nice, but there’s this gap between theory in practice that people don’t bridge, not because they are lazy or prefer mess to tidiness (this is an obnoxious idea that it is rather tiresome to continually encounter) but because they have very real obstacles, some social, some having to do with personality and strengths and weaknesses, some vocational, some relational, some having to do with outside influences, some having to do with the needs of the people in front of them each day, and so on.

    And it is disappointing to see these unaddressed…honestly, it’s much like being quite poor and reading “money management” tips about how quickly money adds up if you cut out your daily latte. There’s just no relationship between that and the reality you live.

    Perhaps this would have been a post best written *by* your Supermommy friend, who may have been able to add personal insights about how she got so accomplished and some context about what her family life looks like in between the cleanings.

    • Emily says:

      Sorry you didn’t like it. I wrote what I felt competent to write about in a limited amount of space and tried to qualify it as best I could. You’re free to think me completely incompetent and the qualifications inadequate, though. Still, it’s only one of five points. The much more relevant ones are still to come, and that stuff has nothing to do with kids or no kids, so maybe you’ll find something more helpful there. Blessings, Emily

      • katecous says:

        I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to cause any personal offense. I don’t believe I made any personal judgments on your competency or qualifications. You’re an extremely competent writer and I appreciate very much that you attempted to qualify your various statements. (I’m still withholding judgment on whether there is any such thing as a single ideal of “The Catholic Home” that broad statements can be made about, past the statement that the Catholic home is one that seeks to know, love, and serve God in whatever way He desires to lead the inhabitants.)

        I made a critique only of the content of the piece itself, which I find doesn’t really adequately address the real difficulties I see women struggle with. I said nothing about why it doesn’t address those difficulties because, frankly, how would I know? But there are many, many, many guides to keeping house full of practical tips like the ones above–a whole industry worth of blogs and books and Pinterest boards and speeches and workshops and workbooks and apps and checklists and adorable household organizers with pretty graphics all devoted to the topic of keeping house, and a whole sub-genre of those about how Christian women ought to keep house and order their homes. Very few women, I suspect, fall short in their housekeeping because of a shortage of advice and tips.

        Perhaps your later posts will address more of the many different obstacles women outside of your own personal circle of friends face. 🙂

      • Emily says:

        My later posts are going to happily stay away from housekeeping altogether. Maybe I’ll throw in something less controversial…like same-sex marriage or something. 🙂 And no offense taken. It’s just one of the realities of blogging. Limited space. Limited scope. Some things will be really helpful for some, and others not at all. I just can’t possibly say everything that needs to be said for everyone. You kind of just have to throw these things out there as best you can and hope those who need to hear what you’ve said, hear it, and those who don’t, don’t hate you too much.

        As for the whole idea of the “Catholic home,” the things I’m writing about obviously aren’t “should be” in the sense of moral necessity, just fittingness. The world tells us to think of our homes one way, and usually the way they tell us is entirely wrong or a distortion of the right way. I’m just trying to offer a counterbalance to that. I’ll try my best to keep these as broad as possible, but ultimately, it’s only a blog—again, it will be helpful for some, and that’s probably as good as it can possibly get.

    • Deniser says:

      Katecous may be expressing a concept many women face. We are working full-time jobs, raising families, supporting our spouses in their endeavors, keeping house, volunteering, living in a Christian manner, making meals and just maybe we are so overwhelmed it is a challenge to request and receive the contributions from other family members needed to assist in a structure of tidiness. As the spouse of a farmer and all of the above on my plate, I find it nearly impossible to receive cooperation from each household member. Although, I’ve ‘trained’ kids, I cannot train the spouse. Perhaps you are frustrated by the possibility that household members do not deem it important to keep things somewhat tidy, and you would like to know why that is. In my family, the excuse is “I am exhausted, can I please have some downtime”. My son (who is also my best helper) is frequently at a loss as to why we should even worry about the mess.

  12. Katie says:

    I love this list, especially numbers 7 and 8! I definitely have room to improve on these, and I’m sure I will even more so when we move from renting to owning our first house in less than two years now. The only one I disagree with is to put yourself on a schedule. I definitely need a *system*, yes, but I tried the schedule (i.e. bathrooms on Monday, laundry on Tuesday, etc.) and it just didn’t work for me. It didn’t allow for good days and bad days (which is maybe more common when you’re still figuring out life and motherhood with one needy little baby?). Sometimes I am very motivated and naptime is long, and I can do bathrooms and laundry and bedrooms all in one day. Other days are tough and I would do nothing at all if there weren’t small items to check off my list! So every week, there are daily tasks like the kitchen and picking up toys, and every week I clean each bathroom, each bedroom, mop, etc. –those things just don’t always happen on the same day. Just wanted to offer that as another alternative to a schedule 🙂

    • Emily says:

      Thanks, Katie. That’s a really good alternative suggestion. Like I said in the original post, these are just some of the things that work well for me and some of the households I’ve been the most deeply immersed in. Mileage will totally vary in different homes!

    • Carolyn Astfalk says:

      I found assigning chores to a specific weekday became a recipe for failure for me as our family grew. I found a chart on Pinterest which separates chores by day. I move from one day to the next, Monday through Saturday, but if I miss a day here or there due to life, I’m not “off” for the rest of the week and doubling up. I simply pick up where I left off on the next day. Works for me!

  13. Elizabeth says:

    One item that has been a huge help to me, personally, as I try to negotiate how to manage my home is the planner available at – it’s under e-books on the products tab. I’m not associated in any way with the site, just sharing something that has really helped me. It breaks down all the chores (and I do mean ALL, from “check credit score on this particular site” to “clean out purse” to “have quiet time, take medication, exercise”) that need to be done regularly, so I never worry about what else I should be doing once the day’s tasks are finished. Anything else will come up on the list later.

    I just remembered I blogged about it the first time I bought one, so rather than writing a book here I will just link to that: The links don’t work anymore; I’ll see if I can get that fixed.

    Please note that post refers to the first time I purchased it, at which time I eventually found it a bit too overwhelming for the stage of life I was in (several very young children at home). But I liked it enough that I bought it again for 2015, and now that my children are older I really love it. I go through and highlight specific tasks in their color (they each have one), and then we do housework in the morning before school. And the house is so much more under control than before, when I was struggling to even remember all the “regular” jobs I needed to do.

  14. TAM says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! We are a family with four kids, 1, 2, 3, and 5 years old, and I am just coming out of the fog of childbearing. The clutter has been piling up, and I’m not sure when we last washed the windows. Our beloved Mother Church has been a source of strength in so many areas of our lives, and now I’m reaching out to her again in hopes of finding a way to live like civilized folk. Thanks to the likes of Saint Martha, the Holy Family, and my fellow Catholic mommies, I’m finding the motivation to clean again. It’s all about having the right mindset, isn’t it? I read this to my husband on the phone last night as he was driving from one job to the next, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Now I must go deploy my mustard seed of faith to move this mountain of laundry!

    Thanks again!

  15. lenetta says:

    I was going to say perhaps THIS is the article you should have written for OSV but I suppose it would’ve been equally controversial! I know I struggle with housekeeping greatly, and I’ve been trying to discern if it is illness related/my season of life (40, pregnant, plus small children) or SLOTH. And I think the latter is what pricks people the most, we feel accused of being slovenly. (And sometimes it’s kind of true, so.) we also feel guilty for not having done a better job of training our children, more pricking there. I guess when I get worked up over something like this, it’s far more about me than the author or article.

    I’m really enjoying your blog, and I’m really enjoying my second read of your book. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!

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