A mother’s collected wisdom is shared in many small ways. Despite youth’s frequent attempts to fly away as independent beings, the return home often comes with the realization “mother knows best. (sometimes)”

Throughout my mom’s childhood, growing up in the ’60s as a daughter of an Irish Catholic woman with seven children, my mom spent most of her Saturday mornings cleaning the entire house with her siblings. It was strict, often militant in expectations. Sometimes, her mother would see a lightly crinkled folded shirt, scoop the entire drawer contents out and order a re-fold. The to-do list was filled with almost impossible tasks for small children; move the fridge and hand-mop underneath, iron dad’s underwear in a windowless basement, or even q-tip the intricate details of wooden furniture for dust. These tasks, similar to sacrificial temple cleanings in India, were hard for children as their friends played soccer in the sun.

It’s a wonder that none of the siblings engrained the cleaning practices of my grandmother onto my cousins and me. Most of us would agree that we lived in relaxed homes without a Saturday chore list nor angry reactions to leaving a toy behind. Maybe even the opposite effect took place where a messy home wasn’t bothersome to any of us.

After moving away and ruling my own space, my grandmother’s cleaning tendencies may have taken root and I channeled her desire for a clean home. Not as enforced but a weekly clean-up and the occasional deep clean sounded ideal. It would often strain the relationship between my mom and me when I was ready for a full-fledged home-makeover during the summer.

Harmony in the cleaning realm is a practiced meditation. For my grandmother, it was a place of frustration and discipline. For my mother, it’s a low priority task in exchange for lost time and freedom. I’m learning to keep a balance between two maternal figures when it comes to chores. The benefits of a clean home seem to align with a healthy mind, yet the relaxed attitude is essential for living joyfully.

Archiving cleaning tips from both sides is a look into how we can cultivate our own relationship with chores.  While my grandmother has since passed, her tips may have included bearing many children and canceling weekend trips, to be fair, they also may have included some excellent secrets on floor polishing or household ingredients to get tough stains out.

My mama, who is still able to bang out the occasional deep clean, mentioned her tips excitingly when I asked. They are widespread. Some five approaches to cleaning, some are concrete examples of a cleaner home. Nonetheless, I present you,

Mama Mary’s Cleaning Tips:

  1. When cleaning, touch something only once. Shoes lying around? Take them straight to the closet, not waiting on the stairs for later.
  2. Close the toilet lid when flushing. Toothbrushes will appreciate not being exposed to flying fecal matter.
  3. Have a garbage bowl while cooking. Leafy stems, pepper caps, eggshells, can all be placed in one giant bowl making an easy one-time dump when finished.
  4. Make a place for everything. This cuts downtime on finding lost items and gives more organization throughout the house.
  5. No one is too good to clean. During mom’s time in the Air Force, she remembers the general requesting the entire platoon to clean the base. As she picked up litter, she saw the general bending down, bagging trash like every rank.

Connecting with our maternal relationships can help uncover life stories such as the ones my mom shared with me for this post. I was able to understand her positions more and appreciate the work she has done for me and our home. Ancestral links can also explain certain outlooks or tactics and make us feel more connected as we do daily tasks like cleaning.