Baking, Homemaking, Housework, Suburban Homestead

Suburban Homestead Diaries: Using Winter to Improve My Homemaking Skills

Now that I’m a so-called grown up and can largely choose where to live, I sometimes wonder how I’ve somehow managed to land my winter-hating self on a property where winter can last up to 6 months out of the year, where you drive down the hill into town and see yourself descending into The Inversion (a self-contained micro-atmosphere of trapped pollution and bad air that’s unique to valley towns, at least in Utah), and where by January, everyone is “so over” the snow except for the skiers (which, though I’m a native Utahn, I’ve somehow never been).

But here we are in Cache Valley, Land of the Endless Winter, for the time being, and this winter is proving to be uniquely challenging because we have a newborn who I’m deathly afraid to take anywhere on account of all the illnesses going around (and who, coincidentally, actually DID pick up a cold/cough this week from his siblings). So basically, we’re stuck in the house all day, every day—a scenario I usually try to avoid at all costs.

Much to my surprise though, we’ve all been coping with it all rather well, the kids because Mathias is finally old enough to really start playing with Raven, and me because all that pent-up energy I had from being on bed rest is being put to good use pouring itself into becoming a better homemaker.

My History With Homemaking

While I’ve always loved certain aspects of homemaking (let’s be honest–mostly baking), I wasn’t much into the idea growing up. The truth was, I had Big Plans for my work and career and schooling, and being a homemaker didn’t really factor in. However, I discovered that when I got married, I actually wanted to become a better cook (mostly because both of us had such limited dinner options we knew how to make otherwise), so I started trying out new recipes weekly. Since we were making hardly any money, I learned also how to stick to a grocery budget and cook from our pantry. I discovered that I hated cleaning but that I hated living in an overstuffed, cluttery apartment even more, so I hit two birds with one stone and got rid of about half of our stuff over the course of one year via my 50 Weeks to Organized project, which made it much easier to tidy (even if I still wasn’t very good at doing it regularly).

Then, when my daughter was born, I discovered the most incredible thing–I actually WANTED to quit work and stay home! I know this probably shouldn’t have come as such a shock, but it did to me. I couldn’t quit my job right away and so worked full-time through the first year of her life, but then in 2016, I quit my teaching job for good and have never looked back.

However, becoming a stay-at-home mom is apparently not synonymous with automatically becoming a good homemaker. (Weird, huh?) Oh, I did make some immediate progress—I outlined a rough routine for us every day so I wouldn’t be wasting a bunch of time (oh, the idea that I had enough time back then to worry about wasting so much! ha ha), I started baking a bit more (always a love of mine), and I tried to maintain some kind of organization scheme in our apartment so that I could continue reaping the benefits of my 50 Weeks to Organized project. The next year, we bought a house, which definitely provided me with some solid motivation to become a better homemaker—we started painting rooms, redecorating, and taking on a bunch of yard projects. Over these past few years, I’ve also set cooking challenges for myself, tried to overcome my naturally untidy nature, and gotten better at meal planning.

In other words, it’s been a process.

And over these years, while I’ve just taken one step forward at a time (often just whatever seemed to be the most natural thing to work on next), I’ve discovered that I LOVE homemaking. I love reading about homemaking. I love writing about homemaking. I love thinking about homemaking. (And I love the actual homemaking, too—not just dreaming about it in my head, ha ha.)

I can’t remember the last time this didn’t have clutter on it #truth

The Cleaning Bug: It’s Time to Catch It

The point of all this background is to show that over the years, I’ve made significant strides in many areas, most notably anything to do with food (surprise, surprise). But cleaning and tidying?

Soooo not my forte. 

It’s not that I haven’t tried—in fact, here are several posts just to show how hard I’ve tried:

The problem with all of this is that for awhile, I’d do pretty well. Then, once life got crazy and the house was a wreck again, I would just slide back into bad habits.

Part of the issue is that I’ve continually viewed cleaning as a “project” to do, rather than a maintenance thing. Since I love me a good project, it was fun (if I was in the right mood) to take on a big cleaning project, reap the results for a few days, then feel like I could let myself off the hook for awhile since I’d just worked so hard.

Staging photos is so much easier when the countertops are cleared off!

The other thing I’ve lacked is actual commitment to becoming a clean and tidy homemaker forever—to actually make it a part of my identity.

The best book on forming new habits I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a few!) is James Clear’s Atomic Habits (aff link). In it, he provides a nugget of wisdom that, for me at least, has been life-changing. He says that most people fail to maintain their good habits for a few main reasons. First, they fail to plan their habits around their systems (all the circumstances and background around a habit, not just the habit itself). Second, they continue to buy into the identity of being bad at that habit, so because they own it as part of their identity, it becomes nearly impossible to change.

Illustration he makes on this point—If you were a smoker who was trying to change, try changing your identity first, and then the habit will follow. So, when offered a cigarette, rather than saying, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit,” try saying, “No, thanks. I’m not a smoker.”

See the difference?

My problem before is that I was trying to change the habit/problem itself instead of changing my own identity and my systems. I’ve joked for years that I don’t clean because I’d rather be reading (so, SO true) and that I’m the worst housekeeper in the world. I’ve lived in a somewhat messy, cluttered house for so long that I’ve simply accepted it as fact—as part of who I am, as part of our family identity.

Then I had a few cringe-inducing wake-up calls lately that have made me think—this is ridiculous! I am the one in charge here, so I am the one allowing things to continue on as they have been! If things are going to change, they have to start with me! And if they’re going to start with me, they have to start from the inside out.

So I’ve been allowing myself to start forging a new identity for myself. Maybe I’m not confident enough yet to say that I’m the kind of mom who maintains a tidy house, but at least now I’m starting to believe that I’m the mom who keeps her kitchen table totally clear and does all her dishes every day before bed.

Baby steps.

(Hopefully more posts on this process to follow because boy, do I have thoughts!)

Baking Streak

Without intending to, I’m on a weeks-long baking streak (as in, I’ve literally baked at least one thing a day for 14 days plus). I’ve always been a bit of a stress baker (see the time we were in the house-buying process and I made something like 5 different kinds of cookies in a week), but this is different—this is growth baking, experimental. Instead of baking as a means of carb loading and escape, this time around feels more like a meditation practice–a chance to be more present in the process of creating a home and an opportunity to reflect on ways to endlessly improve my craft: How can I make all these muffins more uniform in size? If a recipe calls for 3 ripe bananas and I only have two, what should I substitute?

It’s given me a chance to ponder on how I want our children to remember our home. Part of that pondering led me to the revelation that I need to commit, once and for all, to being willing to make that sacrifice mentioned above of keeping a tidier house for our children (because for me, it does feel like a sacrifice, but motherhood is essentially the art of learning to sacrifice, so I figure this is just the next step), and another part is the comfort that is derived from the pleasures of cooking and baking from scratch. Not only will this provide healthier, more frugal options for my children than store bought snacks (not to mention a valuable life skill that I’m slowly teaching them over the years as they get older), but the love and nurturing inherent in a fresh batch of bread or a warm chocolate chip cookie made just for you is like a hug in and of itself.

Waiting for the bread to come out

I’m hoping that when our kids look back and think of home, they think of warmth and comfort and yes, homemade cookies consistently waiting on the stovetop.

The Homemaking/Homesteading Connection

So often when people think of owning a homestead, they think of the outside—the gardens to plant, the animals to care for, the land to acquire.

But the skills that go on INSIDE are just as important as any going on outside when it comes to running a homestead (even just a suburban wannabe homestead, like ours). Because what’s the point of harvesting your own vegetables if you don’t know how to cook them? What’s the point in owning chickens if you don’t know how to bake delicious cookies and muffins and cakes using their eggs?

Plus, to me, a large appeal in the homesteading life isn’t even so much about the farming/cultivating/raising animals itself—it’s more about the idea of a more unplugged, simplistic lifestyle that returns us back to the basics. Back to the basics of sweeping out the corners of the pantry and pulling together a soup with a side of homemade breadsticks, rather than shrugging our shoulders and going through the drive-thru. Back to the basics of learning to appreciate the idea of scarcity sometimes, or at least the value that goes into everything we consume (such as the fact that when only one of your four chickens is currently laying eggs in the winter, you sure learn to appreciate that one egg a lot more!).

I’ve been reading a book (of course I have) that talks about people’s memories of The Great Depression, which has always been an era in history I’ve been fascinated by. Rather than moaning about how little everyone had and how hard times were, this book chooses instead to focus on its namesake (aka, the title of the book)—that they truly had everything but money. They had family togetherness and community outreach and creativity in entertainment and in the culinary arts. They had frugality and the building of good financial habits for the future and the ability to make do with and be content with what they had. And reading it has made me want to try a little harder to use up what we have—to live by the once-common refrain of “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or live without.”

So that’s what January life has looked like so far on our little homestead—a bit of sickness, but a whole lot of homey-ness too.

How’s your “homestead” looking lately? What skills are you working on?

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