The guilt of ‘not contributing’

I’ve been thinking about a post like this all weekend, but truth be told, I’ve been a little nervous about writing it. Nervous because it’s very personal, and yet it’s an issue I’ve been dealing with for the past month or two, and I think an important one.

What finally convinced me to get over my nerves was a post from one of the bloggers I regularly read, Jessie Knadler over at Rurally Screwed. In one of her latest posts, she talks about the future of her blog (I for one hope it doesn’t go away!), but also about the guilt of being a stay-at-home mom vs. being a working mom. Now, I’m not a mom, but this bit did touch a nerve:

I love being a stay-at-home mom for now even as I’m wracked with guilt for not producing. Isn’t that the way it goes? I feel guilty when making money because I’m not there for the girls.  I feel guilty when I’m not making money because I love to work (for money) and don’t feel like myself when I don’t have some kind of paycheck. See? You can’t win. Moral of the story, boys and girls: You can’t win.

It’s been about a month now since I left my old, full-time, salaried job at the bookstore. It was a good job, and I was able to gain some valuable management experience. It wasn’t a forever job, and it certainly wasn’t going to be my career – maybe it was the job to get me through grad school, but a job in the library world was always in my future. Then, I had to leave that job, and it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. Long story short, I really didn’t want to leave, but was given no choice.

While I don’t particularly miss the work (retail isn’t the most glamorous of industries), I do miss the paycheck. A lot. Now, J and I are fine financially. Plus, as J continually tells me, “I’m in school”, so it’s OK if I take a little time out from full-time work to focus on my studies. And I am. And I’m also really lucky to have found a great part-time job at one of the libraries on campus, where I’m gaining even more valuable experience, making important connections, and learning a lot.

But still, I really miss that paycheck. Especially now that we’re future home-buyers, and we have to pay triple attention to our bank accounts. Especially now that I’m forcing both of us to “be on a budget” – and not just a suggested budget, but a strict, real, budget-budget.

But I miss that paycheck because the simple fact is: I like working, and I like working for a paycheck. I like to “contribute”. I like to pay my own way. I like to provide for my family. I’ve never made a lot of money, neither when I was working for the bookstore or a reporter, but at least I made enough to contribute to our family income in a significant way.  And because both J and I had decent jobs and weren’t burdened by unreasonable credit card debt, we always felt financially free. Not rich or really “well off” by any standards, but we never had to worry.

And we don’t have to worry now, either, but still. Whatever income I have is just a tiny drop in the bucket – not the modest splash I’m used to – and it fills me with guilt. I feel guilty every time I remind J that, “Well, maybe you should think twice about going out to the bar with co-workers because, you know, budget.” I feel guilty every time I want a new pair of shoes or to have coffee, at a coffeehouse, with friends. I even feel guilty taking on the additional expense of a house even though we’re more than ready and gosh darn it, I want this more than anything.

But the guilt described by Knadler is still there. I think it’s tough for women to admit this guilt, just like it’s tough to admit that, as a woman, I like working for a paycheck. While I wouldn’t describe myself as, and I certainly don’t want to be, a workaholic, I do derive a real sense of identity and self-respect from working. Who am I? Well, I’m a reporter/bookseller/manager/librarian, and I believe in what I do, and I work hard at it. To be cut off from the working world, or just cut down to part-time, is difficult for me to admit is acceptable. And while I know it sounds goofy, and I don’t want to believe in it, if I’m being honest with myself, it is hard to feel like myself without that paycheck in the mail.

A big part of this is because I am, in one way, a workaholic – I always have to be doing something. Hence, this blog (and my other blog). Hence, my endless planning. The cleaning. The reading. I also have some big plans to help fill my time in the coming months: applications for internships and graduate assistantships, some academic writing, maybe some creative writing? I’ve considered getting another part-time job, and I do think I could make it work, but there’s a reason working two different jobs is difficult – two different bosses, managing two different schedules, lots of driving, even less free time than if you had one full-time job. I’ll do it, but if only if the right opportunity comes by.

Now, why is this a “woman’s issue”? I certainly don’t want to insinuate that it’s unusual for a woman to feel guilty when she doesn’t bring home the bacon. Quitting or being laid off from your job doesn’t have to be a “woman’s issue”, and the guilt associated with it affects men and women. But the fact of the matter is – and this is how it’s impacting me, personally – due to circumstances out of my control, I’ve been thrust into the part-time housewife position, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind spending the extra time I have at home cooking and cleaning – in fact, I enjoy it. One the key philosophies behind this blog is that there is no shame in enjoying these chores.

But I was forced into this situation, and I don’t like not having the ability to choose how I live my life. Similar to how I feel about a lot of women’s issues, choice is important. A woman can work 40+ hours a week, or she can be a stay-at-home mom, but she should have the right to choose. What I dislike is having that choice taken out of my hands. Now, I know that I didn’t leave my old job because I was a woman – I know there’s a difference, and like I said, losing your job isn’t a woman’s issue. But I still find myself in this position, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it yet.

Unfortunately, I can see this issue continuing to weigh heavily on my mind until, well, I graduate with my Master’s and find that full-time job as a librarian. Until then, I’ll continue to feel grateful that I married such a generous, loving person who insists, rather vehemently, that I do whatever is best for me and not feel guilty about it. Marriage, I’ve found, really is a partnership in this sense, and helps assuage just a little bit of that womanly guilt I feel. When I figure out how to get rid of the rest of it, I’ll let you know.

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Songs for a rainy day

I’ve never considered myself a Type-A personality – though maybe I am – but I am definitely the type of person who always has a plan. I have dozens of to-do lists. I plan out my everyday schedule a week at a time, making sure I keep track of chores, meals, homework assignments, work schedule…everything.

But sometimes, you just to have to sit back and let life take the reigns. Sometimes, things are just hectic, and there’s no way to control your schedule or predict what will get done. We’re having one of those weeks, and now that it’s Friday afternoon, I’m definitely feeling the weight of accumulated stress and anxiety. Right now, we’re in a state of waiting. If not being productive annoys me, waiting is absolutely unbearable.

However, I find the best thing to do in these cases is to just take a deep breath, let it all go, and just listen to the rain. It’s been raining all day here in Michigan, making for a gloomy start to the weekend. But, if the rain helps those dirty piles of snow disappear quicker, then let that cool, cleansing rain come down.

Usually when I’m at home during the day, and actually during the evening as well, I like to listen to the local classical music stations, both out of Detroit and Canada (a perk of living so close to the Great White North!). But when it’s raining, sometimes you need something a little more chill. I prefer my Avett Brothers Pandora station during these times, which has plenty of relaxing, soft, rainy day tunes.

Clean House Project: Making a schedule – and sticking to it

So, it’s been about a year since I started this Clean House Project, and I apologize for the long wait for Part Two. However, I still feel that this is an important part of keeping a happy home – and given the number of “cleaning checklists” pinned on Pinterest, a subject that’s very much in demand. I’ve worked out a simple and easy routine for keeping my home clean and organized, and want to share what I do in the hopes that it helps others.

First, make sure you check out Part One of the Clean House Project:

And so, now that you’ve taken a hard look at your home and determined what actually needs cleaning and when, let’s move onto the next step:

Write out a schedule

So, you know that your bathroom needs to be cleaned every week. Maybe your living room needs to be vacuumed twice a week due to your horde of furry pets. You’ve written this all down, so let’s turn it into something that makes sense.

Sit down and take out another sheet of paper. I use a notepad with a magnet on the back, so I can stick this on my fridge. Then, write out the dates for upcoming weeks. I keep writing dates until I run out of room, so I usually end up with three months worth of weeks. You do can do this any way you want, but I will write out the dates for each week beginning Monday and ending the following Sunday: “March 30-April 6”.

Then, start scheduling what rooms you’ll be cleaning, and when. If you clean your bathroom every other week (like I do), write “Bathroom” on every other line. If you thoroughly clean your kitchen once a month, write it once, and then again four weeks later, and then again four weeks later…It’s not rocket science.

For me, it doesn’t matter what weeks which rooms are cleaned, unless, of course, we’re going out of town for a long period of time. If you only deep clean one or two rooms a week, you can clean when you have time. For some, that’s Saturday or Sunday. For others, it may be on their day off during the week.

Now, you have to be realistic. As I mentioned in the first post, you can’t expect to deep clean your ENTIRE house every week – especially if you have a full-time job, have kids, have a hobby, interact with friends…aka, have a life. Sure, some people have the time and willpower to clean a different room everyday; those are different kinds of cleaning schedules, and if that’s what you want, they’re out there. This is the kind of cleaning schedule for those with little time on their hands, a smaller place, and the willpower to keep things organized throughout the week so that you don’t NEED to deep clean the entire house every week.

That being said, I do not recommend scheduling more than two rooms per week. Two a week is usually what I do, and when, while scheduling, I end up with only one room that week, I’ll stick in a special project (more on that later). The idea is not to overburden yourself.

Now, once you have this schedule all written up, you can type it up so that it’s prettier, but above all, put it somewhere where you’ll see it on a regular basis and then FOLLOW IT. I use a planner to keep track of my grad school assignments, dinners, and workouts, and so I also write down what rooms need to be cleaned that week. Then, I’ll work cleaning into my weekly schedule, depending on what my week looks like.

However, this kind of cleaning routine is not going to work if you don’t follow it. You’ve already determined that your bathroom only needs to be cleaned every other week; if you don’t actually clean the bathroom when you’re supposed to (aka, every other week), then it’s going to be even dirtier when you do get to it. The hope of this kind of routine is that by strictly following a schedule, your rooms won’t be THAT dirty when you finally get to cleaning them. And if you maintain your highly-trafficked area on a regular basis (more on that later), they’ll be even cleaner.

March favorites: Pins

Because I’m a Pinterest whore, here’s a collection of this and that’s that caught my eye in March.

  • Cinnamon roll breakfast cakeI actually made this cake, getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to do so, when my dad came up for his birthday weekend. The recipe makes two 8-inch round cakes, so one is still in my freezer. But it was oh, so much of a win. Just make sure you let the stupid things cool enough before you pop them out of the pans. We don’t want a Pinterest fail.
  • 101 things to do in ChicagoJ and I are probably going to put off our end-of-April Chicago trip due to the unpredictability of the house-hunting process, but we really do want to get to the Windy City sometime this summer. J’s never been!
  • This outfit:
    pin-march
    I feel a strong need to buy a jean jacket this year, as well as a maxi skirt or dress. I’ve never owned either so I feel it’s…necessary.
  • Soft cheese bread recipeI also made this bread (the cheddar and herb version) earlier this month and it was a total win. I was also able to pull off the Estonian Kringle maneuver, of which I’m especially proud.
  • This dresser:
    pin2-march
    Can I has, please?
  • This s’more boxA friend “suggested” this pin for me, which always confuses me because I forget to check “suggested pins” for weeks and weeks. Then, it looks like you’re an ungrateful friend when all the other person did was think of you while they mindlessly browsed Pinterest on a Saturday night…God! Anyway, I thought it was funny she suggested it for me. We’re not campers (though we’d like to be), but maybe because of the proliferation of s’more recipes on my boards? It is a good idea. Let’s go make s’mores in March!
  • This handy moving checklist:
    pin3-march
    Will become very necessary in the next few months.

Follow me on Pinterest!

March favorites: Outfits

The best part of running a local news website for two and a half years is that I became very good at coming up with story ideas that could be posted on a regular basis. When you’re expected to “write” seven stories a day about a town that’s, in total, four square miles (!), you have to. Monthly round-up posts are particularly the bomb, and are utilized by bloggers the Internet over.

And so, introducing: My favorite outfits, a round-up of the favorite things I wore from the previous month. Since I only really started writing again in A Homebody in earnest in March, you have to forgive the lack of outfit ideas. Also, forgive the crappy pictures taken with my iPhone. One of these days, I’ll figure out how my husband’s DSLR works. I am, however, quite proud of my Pinterest-inspired outfit staging!

If there’s a theme to how I dress right now, it’s easy: cardigans. Yay cardigans! They’re cute, they keep you warm, they go with everything, they allow you to wear sleeveless dresses and tank tops in 20 degree weather.  They’re perfect. I should also probably cut back on them, but we’ll see how that goes. Here’s to hoping for more variety in April!

photo 1

Jeans: Gap
Tank: Gap
Cardigan: J-Crew
Shoes: Target

I saw on Pinterest somewhere that green and navy is a good color combo for spring. Hey! I have a green cardi and a navy blue tank top that I wear like every week … perfect!

photo 2

Jeans: Gap
Tank: Gap
Cardigan: Target
Shoes: Target

This is the same pair of jeans from before because they’re the best pair of jeans on the planet. It’s got a tiny flair but they’re mostly bootcut. They’re not too long, not too short. And, get this, they’re the ONLY PAIR OF JEANS I’VE EVER WORN WHERE I DON’T NEED A BELT. That’s a big deal. This is also one of my favorite cardigans, the boyfriend cardigan from Target that I found while on a mad hunt for a long, yellow cardigan. J told me they don’t sell yellow clothes in the winter. I proved him wrong!

photo 3

Dress: Urban Outfitters
Cardigan: Target
Scarf: DSW
Tights: ??

Enter the yellow cardigan as well, this time paired with the uber cheap dress from the Urban Outfitters clearance section that really can’t be worn with anything other than tights and a cardigan. Because the top is getting a little saggy. And it’s pretty short. BUT, I love the bottom and the dark colors make it a great winter/fall dress.

Buying our first house: Our wish list

As J and I really dig into the process of finding our first house, we know that we have to get over our anxiety and fear of failure, and just get out there and look. And that means, identifying our “wish list”. You know, those bullet points they list on House Hunters of the “must-haves” and “would-be-cools” and “definitely-nots”.

From the very beginning, we’ve tried to be realistic when coming up with our house hunting requirements. We know this isn’t going to be our dream home. We know it won’t be perfect. It will most likely be a little small. It may require some work. And really, what we want isn’t too much of a stretch:

Must haves

  • Three bedrooms
  • One-a-half to two bathrooms
  • A decent-sized, decently-updated kitchen
  • A basement (for storage and because we’re scared of tornadoes)
  • A two car garage
  • Detached home
  • Some yard or outdoor space (a patio or porch)
  • At least 1,400 square feet
  • Central air and heating

Not too much, right? Pretty basic, if you ask me.

Our wants and desires

  • Fireplace (man, I want one of these so bad)
  • Gas stove
  • Hardwood floors (I know, we’re one of those people)
  • A somewhat finished basement
  • Updated windows
  • Updated bathrooms (at least, updated in the last 10 years)
  • Lots of windows and light
  • An ensuite bathroom off the master bedroom (a lot of the older homes we’re looking at do not have this luxury)
  • Closet space
  • Built-in bookshelves (OK, this is me projecting my dream house, but it would GREAT)
  • A house that comes with most of its appliances including a dishwasher or dishwasher hook-up.

One thing we’d both like in a house – though we know it probably won’t happen with this house – is a house designed, laid out, or decorated in the mid-century modern style. J is a huge fan, and while I also appreciate traditional elements in a home, I do like the modern aesthetic, complete with clean lines, wood floors, and lots of light. While we know we probably won’t find an actual mid-century modern home in our price range, we will have our eye out for homes that can at least be adapted or decorated in that style. I’m thinking a combination of Crate & Barrel, West Elm, and Ikea (for budget purposes).

home1

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What I find funny about this whole house-hunting experience, though, is how my tastes have changed. I grew up in your basic 1960’s era ranch, and so of course, as a kid,  all I wanted was to live in a two-story house. It seemed so awesome to have a room upstairs, instead of, you know, down the hall from the kitchen. When you have your preteen angst attacks, you can just stomp up the stairs and blast your Savage Garden, and oh you would be so cool. I always envied my friends with bedrooms upstairs because it just seemed right and domestic and proper. It was all very Clarissa Explains It All; how else could Sam use his ladder to visit my window seat if I didn’t live on the second floor, damn it?

Now that we’re searching for a house, a lot of traditional two-story homes are showing up in our MLS listings. A bit outdated but oddly enough, exactly the kind of house I’d have loved to live in as a 12-year-old kid. But now that I’m older and wiser, all I want is an updated ranch. I think this is where J’s love of mid-century modern has influenced me; as a 27-year-old, I find myself drawn to those clean lines and open layouts. I also like the idea of the smaller home, both because two people with two cats don’t need a huge family home, but also because it will be easier and cheaper to clean and decorate.

Our house is out there somewhere…somewhere.