Confessions of a Struggling Chatelaine

The word “chatelaine” is romantic. (French is by definition romantic.) “The original chatelaine’s domain was a castle or fort,” says Merriam-Webster online. And what budding woman wouldn’t want to be the head of such a domain? Especially one who constantly read things like The Once and Future King and could recite large portions of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty after one viewing?

Yeah. More like that. Photo by Pixabay on

Merriam-Webster goes on to say “and the chatelaine’s duties were many.” Through the miracles of my personal ability to focus pretty well on whatever it is I want to see while tuning out the rest, I missed that bit. My chatelaine was a medieval Martha Stewart with plenty of staff to oversee, linens to air, and banquets to plan.

Fast forward just a few (hundred) years. Instead of doing anything that would have brought me to a chatelaine’s position, I married young and ran away to the Great North Woods, to a cabin barely big enough to fit our stuff. Housekeeping was never my strong point (I’m a cook if anything) and having a home that looked like a Hidden Picture did not help. Luckily our band of un-pioneers didn’t seem to mind, and they took cheerfully the constant “Find The ____” searches that defined our days along with music and friends and generally good food.

They grew and they left home and returned and left home. So the house was bigger. And theoretically less full, although that was more difficult to tell. Between my travel as a musician, my job in an office and in PR, and a garden that began to be added to my life, I was not of a mind to examine why my home was not spotless and why the stuff hadn’t magically evaporated when the kids left.

 At a certain point, someone even gave me a hat that said, “Of course I’m domestic. I live in a house, don’t I?” And it was true. I did live in a house, one I love to this day despite its various warty bits. I just wasn’t really doing the chatelaine thing to any great degree.

In the fullness of time, my life settled down to the center that is home. My vision changed as I slowed into it. Projects that hadn’t been close to possible earlier became possible and then likely and then done.

Close to the truth, but improving, really…

For years I have told Steven, “We need a wife around here,” but what we really need is a scullery maid / gardener / schlepper / nanny to add the components we’re not good at or that require more than we now can offer. Just as in the Brownie Story taught to me when I was in second grade, it seems the answer to the question of help isn’t a maid or an elf, but myself.

Having realized this makes things easier. My knight on a white charger was supposed to rescue me from this. Unfortunately, Mr. Clean doesn’t do house calls, and the white knight was occupied with other issues. It’s up to me, mostly. (Having an intrinsically tidy mate makes this much simpler for me, I realize. Just lucky he hung on despite my tendencies..)

So I researched the issue, from Minimalism to Tidying to schedules to devices to style. It turns out there’s a lot to homemaking. It has enough moving parts to attract a monkey-mind like mine, and enough control to appeal, too. It involves comfort, hospitality, biology, supply, physics, and ingenuity. My mind was boggled. Dazzled. Overwhelmed.

And overwhelmed I remain, although I am gradually turning toward actual coping. (I so badly wanted to use “whelmed” in that sentence instead of “coping”, but I looked it up first. Turns out it means becoming submerged or overcome, so it means pretty much the same as overwhelmed. I ignore the one definition that said something about a state of calm because it’s obviously a modern interpretation. Ask me anything.)

Me, before the dictionary. I was SO gullible! Click on the image to appreciate more at Deviant Art or here for more from the artist.

My distillation of all the homemaking wisdom I ingested and continue to ingest comes down in the end – well, not end, but at this point in the process – to a few guiding thoughts. I share freely.

  • Understanding of the task grows but has to start somewhere. I did not see dirt until I became a cleaning agency. I did not have a consciousness of the need of inanimate objects for nurture, too. The more mindful I become, the more I understand that dirt is everywhere and cleaning is a task best engaged cautiously, with respect and knowledge of my impact.
  • Lists and habits are my friends. Written down is the best substitute for memory that I know of. It helps me deal with problems before they occur.
  • Pick it up, don’t pass it up (from the Sidetracked Sisters) and the attendant One Minute Rule. These help me make a low-level tidiness more possible.
  • Sneak a task into a routine or make it part of a current habit and you’re more than halfway done. I can fool myself sometimes and get twice the bang for my cleaning buck, so to speak.
  • Find the One Thing and do it. This works both at a routine and an emergency level. If you clean just one thing, it should be the largest irritation to the eye in your room that is possible. Making the bed, vacuuming the floor, washing all the dishes; that sort of thing. And if you are desperately doing catch-up cleaning before your in-laws drop in, find that elephant and deal with it. Smaller problems can be vanquished in order of size as long as no one has pulled up to the curb.
  • Make Future You happy when you can. Wendy at the Frugal Minimalist is made much more mindful of the entire process she’s engaged in by the thought of Future Wendy at the other end having to deal with it. She circumvents this whatever-problem-it-is by doing the task in a way that Future Wendy will enjoy. You can, too!
  • Housework done poorly still blesses your family, says the Flylady. For perfectionists everywhere – repeat this three times on three deep breaths and then dive in. Sure, it’s mud season (somewhere) and the floor won’t stay clean till tomorrow, but that’s no reason not to fish the toast crust and dust bunnies from beside the refrigerator. Maybe the family will use the mat and maybe not. The floor is still cleaner than if you hadn’t swept. It’s okay.
Even washing the dishes can result in something that makes you smile.

That is pretty much my approach. Some days it’s more important to sweep, and some days it’s more important to be Gran, and some days it’s more important to Run Away. I try not to mortgage Future Kathryn’s time too heavily with stuff Kathryn Today doesn’t care to contemplate, and thanks to Wendy, I think she’s doing better. And if I can do it, most others can, too.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to the Sidetracked Sisters, Flylady, the Frugal Minimalist, Zero Waste Chef, and a whole host of people who have helped me along the path to someday, somehow, achieving the true Chatelaine status that my home and loved ones deserve.

And thanks to you for being here! I’m trying for weekly posting, so feel free to check back and nag if I don’t. I’m also open to thoughts and opinions, so Reply is a good thing, and of course I blush at Likes. Subscribe above for notification of postings.

Just last week. It’s going fast, now!


Filed under Adulting, Home, Personal Economy, Philosophy, Self-reliance, Stuff - Clutter