Dirty Windows and the Truth About Comparing

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Last week a friend messaged me, saying, “I just can’t keep up with the housework. I don’t dare tell you the last time I washed windows and I’m behind on the bathrooms. How do you do it?”

I wondered if she’d made a mistake. Clearly she’d intended to message someone who has it all together – or someone with clean windows and bathrooms. Neither of those describe me. Not on a regular basis, at least.

Comparison can provide opportunities to learn, grow, and refine as long as we don't allow misconceptions to result in unnecessary guilt and stress.

“You’re supposed to wash the windows?” I asked. “You think I’m kidding, but I never do that, and I pay my girls to clean the bathrooms.”

I assured her that window washing happens when a kid wants to earn some extra money or is in trouble, or on the rare occasion I get a wild hair to clean them.

Y’all, I don’t do it all. It’s bad enough when we beat ourselves up comparing ourselves to what other moms actually do. We’re really setting ourselves up for discouragement when we compare ourselves to what we think someone else does.

Is this fact or fiction?

My friend was so relieved to discover that my windows are as dirty as hers (maybe worse since she was actually worried about cleaning hers) and my bathroom is in need of a thorough cleaning.

Before beating ourselves up over our shortcomings, we need to determine if we’re comparing our factual situation to our fictional version of someone else’s. For most of us, real life doesn’t look those Pinterest pins.

We need to consider how many takes went into that Pinterest image.

If I’m being real and showing y’all my Friday morning kitchen sink, you’ll get to see the dirty dishes piled high. If I’m doing a how to deep clean your kitchen post, I’m going to scrub and clean, put away the junk, adjust the lighting, and make sure everything is just so. Then take a dozen or so photos to get the one I want to post.

Don’t compare your Friday morning sink to my how to deep-clean your kitchen sink.

Am I comparing my weakness to your strength?

We moms tend to compare our weaknesses to another’s strength. Once when my niece was over, she looked up at my kitchen light fixture and asked, “Aunt Kris, why is there dust on your lights?”

My answer? “Because I’m not a clean freak like your mom.”

My sister is one of those deep-clean housekeeper sorts. You know, the kind who actually moves furniture when she vacuums. I’m more of a big-picture girl, often overlooking detail work – like dusty light fixtures or dust bunnies under the couch.

However, my sister often comments on the elaborate (her opinion, not mine) meals I prepare. Her thing is cleaning; mine is fixing a meat and two sides for dinner most nights. If I compare my house to hers, I feel messy. If she compares her dinner table to mine, she feels like a poor cook.

Her family gets fed every night. Mine lives in a relatively neat, sanitary home. That needs to be the end of the story. Unless, of course, my sister wants to clean my house in exchange for a meal. That might need to be the end of the story.

Is there anything I can learn from comparing?

I read an interesting comment on Facebook recently. In response to a post about not comparing homeschooling to public school, someone remarked that some comparison is a good thing. She said that in comparing, we often discover room for improvement.

That makes sense. Comparison may not be a bad thing if we maintain some objectivity.

If I really did have clean windows and spotless bathrooms, when my friend asked me how I did it, I would have told her. Then, she could have decided if my methods would work for her. If so, great! She’d be on her way to clear windows and a sparkly bathroom.

If not, she would have two options: Determine if there were any adjustments she could make so that my methods would work for her or decide that there was nothing applicable to her and move on.

The same is true in our homeschools. If my friend is teaching her kids something I’m not teaching mine, I need to ask myself some questions:

  • Is this something I want to teach my kids?
  • Is it beneficial to our family?
  • Is there room in our schedule?
  • Are my kids developmentally ready?

If it’s something truly beneficial, I can try it. If not, I need to move on.

Comparison can provide opportunities to learn, grow, and refine. We just need to make sure that we’re being objective and not allowing misconceptions to result in unnecessary guilt and stress.

Do you find comparison guilt-inducing or motivating?

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. Very well put! It’s inevitable that we’re going to compare ourselves. But the more secure we are with our own values (and how true we’re being to them), the more beneficial – and less detrimental – comparison is.
    I have to remind myself so often not to compare my “Friday morning kitchen sink” with someone else’s “deep clean kitchen sink”. And when an IRL friend confides that my blog sometimes makes them feel bad about the way they homeschool, I make sure I point out all the amazing homeschooling stuff they do that I can’t hold a candle to! (Not to mention my cluttered house…)

    1. That’s a good point about blog posts. I’ve often heard people say not to compare your life with someone else’s highlight reel. Most blog posts are definitely highlight reels. I try to be real about our struggles, but not every struggle is going to make it to a blog post. I should probably start including a disclaimer that there was at least one gripey kid/bad attitude for every fun/exciting/creative thing I post. 🙂

  2. I appreciate that your blog is real. I wish more homeschool blogs would show the reality of homeschooling. It is hard. One new homeschooling mom asked me recently how I keep my house clean. I told her that I learned early on that I could either keep a sparkly clean house or I could homeschool my children. I couldn’t do both. Since I learned that, I lowered my standards of what clean should be and have been more content with my messy, lived-in house.

    1. Yep, I went through that same process. I keep telling myself that my house will be super-clean again some day…then, I remember that my kids are going to start bringing grandbabies over. 🙂

  3. I think you need to be careful how you talk about those of us that do keep a clean and tidy home, like your sister. By calling her a “clean freak” to her daughter, are you not sending a negative message about people who can stay on top of housework? Just as I try not to judge those who may not be able to maintain a clean house, or just don’t prioritize it, shouldn’t you also not judge those that do? Language is very telling, and I don’t see myself as a “freak” just because I clean my windows regularly or have clean bathrooms. Just my thoughts.

    1. I think you’re overreacting. It was said with a smile and a laugh. She knew I was poking fun at myself, not her mom. I call myself an organization freak and a control freak all the time. If you knew me, you’d know it wasn’t negative.

  4. Kris- I love your honesty. I think that’s why I keep coming back to your posts. They are real life, man! We just had a baby, we are foster parents to a 7 month old, and we homeschool our older 2 kids. Lots of people say “I could never do what you do!” but they don’t live here and see the craziness! I think that we give priority to what we love or love to do. I love to cook but I hate to clean. And like you, I didn’t realize that some people actually clean their windows! I am so glad that we are all different with unique strengths and talents. I like the idea of sharing our strengths and learning from each other. As women, we definitely tend to highlight our faults when we compare instead of seeking to learn and grow. The bottom line is having a rhythm that works for you and your family. And I think it’s so important that we share life with REAL people as well as gleaning ideas from the internet. Thank you, thank you for this post!

  5. Not that you aren’t a real person….haha. I meant people that we see everyday and know personally! 🙂

  6. I just had someone comment that they could not handle” all this”. The this was my four kids and the mess we make. Homeschooling is not easy to keep organized. I’m taking children here and there,trying to be a wife, a mom and a teacher. Since the comment I have been killing myself, bleaching, scrubbing etc.. I just found this quote by Ann Voskamp ” Your kids don’t need to see a Super Mama, they need to see a Mama who needs a Super God.” Thanks for your blog. I needed it.

  7. For me comparison is more than guilt inducing, it can also cause a lot of anxiety. There is a difficult balance between getting inspiration and ideas or just falling into that pit of comparison despair!

    I home school three children and keep up with our three year old while also living with daily chronic back pain due to an injury two years ago. I constantly struggle with the “you’re not good enough” monster, especially at this time of year when school is starting, church programs are looking for volunteers, and multiple holidays and all of their expectations are coming. For the most part I have adjusted to my new normal, but there are times when I am reminded of all the things I used to be able to do and need to have a good cry on my husband’s shoulder.

    The GIFT of chronic pain has been my husband and I developing a keen focus on our priorities. Big house and yard? Not a priority. Lots of possessions? Nope. Relationships with family and friends? Yes!! Homeschooling? Some in my life would tell me to quit, but this is a priority for us too and we love homeschooling in spite of the challenge. Switched on Schoolhouse has been a huge blessing to us. We are aiming to sell our house next spring and downsize into a much smaller place to free up more time and energy for the things that are truly important to us.

    I have to be careful not to compare my life to mothers who are able-bodied and pain free. Obviously it isn’t a fair comparison 🙂 but I still fall into that sometimes.

    If any of you home school while dealing with chronic pain/illness and have a blog or website I would love it if you would share a link! I would love to connect with you. I’m hoping to write about this topic on my own blog at some point as well.

  8. I don’t read your blog every day but when I do, I find it entertaining, insightful, and real. It makes me not only smile as I read but sometimes brings tears to my eyes. Both of my daughters are so different but so much alike and this fact makes me so happy. I to do not clean my windows on a regularly (maybe once every two or three years). But I do consider that my home is always clean and I wouldn’t be afraid to have company drop in unannounced. When growing up they used to say you could eat off my mother’s floors but then after six children she decided to enjoy her kids and worry about the house later. I always found that my Mom was SO much fun when we were all home and yes her house was messy but she cooked the best meals every. I don’t think that you should ever compare yourself to anyone else. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, so best to just be yourself. Guess I’m a little prejudice in my opinion of your blog but then that’s a mother’s right.

  9. Thank you for being honest about your house not being perfectly clean. My cat was sitting on the back of the couch looking out the window. After I looked at him I noticed how dirty and smeared the window looked from him putting his paws and face against the window. I thought about cleaning it but its just not high on my priority list.My daughter could do it as part of learning life skills. I try not to compare myself to others. After all they may not be perimenopausal and a pastor’s wife so they may be able to handle homeschooling and housework better than I can. Lately I’m happy if I can just get a good nights sleep, get some housework done and get most if not all of the homeschool done.

  10. I didn’t know window cleaning was a thing either! Until my mother-in-law kindly (no, really, genuinely kindly) offered to clean them for me. And she meant the insides AND outsides of the windows! Who knew??! 🙂

  11. Very timely post for me! I am very new to homeschooling and stressing over my home, especially my windows! I have never been a neat freak but I eventually get around to cleaning things when they look dirty. I will definitely be checking out the book list.

  12. So nice to hear your thoughts on the comparison “trap”. Who can really see what another’s life is like? I think we tend to compare ourselves to what we think another’s life is like… Thanks, a great post!

  13. Here’s me: I am a terrible housekeeper! I do clean windows on the inside now and then only because I have 8 cats [insert crazy cat lady joke here] and all the pawprints do get pretty gross now and then. But when I saw that picture, all I could think was how I wanted to scrape, repaint, and caulk! I’m that way in my own home, too. I can’t stand to clean, but fixing up is another story! It’s work either way, so I wonder why I enjoy the one kind and hate the other. Funny how our brains are wired.

    1. Thankfully those aren’t my windows, but a stock photo. I loved the artsy look of it. It is funny how different things bug different people – and another reason not to compare. 🙂

  14. Well put! I used to compare myself to certain relatives, mostly because they were very into ‘things’ and I have never been. I felt I need to learn to like material things, have more stuff and decorate in a more ‘in style’ sort of way. I haven’t thought that way in about 17 years. I’m glad. It was stressful to try to keep up with the Joneses (or my relatives in this case). If I’d ever been able to have all the things they had, it would have resulted in debt and I still wouldn’t care. I’m just more about helping people than accumulating things. That’s me. It works.

    By the way, I think I’m a combination of you and your sister. I’m all about the big southern meals, but I’m also a rather obsessive housekeeper. My shortcoming? I struggle with time management. I’ve often joked that I want someone to outlaw sleeping so I could have another 8-12 hours a day. 😉

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