Clean Breath

Joy Kahler

May 14-20 is Mental Health Awareness week

I’ve never been considered a neat person. I’ve struggled with depression since I was a child, and my way of dealing with life was simply just not dealing.  Cleaning so easily overwhelmed me, that my bedroom as an 11-year-old would have rivaled a house on one of those hoarding shows. I had clothes ankle deep wall-to-wall and trash in my dresser drawer. I was told at age 8 that I was responsible for my own laundry, so I went to school most days in dirty clothes that I found on the floor. It was disgusting. We moved more than most, for one reason or another, so it just seemed pointless. I’d have a new bedroom in a few years anyway.

Eventually, I moved in with my father who was really no better than me. People in the community started blaming his mess on me, because I was a woman. “Joy, you’re the woman of the house, you need to get in there and throw some stuff away. It’s gross.” I was 16 and my dad would snap if I tried to throw away two-year-old Christmas cookies. As I got older, I started realizing the sanitary issues of living like a slob, so I did my best but still slept with a pile of unfolded laundry at the foot of my bed into adulthood. My college roommates can attest to that, as can my husband.

After I got married, I tried so hard not to let my depression get the better of me. I was entering a new phase in my life. I went off of my medications because we wanted to have children. My friends would come over and just sort of look at me. In my mess. They’d say things like, “Joy, what do you do with your time?” or “Zach spent so much money on this beautiful house for you, how could you let it go like this?” And when I did clean, the shock on their faces almost hurt more. My sister, someone I consider a total neat freak, once said, “I work out my anxiety and depression through cleaning.”  What? Where do you start? Everything around you is so huge and time consuming that it’s better just to ignore it. I’ll probably just move again anyway.  Except I won’t. He says this is our forever home. What does that even mean? 

Now, two beautiful girls later, I have to deal with things like dirty baseboards, endless laundry and crumbs. CRUMBS! I’ve never seen so many crumbs before in my life! My feet have sought sanctuary in my slippers, for they dare not touch the kitchen floor. My sister’s words have been resounding in my head for years. Working out anxiety and depression through cleaning. I’d rather be escaping into my kids, the TV, a book or just going to sleep. After years of tripping over stuff, snide remarks from judemental members of the community, and just general agitation of waking up every morning trying to find some space on my counters to make breakfast, I’ve had enough. My MOPS Mentor spoke during one of our meetings about needing to look at at least one clean space in our home to reduce stress. She said, “Just start with one room, or even just a counter. Keep it clean, and when you are feeling overwhelmed just go there and look at it and feel calm.” Things started adding up. Clear spaces, clear mind. Less stuff, less anger.

I’m terribly claustrophobic, and even having a 2500 square foot house can feel like a shoebox. We’ve been in our house for over seven years, which is the longest time I’ve lived in one place. It’s starting to sink in that I can’t just live like a parasite, exhausting the potential of a home or a room and then move on. I need to take care of this place. My children need me to take care of this place. Maybe I should stop yelling at them because I’m constantly tripping over their toys.  Maybe, despite the solid cleaning advise that I give my four-year-old, I should start living as an example of a homemaker and fully functioning adult. Finding solace in cleaning. I’ll try it. I am trying it.

I’m going to get up and take my worries and frustration out on my dishes, and my dining room table. Then when I get up in the morning I’m not bogged down and dragged down into this muck filled pit of darkness because looking around at my own home disgusts me. I can just breathe. And take five minutes to put dishes away while my kids eat breakfast, and a whopping 30 seconds to wipe down the table once they are finished eating. Then my four-year-old can put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher and we’re ready for the day.  I can take five minutes to sweep the floor while they color or 10 minutes to vacuum while they eat lunch. It’s not that big of a deal.

I want to have a home where I freely invite people in and I’m not embarrassed when someone stops by unannounced. I’m learning. Slowly over the course of several weeks, I have cleaned, and kept clean, more and more surfaces in my home. I’m less irritable, and I yell less. Cleaning is making me a better mom. And that’s the goal. To be the best mom that I can possibly be, and a better wife. My husband has never complained and has given me more patience than I feel that I deserve. I guess I just want other moms out there, who struggle as I have, to know that there is hope. Family, MOPS, God, and dare I say even those judgemental people, all have given me strength in one form or another to push beyond my past and head into the future. So take heart, your “aha” moment with come. Be ready with your rubber gloves.



Fierce Love Collective: What to do With the Big Emotions of Motherhood is for any woman who has experienced emotions, thoughts or moods that feel too big for her heart to handle. If you’ve experienced anything from baby blues to postpartum depression, anxiety, scary thoughts, bipolar or panic disorder, and everything in between, this small-but-mighty workbook is for you.


Joy Kahler is a stay-at-home mother of two and self-published children’s author. They live in rural Pennsylvania in a small farming community. She has her B.S. in economics. She feels fortunate enough that she could stay home until her children are older.