A few men emailed me after I wrote How to Get a Man to Do Housework. They told me that they did the majority of the work around their homes, and that their wives were the ones who were the complete slobs. I also heard from some women who fessed up to their messy habits, complaining about their annoying clean freak husbands who just didn’t know how to relax.
They’re all right. I should have titled that post: how to train a slob to clean a house.
Or something like that.
Anyway, today, I bring you part 2, and I write it mostly for women (and men) like myself, who just can’t seem to relax when the house is a mess. We like to think of ourselves as right and our untidy TV-watching, trash-on-the-floor throwing spouses as wrong.
But the truth of the matter is this: our Dearest Disorderlies are the ones who are calmer and happier. We’re the ones who are stressed out, uptight, and unhappy. It’s quite possible that we could learn something from them.
This blog, by the way, is in no way an attempt to get a slacker who does nothing around the house off the hook. I’m not arguing for the merits of an unequal distribution of household labor. I’m only saying this: All of the communication in the world will get our houses only so clean. Unless you have the means to hire a housekeeper who comes daily, you’ll have to learn how to accept at least some of the mess, especially if you have children.
Indeed, one of the things they never tell prospective parents is this: once you have a child, you will never again have a clean house. Similarly, you will never again get a good night’s sleep, with the exception of those times you take an Ambien and go sleep in a hotel away from your family. (More on other things they never tell parents-to-be tomorrow).
Once you have children, there will always be a mess somewhere in your house, even right after you’ve cleaned it. Unless, of course, you’ve tied up said kids and locked them in a closet for an hour or two so you can enjoy the fruits of your cleaning labor before it all becomes undone in a matter of minutes. Although I’m sure Child Protective Services would tsk tsk about you doing such a thing, all I can say is this: I’ve thought of doing it myself. Only thought it, mind you.
So what should the clean freaks among us do when confronted with the mess that is known as parenthood?
Be proud of your mess. Here’s something that they also don’t tell you about parenthood and marriage: Every house has a mess somewhere. Some messes—like toys all over the living room floor—are easier to see. Others—like a sexless, loveless marriage—are more invisible to the untrained eye. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have old banana peels on my floor than a husband who doesn’t love me. Just saying. There are worse things in life.
Be realistic about your mess. Many of us clean freaks worry about our messy houses the most when someone else comes to visit. I can’t tell you, for instance, how many moms have told me, as soon as they’ve opened their doors, “Oh my God, my house is such a mess. I’m embarrassed to have you stand in my entryway.” I can’t say I’ve ever heard a father utter such words, but there I go being sexist again. The point is, whenever someone has greeted me at the door with a “my house is such a mess,” it was a cue for me to try to find the mess. Most of the time, I just couldn’t. Most people don’t notice other people’s messes. They only notice their own.
Be considerate about your mess. Please don’t clean your house before I visit you. Not only is it unnecessary, it’s downright selfish. You see, your mess makes me feel better about my mess. Cleaning up your mess right before I stop by is your way of saying, “I’m better than you. See? My house is clean!” But if you leave the dirty laundry on your living room couch, it tells me, “Yeah, I suck at this parenting thing, too. Are you as overwhelmed as I am?” I say, “Yes I sure am.” Then you tell me that you love me, and I tell you that I love you. And then I make sure my house is even messier than yours when you come to visit.
Nightmare on Clean Freak Street
This weekend I experienced a Clean Freak’s worst nightmare. My parents called me Saturday morning, asking if they could visit Saturday afternoon. In my house, Sunday is cleaning day. I have a 4 year old, a husband, and a dog. You can just imagine what my house might look like 6 days after cleaning day. It’s not good.
I looked at the dishes in the sink, the dried banana remnants on the floor, the greasy dog footprints on the living room carpet, the hand prints on the glass door, the dirty clothes that were scattered here and there, and the toys in every conceivable place. I’d be leaving in 20 minutes to take our daughter to a birthday party. My parents would arrive within moments of our return. There was no way I’d have time to clean. I said, “Sure, come over. I’d love to see you.”
I hung up, scraped the banana off the kitchen floor and went to the party. Later, my parents were a little late, so I also had time to wash the dishes and hide the dirty socks and underwear.
When my parents walked in, my mother’s first words were, “What’s all over your carpet?”
“The dog must have stepped in grease or something,” I said. “We’re planning on cleaning it up next year.”
She laughed. I’m glad that I did my part to make my mother feel good about her own house cleaning abilities, you know? She doesn’t have a kid or a dog; she has a cleaning lady. But she deserves to feel good about her house. And whenever she needs a self-esteem boost, she’s welcome to come to mine.
- Try to pinpoint the point when a normal amount of mess spills over into an anxiety-producing mess. Try to find that sweet spot where you can feel calm with just enough mess, but not out of control with too much of it.
- Keep a mess free zone somewhere in your house, somewhere you can go to chill out and relax. Mine is my office. It’s where I spend a majority of my daytime hours. No toys are allowed in my office. And I don’t like husbands in here, either. The dog is okay, though, as long as his paws are clean.
Have you learned to feel calm when surrounded by chaos? Leave a comment.
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