Cleaning Confession

Dave took me to Vermont over Christmas break to celebrate our 20th anniversary. On one of our hikes, I found this natural "cross" on a tree.

In high school, I would leave nearly empty glasses of sweet tea in my room. When my mother discovered the green-fuzzed results, I told her they were science experiments. I regularly lost library books only to discover them, weeks overdue, under my carpet of clothes. In college I roomed with another self-proclaimed slob, and we posted a sign that said “Enter at your own risk.” (We really didn’t but we might as well have. No one dared come in.)
I didn’t get much better after I married. Dave shuffled my piles of books around, and once I stashed three days worth of dirty dishes in the bottom of the microwave cart because I’d invited people over for dinner and had more mess than time to clean.
When we moved overseas, though, I changed. The knowledge that people could drop into our apartment at any time (and they did) made me aware of how our home looked. I cleaned thoroughly every weekend, and I straightened messes daily. When we returned to the States and had our first child, I became a little obsessive. I hand-mopped the kitchen floor twice a week, wiped behind the clawed feet on the ancient tub, and freaked out over stray hairs in the sink. Dave suggested I get a part-time job before I drove us both crazy. I did—but I still liked cleaning.
Now, though, I hate it.
HATE it!
With six kids and their friends and the dog running through our house, cleaning is a constant battle that’s lost before it’s even begun. Why mop the floor when four sets of feet are going to cross it before it’s dried? Plus, it’s a thankless job. My kids NOTICE when dinner’s late (actually, they start asking about it at four in the afternoon), but I could put up a flashing neon sign announcing that I dusted, and they wouldn’t see it!
A few months ago I realized that every time I cleaned, I griped. “I could be doing a lot of other things.” “What’s the point of this?” “It’s not going to last.”
And if I got through the griping and did real cleaning, I turned into a bear! “Don’t you spill anything on that stovetop! I used 409 on that thing!” “Why are there crumbs on the coffee table? Can’t you see that I CLEANED!?”
Something didn’t seem right. I began to wonder if a clean house was worth having kids that twitched when they smelled PineSol because they knew it meant I would start hollering about one mess or another.
So I stopped.
Not the hollering—I still do that sometimes about other things.
No, I stopped cleaning.
I. no. longer. clean.
Well, not to the point that I FEEL like I’ve cleaned.
I may straighten. I may tidy. I may “neaten things up.”
I may even “organize.”
But I don’t CLEAN.
I don’t sweep an entire floor; I pick up the dust bunnies in the corners. I don’t scrub an entire bathroom; I grab a baby wipe and go after the yellow spots (those of you with boys know what I mean.) I don’t mop; I give Patrick a wet rag and tell him to paint pictures with it on the floor. I figure I can live with the “blank” areas of the canvas. When my girls dust, I don’t go behind and find the spots they missed.
I don’t clean.
And I think my kids appreciate that.
I hope.
Because there is a definite flaw to my system: my house isn’t really CLEAN, not even for three minutes every month.
But I’m learning to live with this. I’m still practicing hospitality. I figure I’m providing a self-esteem boost for my friends. They can walk in my back door and think: “Well, I guess my house doesn’t look so bad after all!”
I remind myself there IS an end in sight. In five years my youngest will be eleven. No more Legos on the stairs (ouch); no more Barbies on the dinner table; no more toy fire helmets on the couch; fewer spilled cups (I hope).
Five more years!
Maybe I’ll clean then.

3 thoughts on “Cleaning Confession

  1. Jen, I absolutely love this! It’s something I struggle with and am learning to come to terms with too. I may have to borrow the “ego boost for my friends” approach because I can live with that, I think. I miss you. Glad you are writing. Would love to see you–in between cleaning sessions, of course!

    • So good to see you yesterday and catch up a little on your life. As far as cleaning goes, I’ve decided that if I ever won the lottery (it would probably help if I started playing it), I would hire someone to come in and clean once a week. I don’t mind laundry, like to cook (though maybe having someone do grocery shopping would be nice!), but cleaning–ugh!

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