Housekeeping Confessions, or please call first before you come over

Last year, around this time, I had a psychotic break with reality and decided we needed another dog. A puppy. A golden retriever puppy. He’s really cute. And really smart. And unbelievably destructive. He makes large messes of paper, because he likes to shred things. A lot.

Last December, my lawn guy stopped by unannounced in the middle of the day to follow up on some work we had discussed. I was still dressed in my pajamas (T-shirt, no bra, and scrub pants, so not as embarrassing as my moose jammies, but still obviously not dressed for the day), and my house was a holy mess. I had been pulling out boxes of decorating stuff to get ready for Christmas, but hadn’t gotten to the decorating stage yet, so there were boxes of stuff spilling out all over the living room. Winston, my afore-mentioned puppy, had had a field day with some of the wrapping, so there was also shredded paper pretty much all over the living room and in the play room. There were also muddy footprints on my kitchen floor, and toys/clothes strewn about the playroom (because my kids have failed to master the difficult “put your dirty socks in the hamper when you take them off” paradigm, and my 6 year old is inexplicably opposed to both wearing her underwear AND putting it in the hamper. Guess what she takes off first thing when she gets home…). I tried to stop my lawn guy from coming through the house to get to the backyard, but was unsuccessful. He pulled his colleague through my disgusting home, discussed the backyard, and left.

And, seeing as the lawn guy and I are friends (our kids went to preschool together), he then mocked me for the state of my house for months.

“I never thought a college grad would live in such squalor.”

“I bet it took you 3 days to clean that up” (in response to a text message I sent to him with a picture of the living room, clean and properly bedecked with boughs of holly)

“Where did you put all that STUFF? Did you have to have somebody haul it out?”

Sigh.

The truth is, however, that if you came over to my house unannounced, you are more likely to find it in the state I just described than not. I’m not a cluttery person, and I’m not a hoarder by any stretch, but I’m good at stepping over messes, and if the dinner dishes wait until morning to get done, it doesn’t bother me too much (although they can’t sit for much more than overnight. Living in an area crawling with cockroaches and ants will cause a gal to get those dishes done right quick, I tell you what.). I currently have 3 baskets of laundry to fold (it’s all clean!) and while I did spend the morning sweeping and mopping the downstairs, you pretty much can’t see the floor in my daughter’s bedroom.

One night, a few friends called and said they had to stop by, and that they’d be there in about 20 minutes. I raced around, putting things away and did a quick vacuum over where the dogs sleep (white carpet+2 dogs=bad juju). In a few minutes, I had the house presentable, but it did take a few minutes. When they got there, we chatted for a bit, and the topic of housekeeping came up. I confessed that I relate to another friend of mine who constantly struggles with her house. One friend piped up and said, “No way, look at your house!” I shrugged and said nothing, but thought, heh, fooled another one.

I’ve tried all the organizing tricks, I’ve done FlyLady, I set my timers, and I really have discovered that a clean home is like anything else—there are no shortcuts, you just have to roll up your sleeves and get it done. And that sometimes, I just don’t feel like rolling up my sleeves and getting it done.

I feel tremendous amounts of guilt about this, which baffles my husband. He feels no stress if our closets are a mess, or if something is amiss. To him, there is no emotional attachment about the state of the house—it’s either clean, or it’s messy. If it’s messy, then we should clean it. If it’s clean, well, how pleasant!

Not so with me, and not so with other women I’ve known. It’s like somehow women have some bizarre self worth connection with the cleanliness of their home. If it’s clean, we’re good people. If it’s a mess, we’re losers. I don’t think it’s a Mormon thing (although a lot of our rhetoric about mothers in the home includes exhortation about good housekeeping), I think it’s a woman thing. Or a mother thing? I dunno.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who has all kinds of emotional hang ups about being a poor housekeeper. And please tell me that I’m not the only Mormon woman who needs just a few minutes heads up before you pop by with some treats. If you do give that’s heads up, I promise we’ll both be happier for it. It’ll give me time to pick up the shredded toilet paper in the hallway.

About Heather O.

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

23 thoughts on “Housekeeping Confessions, or please call first before you come over

  1. As a SAHM I feel like my house ought to be clean because if it’s not clean what have I been DOING with myself all day? Truly, it’s I’ve been busy with a dozen other things including helping the toddler making messes and we’ve /already/ cleaned the house twice today and can’t bring myself to clean it a third time.

    I suppose also if I subscribed to “home is a heaven on earth” mantra then I’d want my house to be temple-clean. I know that’s only going to happen if none of us live here and when we visit we only tread around in white booties.

    So, I try not to draw conclusions about a woman’s character based on the state of her house. I fully stand by my claim that, “Dirty clothes and faces are evidence of a good day,” and I’m willing to extend that to my home as well.

    I just draw the line when other critters start to live in the house as a result of a mess or worn walking trails start to emerge between the piles — theeeen, something has happened and someone may need a hand with something.

  2. My house is only clean when I’m on certain antidepressants. For some reason I get a crazy side effect where I have to have my house clean, like scrubbing at the baseboards with a toothbrush clean. When I’m not on those meds I do my best to keep on top of dishes, laundry and trash, basically so things don’t smell. And if anyone complains, they are handed a broom.

  3. I have no compunction to have a clean house. Disgusting, holy-cow-what-have-you-done-to-this-place, yes, but spotless, looks like a museum? Isn’t going to happen. I am a (generally) stay at home mom, but there’s just So. Much. Stuff. that gets brought home and then never finds its way out to the garbage/ recycling/ Goodwill/ DI.
    I don’t tie what my house looks like to being a good mom, a good Mormon, whatever. I don’t buy into the stress of it, thank you very much.
    This is, however, the longest-standing discussion my husband and I have.

  4. Heather–yes, yes, yes x 1 million. It’s embarrassing how many hours I’ve spent talking about housekeeping with my *therapist*. She’s never actually come out and said “you Mormons are crazycakes,” but I can see her thinking it. And that’s in a context where I’m paying her to be sympathetic to my crazy!!

  5. Right there with you, friend. My choice is usually between writing and cleaning, and guess what’s a heckuva lot more appealing and gratifying? Yeah: not the house.

    That said, I do feel more relaxed if things are clean, at least on the surface. I just wish I could afford a cleaning lady.

  6. My attitude about housework? 1. Silent Martyr 2. Feminist Boycott 3. Spiritual Meditation on Mutability 4. Respect Your Mother Nagfest 5. Patiently Train Children Life Skills Idealism 6. My Other Responsibilities Trump Housework Neglect 7. Military General Charts & Chore Wheels 8. Law of Physics Experiment Conceding that Entropy Always Wins. 9. Let Them Live In Filth “Tough Love” 10. Hysterical Martyr. I cycle through all 10 of these at a pretty rapid rate.

  7. For me the hard thing about housework is that is so hard to attain a majority of the time–but when it is clean my moods are drastically better! When the house is messy and choatic, *I* feel messy and choatic. When the house is clean and organized, *I* feel clean and organized (and at peace). I notice that whenever I seem (more than usual) overbearingly onery and moody, chances are my house is a mess.

    But I’ve got a baby, pregnant with another and homeschool my older children. A clean house is exhausting to keep. Feel good but exhausted or feel yucky but not (as) exhausted…that is the question.

  8. I decided awhile ago that one of my purposes in life is to make other women feel good about their housekeeping. My house is not a disaster, nor a health risk, nor anything close to Hoarders, but I DO have a lot of clutter and it could be cleaner. I try to keep my front room presentable, but the rest of the house… Flat surfaces are just not safe in my house; they’re so convenient for putting things on…

    But I do love it when the house is clean. And when I clean I can’t just do it quick and easy, I have to do it all thoroughly and the right way — but then, that takes so much time and effort that I don’t want to do it again for a while.

  9. Such a post I can relate to! I started working part-time last year, and I told my husband and kids that they can have clean dishes or clean underwear, but never both in the same week!! I hate cleaning house, but find joy in a clean house, but can’t seem to marry the two!

  10. It hasn’t always been this way, but I keep a very tidy (not necessarily clean) house — tidy rooms, tidy closets, tidy drawers, laundry put away, everything. Want to walk through my whole apartment to use my bathroom? Be my guest.

    Hello! No children, no husband, no dog, and such sedentary work that I use housekeeping as a break from typing, and allow myself to do only 20 things on such a break (wash 14 dishes, hang up two shirts, fold a towel, wipe a counter, close a cabinet, and empty a wastebasket) so that there will be stuff left for the next time I take a break.

    Seriously.

    I don’t measure my self-worth by that — there are too many ways to see that as a failure rather than a virtue — but other women seem to think my value is tied into that. Visiting teachers, visiting friends, visiting anybody, they’re sure to make some crack about how THEY are too busy with their families or doing Important Stuff to straighten the living room. I never bring it up; they always do, to the point where there are some people I don’t care if never visit me again.

    So it goes both ways.

  11. For me it’s much more important that my house look organized and tidy than actually be clean. I’m not talking health hazards here, but I can go weeks without mopping the kitchen floor, while dishes in the sink or stuff left out on the counter drives me insane.

    I’m still living with roommates, so I haven’t felt a huge sense of worth or identity tied to my home. However, the older I get, the more important control over my home environment becomes to me. I dread roommate changes because I’m terrified that the new person will be messy. Owning my own home (or at least renting my own place) has become a huge goal for me.

  12. I find that I’m not a nice mom if my house is clean, because it aggravates me that the children are making messes in it. The children (6,3,1.5) are making messes whether the house is clean or not. If it’s already a mess, it doesn’t bug me. I have made a decision never to apologize for my house being dirty. I think we women apologize too much for things we aren’t actually sorry about/aren’t willing to change. So if someone shows up by surprise and I’m having a particularly “nice mom” day I just tell them to remember that my house looks this way because we live here.

    However, I can not cook in a dirty kitchen. I always see the waste in cleaning the kitchen only to immediately get it dirty again, but I just can’t help it.

    Also, I think there’s a universal law that as soon as you mop there will be a colossal spill. A dozen eggs smashed by a toddler, an entire ham, half a gallon of milk, all of these things have ended up on my floor within hours of finally mopping it.

    Not to mention that a toddler seems to poop in the tub pretty much exactly as often as it needs a good scrub down. Was that TMI?

  13. Preaching to the choir here. Amen Sister! I used to think it would get better when the kids grew up, but nah, now they are grown I have no one to help me with the chores. Dishes, laundry, garden work, dirty floors, all still happen and I somehow feel all the responsibility for it. Sometime my hubby and I want to run away together, away from it all, but alas, we will still have laundry when we come back. :)

  14. Thanks, everyone, for letting me know I’m normal! I teach piano classes in my home, with parents attending, so every day multiple adults (who are paying me to be professional) have a great view of all the public spaces of my home–talk about pressure! Karen, I just did #10 yesterday. Heather, great stories and details–especially love the closing line.

  15. I wasn’t raised in the church so I don’t feel that housekeeping reflects on my self-worth or anything.

    We have professional cleaning. Since this frees up time to cook and garden, it pays for itself. The cleaners do not touch the kids rooms or do windows etc. If you have lawn help, why not cleaning help?

  16. I used to do a lot of obsessing “#10 Hysterical Martyr” over having a clean house which included a lot of nagging and arguing with the hubby. Once I adopted Karen’s #6 life got a lot more enjoyable. During the week we “pick up” which means throwing the clothes in the laundry basket and chucking all the toys down the stairs to the playroom. Then I reserve one day week to really clean, this way I don’t worry when I see all the crumbs on the floor, I know it was mopped last Saturday and it will be mopped again this Saturday, don’t hold me responsible for what happens Sunday through Friday. Amen to this post, self-worth should not be determined by the messiness of your house, unless you are a hoarder, or there are things living in the carpet….I don’t think it’s a Mormon thing, buy I do think it’s part of perfectionist syndrome whether you’re a woman or a man.

  17. Heather, every single thing you wrote could come out of my mouth, too. Except I don’t have dogs. But, I have a four year olds, and that is about the same thing. ;)

  18. Housework isn’t a self worth thing for me. I get done what I get done (although, if I know you are coming I will race to pick up and straighten). Having a picked up and tidy home does help me to feel more peaceful (I’m not looking at all the things that should get done and my mind will rest). I do like to have something that stays done for awhile, so much to my mother’s joy, I make beds in the morning. They stay made all day! It is the only housework thing that lasts that long. Yeah!!!

    On another note, I had a class at BYU entitled, “Housework and Relationships in the Home.” It was one of my favorites. I was amazed at how much housework dictates the dynamics of how a family functions (rituals, traditions, communications, roles of each family member, etc). No wonder we have many emotions about housework.

  19. Naiasmith, I would love cleaning help. I would totally choose it over lawn help. It isn’t in the budget. I grew up with “cleaning help” so I don’t have a problem with it.
    Maybe someday when I get a job I can get cleaning help at the same time. I wonder if I can get a good enough part time job to pay for the cleaning help plus the eating out more to come out ahead with the job.

  20. I totally understand that not everyone can afford cleaning help. I just think that if we are going to outsource anything, we should consider cleaning as much as any other form of help and not have a hang-up about it.

    Every family has to make decisions about where they will spend their money. We don’t have a lawn person and we rarely eat out when we are in town. We do have a freezer and make our own convenience foods in advance, often doing bulk cooking as a family activity.

    And it is very true that one can buy so many conveniences that the benefits of a second salary can be almost negated.

  21. My solution was (with 5 kids at home) to hire an early teen for a dollar more than the going babysitting rate, for 1 hour a week. If I needed her to vacuum or wash bathroom counters, totally possible. If I needed to clean something myself, I had her entertain children. That one hour a week was sanity saving. I could see look forward to an improvement and it made me schedule time to focus on that. Now, with all children grown, I do the same thing every other week. Highly recommend it…good for the teen to have extra dollars, good for me to focus and enjoy!

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