People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Housekeeping Sucks

Carter and I are having a Prairie night, by which I mean that we’re snuggled up together in my bed watching Little House on the Prairie.

When LHOTP was released on DVD? Among the happiest events of my life.

Oh, shut up.

I admire Ma. Most kids who grew up in the 70s wished they had been born into the Brady or Partridge families, but not me. I wanted to be one of the Ingalls girls.

Sadly, Ma would be ashamed to have me for a daughter. There she is on the TV right now, sewing or darning something in her tiny, pristine house. Pa is playing his fiddle; Mary, Laura, and Carrie are dancing; the dinner dishes have been washed and put away; and everything is just so.

My house is a sty.

I come from a long line of house-proud women. One family story tells of my great-grandmother who, upon discovering that an Oregon windstorm had left a coating of dust on her windowsills, actually vomited.

If I didn’t have pictures of her that look just like me, I would never believe that I was her direct descendant. I mean honestly, dust doesn’t even smell bad. Who cares?

Everyone in my family except me, that’s who.

Of course, I care, too. Who goes around writing about things they honestly don’t care about? I mean, assuming there is no money involved, which there is not.

I don’t like being a slob. Living in a messy house makes me anxious and a little depressed. It makes my family anxious and a little depressed, too.

But I don’t want to fuss over my house; I don’t want to have standards as high as the other women in my family. Somewhere, in my attempts to set standards of my own, I derailed entirely and ended up with almost no standards at all.*

Which is exhausting.

Even more exhausting than keeping a house clean would be.

I seem to be lacking something, the pride other people feel when they look over a room that they’ve just cleaned. Instead of pride, I feel pre-emptively angry at my family, who will almost certainly trash the room immediately.

So that’s not great.

I’m like Nellie Oleson (You remember her, right? She was the spoiled daughter of the mercantile owners on LHOTP.), throwing a big fit over cleaning my own damn house. But I don’t want to! I don’t like it! It’s boring! Why is it my responsibility?

As to why it’s my responsibility, I think that’s a matter for another blog post. Or not. I’m pretty sure I won’t be the person who solves the problem of labor division along gender lines.

So here I am having my big tantrum in the middle of a house that makes me anxious and angry and I really do want a solution.

Or I think I do. I’ve tried every system: Fly Lady, Julie Morgenstern, Sidetracked Home Executives, The Messies, and God only knows how many others. I have the same problem with every one of them: ultimately, there is cleaning to be done.

No matter how many books I read or how carefully I make the charts (or index cards, or electronic checklists, or whatever the system asks me to do), those things themselves do not clean the house. Eventually, there is getting out of the chair. There is dealing with the stuff: cleaning it, deciding what to do with it, putting it away.

I stall out somewhere between making the chart and the rest of it.

On the occasion that I get past my tantruming ways, I run headlong into a bigger, stronger, harder wall: overwhelm.

Oh, the overwhelm, my nemesis, the great purgatory of my emotional existence. I survey the crap, the clutter, the dirty floors, the mountains of laundry, and I freeze. Where to begin? I run through my bag of mental tricks. What’s bothering me most? Which job, if done, would have the largest emotional impact? The largest visual impact? The largest impact on Brian?

Which leads, inevitably, to the real questions: will I ever dig my way out? Am I such a lousy person that I can’t master something so basic? Why am I so weak, so pathetic, such a loser?

Sigh. Sometimes? I make myself very tired. Weary, even.

I’ve been complaining on and off for a few days about writer’s block. I thought of half-a-dozen reasons for this block, including PMS, a minor spat with Brian, the heat, and the fact that our abysmal financial situation is weighing heavily on my mind.

Yeah, right. None of those things has ever slowed me down before (And PMS? How the hell would I even know?). Fact is, it’s hard to organize my thoughts in chaotic surroundings. If I sit down at my desk to write and I’m surrounded by diet Coke cans, empty coffee cups, stacks of photo albums, and dozens of miscellaneous scraps of paper, I find it virtually impossible to make my brain operate in straight lines.

The words have to go in straight lines. You would have trouble reading if they went in swoops and swirls and jagged angles.

I don’t know how to make my peace with this. I do know how to make my inner Nellie Oleson be quiet and just clean the damn place up, but it’s just like losing weight: easily done, virtually impossible to maintain. I’m tired of this fight, but the only way I know to call a truce is to give up.

Which makes all of us unhappy.

So tomorrow, I’m going to spend some time trying to get this house a little more manageable. I don’t have a lot of faith in my ability to make meaningful change, but I don’t guess it’s OK to give up.

I do believe it’s a fight that’s worth my time and energy. A happier family is worth fighting for; a clearer mind is worth it, too. Feeling something other than blind panic when there’s a knock on the door?

Icing on the cake, baby.

*I’m compelled, because of the popularity of the show Hoarders, to put a little caveat here. First, we are not hoarders or even pack rats; we know exactly how many people and animals live here and they are all accounted for. And as much as we are terrible slobs, we’re not talking about any genuine health and safety hazards over here.

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38 comments to Housekeeping Sucks

  • Quit sneaking into my house and writing about it. 😉 I too, hate cleaning with a passion. I do love a clean house, but the getting there? Not so much.

    We aren’t dirty people…we just have a lot of clutter. And I swear it’s not my fault. Not at all. My hubby is a hoarder of little things and it drives me bonkers. Little pieces of broken matchbox cars that he swears he’ll fix, tiny screws and nuts from who knows what, etc. They all line our counters.

    I might be getting a raise in the near future and I made the hubby promise me that if I do, we’re getting a housekeeper. Yes, I’m that sad that I can’t clean my own house.

  • quazydellasue

    I could have written this post! Not as charmingly, as course. But I feel your sentiments/struggle exactly.

    I, too, come from a long line of fastidious women. My mother kept her house PRISTINE even in the final weeks of her life – she was dying of cancer, couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded, and continued to vacuum her house regularly. If I get a head cold, I basically shut down any and all cleaning tendencies and go about making the place even messier than usual. So I’m not sure where I come from.

    As a kid, I was messy. I hoped I’d grow out of it. In college, I envied my friends who kept their dorm rooms perfectly tidy – it made the small, soulless rooms seem so much more inviting. In my own room, I left half-drunk Nantucket Nectars on my desk for months. (One grew a chunk of mold so spectacular it was known along my hall as The Iceberg).

    Now I’m a grown-up. A professional, a mother, a wife. I own a nice little house. And I’m still a disgusting pig. And yes, I’ve tried all the “programs,” too. No luck. Your analogy to weight-loss is perfect. Just as any diet, no matter how “easy,” will involved eating less than you want to, any cleaning program will involve CLEANING. Which I can do from time to time, no problem. I can make the place shine. But it’s always temporary, and knowing that as I do motivates me less and less and less as time goes by.

    I think people like us just need professional help. I know I can’t afford that, but it’s the reason I’d like to win the lottery. There’s no hope for me. I’m just Messy. But I like clean houses and maybe someday I will be able to afford to live in one?

    • It’s just so frustrating, isn’t it? I get so mad at myself, force myself to clean up, fall off the wagon, lather, rinse, repeat. And I gradually get more and more disgusted with myself, and less likely to even try.

      Ugh.

  • I swear you got into my head. I would love to be a person who keeps her home spotless, even more than I want to be a morning person. No matter how hard I try, I am neither.

    I’ve gotten better since my son became mobile, but surfaces are still littered with cups and paper, and now the kid has learned how fun I is to dump the drawers. Why clean up the stuff if he’ll just empty them again? My to mention the defeat I feel when there’s so much to do.

    My next attempt at a clean house is going minimalist. Broke out the goodwill boxes again today.

    • Oh, yeah, that feeling of defeat is the killer. Once I feel like that, it take a HUGE effort to even get started.

      I think going minimalist is a good place to start. The only reason we’re not drowning in filth over here is we DON’T own too much stuff. If we had tons of stuff, we’d be in huge trouble!

  • I think the thing that bothers me most about housecleaning is its cyclical nature. Same with the yardwork. And I have to do everything on my own – house, mowing, irrigation, fence, stall cleaning, weeding…and by the time I get one thing cleaned up three more things that were clean a couple of days ago are now coated in wads of dirty clothes, empty yogurt cups and spoons. Its exhausting, mentally, to seem to never make a dent.

    • Oye. Yes. My husband told my stepson today that he needed to do something (a 20 minute chore; sweep and mop the dining room, I think) and he tried to refuse (cute, right?), saying, “But it won’t STAY clean so what’s the point?”

      It makes me feel like that guy pushing the rock up the hill. Was it Sisyphus? There’s always something more.

      And yeah, during the 3 years when I was single and it was ALL on me…yikes. I don’t have to worry about yogurt cups in the house. The dogs drag those outside; my whole damn yard is full of yogurt cups and soup cans. We’ve given up and started calling it our landscaping strategy.

  • Um, I realize this is not the point of the post, but I? LOVE LHOTP!!! LOVE IT! I too wanted to live in that family. And I don’t like being without electricity (my post about camping cleared that up). Sigh…

    Also? I hate to clean. My mom vaccinated every single f-ing day of my childhood. Her house is perfect. Mine? no.

    • I KNEW there was a reason I love you! Yes, I have a whole different appreciation of pioneer life now, as an adult, but holy crap did it seem like nirvana to me when I was a kid!

      Here’s what people say about my mom’s house: it wouldn’t DARE get dirty.

      Mine wouldn’t dare be clean. Sigh.

      • sheesh…did i say VACCINATED? What the hell? I meant vacuumed. I must have been tired.

        And yes, my mom cleaned cleaning products. I am not kidding.

        i have perma-crumbs on the floor around my sons highchair.

        • VACUUMED! Well that makes MUCH more sense! Cleaned cleaning products – I can imagine a woman, standing at her sink scrubbing all her spray bottles and brushes. Me? I’m feeling damn good if everyone walks out the door with clean socks.

  • I loved your caveat. I also love that you put Nellie Oleson’s picture up there! Ha! I loved that show, too. My son’s name is Landon and everyone asks me if I named him after Michael Landon. I tell them “no, I named him after the song ‘Landon Bridges'”. I actually don’t tell them that. I don’t tell them anything. I just step on their feet really hard and ask them to mind their own business. I actually don’t do that either. On to more important things, there has been a pile of books my 5 y/o son (not Landon) has taken off of his bookshelf and not replaced. When he does it, it’s very messy. I still would LOVE for him to do it, but…I keep putting off makign him do it b/c of this or that or this or that or this or that or this or that…should I stop? Bottom line: you are not alone!

    • Sigh. Thank you. I wish there was some magic formula, some way to force myself to STAY motivated!

      I’m sure there’s a drug that can make that happen. I’m also sure that I would abuse the ever loving daylights out of it and render it far, far worse than living in a mess.

  • LOL! We too are in a trend of watching Little House with our boys every night as a family treat, it just cracks me up seeing the “good old days”! As for cleaning, it is my therapy, since I have no control on my life, at least I can clean my house. Now if it’s grocery shopping were talking about, making the list is such a pain in the butt.

    • One of my favorite things about LHOTP is how much more you learn about the 1970s and early 1980s than you do about the 1870s and early 1880s!

      Yes, I hear that about having some measure of control in the housekeeping. I have different ways of making that happen for me, emotionally. And no surprise here; I hate making the grocery list, too. And doing the shopping (actually, I would rather clean than go out to buy groceries). And I really despise cooking.

      I am seriously domestically challenged.

  • Overwhelmed? Seems to be my middle name lately. Of course moving didn’t help.

    Trying to clean my house right now feels like it requires a shovel and a fire pit. I just want to burn it all and start over.

    Not that it wouldn’t still get messy if I started over. It would just take a little longer than usual. ::sigh::

    • Oh, moving! I can’t bear it. We moved 2 1/2 years ago after living the same house for over a dozen years. Oye. We’ll need to move again in 3-4 years and I’m trying not to even think about it.

  • Laura

    I hired a maid and an organizer, and my winter clothes are still stacked on my dining table. A penisula of stuff has sprouted in our master bedroom. I keep buying new laundry baskets because I never get laundry caught up. Dust? I can’t even get to where it is because there is so much crap in the way. The odd thing is, I use to like cleaning. Before I had a husband and kids I could keep up. Now messes are self-generating. My mess tolerance has had to increase to keep me from feeling worthless. I don’t know the answer except to either ignore the mess or quit work and stay home to clean. Neither is workable.

    • Yes! I haven’t always been so bad. When Jacob and Abbie were tiny, I kept the house up, but they were smaller houses. The husband back then was very tidy himself. The kids were not the mess-generating fiends that Carter is.

      It’s not all me! Which makes me feel better until I have to navigate a laundry mountain in order to get into the bed.

  • Lori

    Erma Bombeck once said that doing housework was like stringing beads with no knot at the end. I love that woman.

    I’m a clean freak, and it comes naturally, so I don’t really have any words of wisdom (although my two credos, “Put like things together” and “A place for everything and everything in its place” work beautifully when followed and are harder to do than it seems).

    Growing up our house was always messy, and it bothered me, so I vowed to be different from my mom. She claimed to be a perfectionist but could never get a handle on clutter. I was critical of her for that weakness for many years until I realized that I have several issues I struggle with that she does not (like my weight).

    I had this enlightening moment where I understood that her struggles with clutter and mine with weight were very similar, just in different areas. So I stopped judging her (mostly).

    I don’t really clean because I like it (although I have some friends who do) but because I like the end result. It really is a battle of wills. If I could figure out how to tame overeating the way I have clutter I could rule the world!

    • Aha! See, I DO “put like things together” and have “a place for everything,” but the “everything in its place” trips me up. We’re all organized underneath – in the closets, drawers, and cabinets, everything is tidy. Out in the open? Blech.

      I have trouble with weight, too, and it is very similar. Very frustrating, both!

  • I do not like to clean, but if the house is messy?

    I cannot think.

    So generally, I keep the house clean so that I can think.

    Except for my desk, which is an absolute mess. THAT mess? It helps me think.

    Explain that.

    • Hah! I can’t explain that. No way. My office is the room in the house that is most likely to be clean. It’s messy now, but most of the time it’s tidy.

      The living room though? GAH!

  • Housekeeping blows a big one. My husband and I always complain about how difficult it is to keep our house clean and it’s not even that big. Blame it on the 4 year old and baby. I, too, never feel like I am a “good enough” housekeeper. I want things to be clean, but I am not obsessive. Luckily, my husband helps 🙂

  • Ugh, I too hate how a messy house/room makes me feel. It’s a very special combination of feelings & thoughts: (invented) pressure from outside to have a clean house, pre-emptive exhaustion at the thought of having to start somewhere in the chaos, despair at how fast it all spirals out of control, and indeed the sense that somewhere, somehow there is a solution that will keep my house clean & tidy without any effort or spending on my part. Sometimes, to avoid feeling like that, I’ve cleaned the house whilst hungover – it prevents the whirlwind of tiring circle thinking. But alas, it also made me throw up the rest of the day 😉

    In the end I say: enjoy the times you manage to get the place tidied up and pat yourself on the back for at least getting it done sometimes. Accept that you are not an obsessive cleaner and rejoice in the fact that you can indeed enjoy life and spend your time in a better way, than constantly cleaning (because that is what it takes: daily clean up, plus weekly bigger all-over cleans. Soooo boring and what a terrible thought, to have to do so the rest of your life!). As “they” always say: once your on your death bed, will you really look back and think “man, i wish i cleaned more?”? Most likely, you only will if you are actually killed by your non-cleaning. Which really is highly unlikely.

    • You put it so perfectly! The pre-emptive exhaustion – yes, exactly. I will actually feel myself sink into my chair when I even THINK about cleaning up around here. Ugh!

  • I remember many years ago now I was listening to a Rick Roderick lecture on tape and he said that philosophy is like housework, you have to do it every day. And I thought please, no, I have no idea what that means, but tell me I’m not supposed to do housework every day.

  • The reason I clean (well, tidy and organize at least, scrubbing things is actually my weak spot) is that I can’t – CAN’T – relax in clutter.

    Himself – or other sane, normal people – tell me to not care so much. Why does it matter if things are in piles for a few days, or boxes of non-perishables live on the counter? So what if the junk mail is breeding on the floor of the family room?

    It’s NOT that big a deal, is it?

    Well, it shouldn’t be, except….I CAN’T THINK.

    Which really is good for no one because that’s when I think things like deep-fried grapes are a good plan for dinner.

    My solution? SPEED.

    I can move so damned fast. I have no system, no chart, no cards….just sheer fast-factor.

    So you have my total and sincerest sympathies.

    And for all that I hated Nellie back then, I think she’s my favorite now.

    • See, the trouble with us is, we think eh, no big deal. Then? It grows, and it becomes a VERY big deal. So you’re 100% right.

      And fast? Not my thing. I wish it was. I’ve tried setting timers and other tricks to force myself to MOVE but I am way distractible.

  • Ashley (@theatomicmommy)

    You know, I used to have the same problem. I would become so overwhelmed by the dirty house that I would put it off and put it off until it was horrible.

    Eventually I just had to push through that. I got up off my very lazy arse, and just did it. Sounds stupid, but that is the trick, just do it. Now I enjoy the feeling of finishing up the house and looking around at what I’ve accomplished. I cannot stand walking on dirty floors anymore. I’m always barefoot and it drives me batty.

    I guess if it’s not one extreme it’s the other, right?

    Once you stop over-thinking everything it gets better. Turn your brain off for awhile and just do it. At the end of the day you will love yourself for it, and will be surprised at how much your family appreciates it.

    • Yeah, those extremes are part of the problem. I either let it all go to hell, or I drive myself to distraction trying to keep it cleaner than it needs to be. Finding that in-between space is not my strength!

  • First time reading your blog – hi! – and what a way to start, with the post I would have written if I had half your eloquence. I just DMed the link to my husband saying, “THAT! THAT! WHAT SHE SAID!”

    The part I struggle with most is the overwhelmingness aspect, and the feeling of utter futility. The only kind of domestic labour I like is cooking, and it doesn’t feel like a chore to me, it relaxes me (even including cleaning up afterwards – my kitchen is my best room by far). As for the rest of it, though … meh. I have three young children and a smallish house and it’s got to the point where I am stressed and unsettled most days by the mess. Sure, we *can* make it look excellent in here, when we all pull out all the stops. The kids are awesome at helping … sometimes. But as a default position, yeah, notsomuch. There are so many other things I’d both rather do and actually think are more important that I have to force the time out of myself to devote to the house, and often, I don’t do it.

    And on that note, I’m off to go read some Trixie Belden with the older kids instead of vaccuuming. Case. In. Point.

  • Ashley (@theatomicmommy)

    Adrienne, you don’t have to be good at everything! You are wonderful with every thing else, so you can totally slack in the house keeping department.

    • Oh, hello my new favorite! Permission to slack! I think I’m in love!

      Seriously? Last night my husband said to me, “This is my last pair of clean drawers, so either you wash some or I buy new ones on the way home from work.” So yeah, I’m a little behind on the laundry. 😉

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