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.