January 26, 2007


I don't like to say that my house is disgusting and that I only clean it when I start seeing creepy faces in the patterns of mold on the shower curtain. What I like to say instead is that I live a life of the mind. Nice, huh? I worked pretty hard on that. I like how it communicates a certain superiority, as if the reason I don't clean is that I am preoccupied with higher things, as opposed to that I don't like to.

Floors are my biggest struggle. Vacuuming enrages me, the way I always have to be yanking the canister behind me, or finding another outlet because I'm out of cord. Then the nozzle thingie doesn't fit under the furniture, or it does fit but I can't put it under there because there are so many little toys and marbles and so on that will get sucked up into the vacuum cleaner, but now I have to move the furniture and clean up all the little toys first, and oh forget it. And mopping! You're supposed to vacuum first, then mop. But by the time I've done any vacuuming at all, my face is red and I feel like I'm about to start throwing chairs across the room, so I'm not getting out the bucket and the mop and perhaps moving the heavy pine table and chairs because otherwise I'll slop the mop all over them and surely that's not good for the finish, and oh forget it.

The method I use for cleaning my house is this: Ignore it until I freak out. I go on cleaning binges that leave corpses in my wake, and then neglect everything for another year. The cleaning binges tend to coincide with visits from my mother-in-law, who still remembers a time 30 years ago when an acquaintance implied that her house was not kept as well as it could be. She gets red in the face and her voice gets loud as she tells me the story for the hundredth time since I met her.

Paul, I know, would prefer the house to be a little cleaner. But his mother did him a grave disservice when she taught him that sparkling cleanliness is the only right way to live but also that his personal efforts need never enter into it, and I don't see it as part of my wifely duties to keep him in the style to which his mother foolishly accustomed him. I have had to remind him of this periodically over the twelve years we've been together: if he would like the kitchen floor washed, I see no reason in the world that he can't wash it. The floor is not bothering me.

I have also tried to be sure to teach my own children in a way that will not make them a curse on their future partners: that certain levels of cleanliness are pleasant but not necessary to sustain life; that there are things I would rather do than clean and that that is a fine choice for a person to make; and that men and women are equally able to clean. I worry, though, that example is more important to a child's learning than lecture. Paul is certainly capable of cleaning, but he learned from his parents that women clean and men never do, and a dozen years of me carefully explaining otherwise hasn't changed him. If I teach the kids that cleaning duties are not assigned based on genitals, but they see me doing all the cleaning that gets done, it's hard to see how we're not just repeating the training that has given me some of the worst fights of my marriage.


Guwi said...

I'm with you, sistah. Although you have inspired me to clean today. After I'm done typing. As you mentioned, there's far more important things to do. :)

My friend who is lucky enough to have a cleaning lady every two weeks (my EYETEETH for that luxury--wait--all of my teeth. Honestly.) and one time she (the friend) was cleaning the bathroom for a party. Her then-3-year-old daughter said, "Mommy, what are you doing? Mommies aren't supposed to clean!" I heart her.

Black Sheeped said...

My mom and dad cleaned the house together (with us) every Saturday morning. Therefore I now clean the house every Saturday. That involves vacuuming and mopping, yes. And my man does the vacuuming and trash taking out. Good enough for me. With the once a week plan, at least we know if we skimp one Saturday, the next Saturday we'll make up for it.

I would not be okay with no help, ever. If two people own a house, two people should maintain it.

Thank goodness Justin pulls out the vacuum.

desperate housewife said...

Ha! The mother in law part of this post resonates with me. I myself do ascribe to a certain standard of cleanliness most of the time, but I definitely go on rampages of mopping when the in-laws are due. The reason for this is that my mother in law, who is actually great, always makes a point of exclaiming over how neat and clean everything is, how pleased she is that her son found someone just like her to take care of him, etc. And I, like a true eldest child, thrill to such praise and approval, all the while knowing it be a blatant acceptance of hideous, 1950-style gender assignments. What I sometimes want to say, but never do, is, "Yes, I clean, just like you do. I, however, do it for myself and not to look after my husband. If I was solely concerned with what he wanted, I would never clean and would instead spend all my time watching kung fu movies in the nude with him."

Annie said...

Ah, a kindred spirit! When one kid is napping I usually choose to play with the other instead of using the opportunity to clean. I mop when my socks start sticking to the floor.
My husband pays lip service to the fact that we should share the house work, but why would he clean when he could be gaming? He cleans the cat box though, cause they're his cats and, well, ew.

Shana said...

I run a website, Babes in Blogland, that lists ttc, expecting, and parenting bloggers to help us all find one another. I've added your site to the blogroll. If you need me to correct any information or if you would like for me to remove the link, please let me know.

Also... I love your blog. SO glad I stumbled across it. I've been spending far too much time this afternoon reading your archives.

Thank you and congratulations.

Swistle said...

Shana--Holy crap, that's an awesome site. I could spend YEARS browsing around there, I think. Thanks for adding me!

B'Sheep--That sounds like an awesome family cleaning plan, and something I think I'm going to try to head towards around here. Not only does it get the kids to help, it seems like it would give a feeling of "we're a family and we work together."

Guwi--I accidentally inspired myself to clean, too. The under-the-couch was driving me berserk, so I took care of it. There. That's better for another year.

Swistle said...

D.H.--I would PAY to see a videotape of you saying that to your mother-in-law the next time she praises your housekeeping.

Nil Zed said...

If you, the husband, and all but the littlest child put an hour into cleaning, that's six hours of labor in one. The trouble is, getting them all trained to understand what they are supposed to do in that hour, so you don't spend YOUR hour playing drill sergeant.

Though even then, that's 5 hours of cleaning.

When my girls were teens, we tried hard to do a Thursday night clean of the downstairs for an hour. That way, the boring adults who stayed home on friday & saturday nights had pleasant surroundings. If busy teens had friends or dates who came in the front door, they were impressed. Or at least not likely to note anything like a laundry basket full of girly underthings in the front hall. *ahem*

Wendy said...

I know I'm really late to this game (since this is a post from 2007), but this post was written just for me. I happened upon your blog because of the medication hoarder post advertised with BlogHer. Then, I noticed your recent twitter about MIL coming. I practically inhaled a breath myself.

We live in a house belonging to my in-laws. When they come to visit it is more stress than I can bear (I swear it would drive me to drink, if I weren't a teetotaler!). Once when my MIL came to visit, my husband hired a housecleaner to help me. When MIL arrived, she criticized the floor-boards, which I had cleaned.

Thankfully, hubby does help (especially makes meals, since I refuse to cater to each individual's choice) but often it is because he says he is going to DIE if things aren't taken care of. I end up feeling like a lazy SOB, but, like you "I nurture my mind" rather than my house.

Loved viewing your blog! Good luck with your MIL's visit.

The Mama Beth said...

Hello, me again! Still trolling the archives. You can rubberband the foot of a pair of pantyhose or tights to the end of the vacuum hose to suck all the little toys out from under the couch without the vacuum eating them. I don't remember who taught me that, but once my kids are old enough for such small toys I hope I remember it.