To come round out my unfitness as a wife and mother is another wholly socially unacceptable gem of a character trait: I am a terrible terrible terrible terrible housekeeper.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a clean house. I love a sparkly floor or a clean shower-thing-you-put-the-soap-on. I don’t just passively dislike housekeeping. I actively hate it.
The same thing that made me a good project manager and wedding planner but hate managing my family’s schedule and meal planning is what makes me hate cleaning: if it is an activity that has to be repeated daily, weekly, or monthly with exactly the same results as the last time, then you can count on it being something I hate doing.
I have made no secret of the fact that I am a progress addict. I like to see things improve over time. So far, I have found nothing that prevents a scalawag from eating rice krispies over a freshly vacuumed rug. This is not progress. This is the ultimate in stasis.
Living with it
Whereas I couldn’t have suspected that the scheduling and planning thing would be a problem in my marriage twenty two years ago, this active, visceral hatred of all things domestic was a red flag from the beginning.
I did try to put some order to it in the first few weeks of our marriage; it was the first time I realized that my need for order and his need for liberty would be in conflict. We had our first real fight about the “contract” I drew up: a carefully organized who does what-on-what-day. Except that when it was his turn and because something didn’t “look too bad”, he would say “it didn’t need to be done.”
But since I am a rules and structure person, I would do what I had assigned to myself on the day for which it was assigned. Which meant that I ended up doing everything, and it never “looked too bad” on his day. And he got used to me doing everything.
And I just got angrier and angrier.
Anger + Resentment + Fatigue + Feeling Invisible= Crisis
The birth of babies is an upheaval, any way you look at it. I made room for them in our apartment by doing a “Tidying Festival” à la Marie Kondo. I was attracted to the idea because she made it sound like a once-in-a-lifetime activity that would give you peace in your stuff-life forever. This did a great deal to relieve some of the tension. But it still didn’t help with the cleaning up thing.
Having half the stuff we’d had before didn’t mean the floors stayed clean or the dishes didn’t pile up. It seemed that one tiny baby had three times the laundry of two normal-sized adults.
And somehow, because I was the structure and rules person in the family, I had trained my indulgent husband to believe that all these thankless, hateful things should end up on my plate. My motto has always been, “If it pisses you off, doing something about it.” So I do. But I do it with a lot of resentment.
Enter post-partum depression. Enter a crisis of identity. Enter a new season of wanting to be seen as a woman and not just as a roommate.
Yup. I had a crisis. A big, ugly, tear down the walls crisis.
Just do the dishes
If any of us survived, it is thanks to Dana K. White. I wish I remember how I discovered her podcast, but it saved my family. At one point, during what she called her “deslobification process” she said she had to stop treating her home like a project and start learning to do the basic things to keep it under control. She had a podcast episode where she talked about significant others and family members, and how the only thing we can do is set the example.
Her first eye-opening lesson was to simply do the dishes. I started doing the dishes after every meal. There was one benefit to doing this, and I am going to shamefully admit it here: by doing the dishes after every meal, drying them and putting them away, it gave me an excuse to let him deal with the boys. I was off the hook for as long as it took to be completely done.
I used the time I spent doing the dishes to imagine dialogue for my characters to speak, to problem solve plot holes, to worldbuild. I put music in my ears and blocked everything else out.
Doing the dishes, the act of which I still do not enjoy, became a little bubble of “me-time” because I could disengage my brain from the boredom of parenting and invest in the only thing that made me feel alive: my novels.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- has a tidy kitchen
- knows the last time the bathroom was cleaned
- has clean sheets on her bed
- can see out the windows
- doesn’t mind washing the floor
- folds and puts away laundry immediately
- doesn’t expect anyone else to be bothered by what bothers me
- only gets out what can be used in an hour
- has a sparkly sink and faucet
What is working: I like big messes, as opposed to little messes. I like the satisfaction of a really big spill, because the striking difference between before and after feels like progress. So yes, I tend to let things get out of control. But it is so much more satisfying to wash really dirty windows or a really gross floor. So when one of those finally gets out of control to my satisfaction, I will turn it into a project. That feels like a win.
What isn’t working: I have tried my darnedest to not let this become a wedge of resentment between me and my indulgent husband, but if I were honest, from those first weeks of our marriage when he rejected my idea of a “contract”, it has been. I really really really need to deal with this. It might have had something to do with him twenty two years ago, but after all these years, it has become about me: my inability to stand up for myself, my inability to say what I think or ask for help, my defensiveness about my lack of domesticity.
Things to consider: See above. Also, in addition to the hair dryer and sewing machine, the sound of the vacuum cleaner can provide a cathartic soundtrack to my rage.
Things to do: Just do the dishes. Change the sheets. Fold the laundry and put it away. If it pisses you off, do something about it.
I would bet you didn’t expect an article on keeping a Clean House to be so full of vitriol. I certainly didn’t expect to be in tears while writing it, proof that this is one area of my Ideal Life in which I have a lot of progress still to make.
That’s the thing about these Ideal Life Exercises. Somedays they leave you feeling like you are genuinely closer to living your best life. Other days, you are just reminded of how lofty a goal and how far removed you are from your Ideal Life.
Tears are not proof that the Exercise is useless. They are simply my body’s way of dealing with the distance between where I am and where I want to be.
In my Ideal Life, the sink always sparkles.