I feel bad that I cannot keep my house pristine at all times. Sometimes I wonder that the fact I have left dishes in the sink, sometimes for three days, if I am a total slob, or I am overreacting. I have been to friends houses where they have nothing special; just like George Carlin once said, "A house is just a pile of your stuff with a roof over it." Some friends work very hard to make everything mix and match, while others just put stuff up as they think about it. But I always compare my house and mess to theirs. And I usually lose.
I have only been in two houses that stunned me of their mess (besides mine). One was in 1988, when I was invited to a "friend of a friend" who was "paying people to move his stuff" because he was going to college. The guy had lived in this one large room since he was eight. He never cleaned it. When we started, his room was like a cave, with walls of trash and other assorted objects piled from floor literally to the 10' ceiling. Going through it all was like going back in time; the closer we got to the wall, the further back in time we got. His father had rented a small dumpster which we filled with over 40 bags of trash, plus broken furniture and other assorted items. We found the maroon carpet was once pink. We found a closet and a row of windows. We found a 10-speed bike he reported as stolen when he was 12. It was amazing, and we got to keep a lot of "treasures" we found, like books, a Lava lamp, a Rubiks cube, and so on. The second worst was one not so messy, but it was the apartment of a guy who hadn't moved since college 8 years earlier. A gamer. His stuff was piled against the walls, giving it a sloping effect, like living in a Tupperware bowl. Most of his trash, though, was non-organic. His stuff was mostly books, papers, and boxes of books and papers, and nothing over waist-height. He got married, and now owns a house which pretty much looks the same as his apartment did, neatness-wise. He's rich, though, so he doesn't care.
So, I have seen that end. And I grew up with people with immaculate and tasteful homes. On kid I knew grew up in a house that had a Louis the 14th flair to it. Everything what either white or gold, except for small lavender accents. She had a bedroom, but she was only allowed to sleep and change clothes in there, because it was decorated with fragile artifacts, possibly antiques. Luckily, she had a playroom to play in, but I always thought it was tragic that she couldn't have fun in her own room.
At about age 8, I did a lot of my own caretaking. I wasn't very good at it, looking back. My room was always a mess, and I wasn't very neat in the kitchen, either. My clothes weren't as washed as they should have been, and I didn't have very good hygiene. As time went on, and my mother depended on me to do more and more housework. This was partly due to "chores" all kids get (although I was never paid - I never had an allowance) but part of the underlying philosophy was that I was her "cover" for when she was drunk. I don't know if I came up with this myself, or my mother encouraged it, but I was always scared that if the house wasn't as clean as my father would have liked it, I would be in big trouble. He seemed calmer and quieter if things were not so messy. And since I was a pretty bad cleaner from the start, I was always on edge. I think I still am.
When I moved out on my own at 18, I lived with the FanTek people for a while. If you have ever seen their house ... well, oddly enough, both Bruce and Cheryl taught me a LOT about cleaning. Bruce taught me how to clean "in squares," which is great for control freaks like myself. The essence is this: you make invisible small sections of what you are cleaning in your head, and focus only on that. Then you go to the next section. Some people are task-oriented when cleaning, like "I'll do bills, then laundry," but I can't work that way. I go, "I'll do this place, then that place," and the system isn't perfect, especially when you have to put stuff away that exists in other parts of the house, and you get easily distracted. Cheryl taught me a lot about saving time and energy by saying, "If I have to go up the stairs, is there anything I need to take with me?" "If I am going to the kitchen, do I have to take anything back?" You get the idea. Sort of an energy and time management system. But the bonus with living with them was everyone cleaned. So although the FanTek house is ... always cluttered, it's never really dirty or messy.
I lived with some uneventful neat freaks after that, and I stayed in my own rented room a lot until I got married. When I got married, it became quickly apparent I was to be the cleaner in the family. I feel bad about this because I feel as if I am in charge of an important task that I am barely qualified, at best. When we got married, it was sort of agreed that since I had the housecleaning skills, and I didn't mind cleaning so much, that I should do all of it. My wife, who is wonderful in more ways than I can count, did not like housework, and so it was meant to be this way right from the start. She does do some housework, usually when I am really slacking, or we have people coming over. But she still hates it, and I respect she admits that to me.
The first few places we lived in were always a mess. Mostly because we didn't have good storage. There was simply no place to put something but in a box on the floor. As I have always said about our house "flat space is prime real estate," especially tabletops. Stuff just gets piled up. We doubled my previous floor space in our last move, and now we're starting to live with piled boxes of stuff again. George Carlin was right again, "You lock up your stuff in your house, while you go out and get ... more stuff!" So we're back to Square One.
I have assessed the mess in my house, and looked at the problems. First, I don't have enough energy to clean the space we live in, especially with a two adults, a teen, four cats, and two small dogs. With all my various issues (weight, back, ankle), it's hard for me to stoop down and pick stuff off the floor. But if I don't clean ... no one does. So I prioritize to clean in this order: organic, public, and then private. Organic is stuff that will rot or attract bugs (kitchen/bathroom), and that always gets priority. My efficiency on this is about 75%, because sometimes I go a day or two without cleaning the kitchen. Public is stuff people see when they enter our house, which is the kitchen (again), dining room, living room, and then rec room. This gets 80% efficiency, and only so high because it doesn't get messed up as often, and Christine cleans those places a lot, too. Then the rest of the house is "private," which sometimes stays messed up for years in the worst cases. The other day, while looking for something else, I found a box I hadn't opened since the move. Hmm ... my old HP-11c calculator! Oh, so that's where the other serial mouse went... I'd rate myself at 30% or lower there because man... I suck. Where did it all come from? What am I going to do with it? I keep saying in my head things about a garage sale or eBay, but I never actually DO anything about it. That's for later. Like piling stuff in my den kind of later.
I'd love to have a lovely home, right out of House and Garden. And while I know and accept that's not going to happen (I'd have to get rid of all my pets, cut my social life in half, and make my son move out), I'd like things to be neat and straight most of the time. I hate coming home to clutter, and clutter has this nasty habit of interweaving itself. Like you'd like to make bread, but then you need counter space, which means you have to clean up, but you have to wash dishes piled up on the counter, but the sink is full, and the dishwasher is already full, so you have to put away the clean dishes, put dirty dishes in, run it, and then probably do another load, and after all that bending, stretching, and waiting ... you're tired! And the more you put it off, the worse it gets. Now toss an ant problem into the mix. And a leaky sink. Sometimes when I get home, I am so tired from the day, I don't have the energy to clean up, but I have to because I don't want ants everywhere. You begin to equate the kitchen with drudgery, and then you avoid it as much as you can. Which means no cooking meals. So you eat poorly. And then you are more tired, and so the cycle goes.
Energy does come in busts and waves, but I am so behind by the time I am up to a mass cleaning, that I wear myself out, and often I leave a lot of half-done jobs. Plus we have a lot of people come over, so we have to clean up for them, and thank God we have friends, because besides the obvious joy their company brings, we get the house clean. If we had no social life, our house would probably look even worse. Funny, huh? Our shame drives us more than our desire for neatness. Sometimes I try and get energy by making myself mad about something, drinking a lot of coffee, or ... and this is really bad, avoiding something I *should* be doing. I have often found so much motivation cleaning the kitchen when I should really be doing something about the cat box. Yecch.
Yes, we have thought about a maid. My father, who could not clean, and his wife Nicole, who did not like cleaning, had a maid. Our friend Renee had a maid, and she still lived in her parent's house (wow, your own maid for your own bedroom)! But I don't have an extra $60/week for one, I don't trust them around my stuff, I feel bad that I don't trust them, I feel even worse that I can't keep up with my own house, and I feel ooky about having a "servant," even though hiring a maid from a maid service isn't really technically a servant. I knew kids who had maids and butlers, and I didn't like those kids. But truthfully, if I had a lot of extra money, I might just hire someone to come in twice a week.
But... I don't. So I have to do everything myself. But sometimes I wonder, secretly, if everyone else's mess is as bad as mine. I know, I know, that's probably a form of coveting, but still ... am I normal? I guess we all wonder that at some level.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000226.html