I never learned to keep house. In high school, I had a typical clean-up routine prior to my parents’ return from work: throw out old periodicals/newspapers, put dishes in dishwasher, vacuum living room, start dinner. I was a busy student with lots of activities. That routine managed to keep any additional demands at bay.
When I lived alone, I cleaned before I had visitors. Fortunately, I entertained frequently. No, I didn’t clean very well. Anyway, who needs fussy friends?
When I started this job as a SAHM, I bought or borrowed a few books on the subject. I paid some attention to commercials. (I learned a lot about cleaning from commercials). I hired a cleaning lady and tried to follow her around once. She didn’t like that. A friend gave me the “Flylady” book. I read it until I got to the part about CHAOS (can’t have anyone over syndrome). The premise was that my messy house was causing me a great deal of embarrassment and consternation. The book implied that I wasn’t willing to have people over because I was so dissatisfied. I wasn’t “loving myself.” Oh, I love myself. Unfortunately, I was never properly wired to be embarrassed about my house. I learned a few useful tricks, then I lost the book in a pile of other books, only to find it again about four years later.
I went to playgroup at homes that were very clean, and I interviewed my friends who lived in those homes. It would go something like:
“Oh, so you make your bed every morning, and then you clean the bathroom every week. Wow, that sounds like it takes a lot of time.”
“Yes, I guess. But, don’t you just feel so good when your house is sparkling clean?”
My answer was “no,” but I think the one time I actually said it, the rest of the playgroup didn’t go very well. I stopped talking to playgroup about cleaning.
I called my sister. Her house is pretty clean most of the time.
“A clean house is the sign of a sick mind. Isn’t that what Mom says?”
“Why is your house so clean?”
“My husband doesn’t think it’s a waste of time.”
Neither does mine, of course, except that he has a much different work schedule. He’s not home enough to clean much. He does help when he is home. And, my sister does a lot more than she is willing to admit.
I asked my mother-in-law. She is pretty conservative. Surely, she will hail the merits of cleaning house, and encourage me along the right path.
“Honey, your house is fine. Make it so you are comfortable. If anything, I should have spent LESS time cleaning when my kids were little.”
This was encouragement?
I called my mother. I didn’t grow up in a barn. Well, it wasn’t “Better Homes & Gardens, but it was clean.”
“Why can’t I clean my house?”
“Oh, I didn’t think it was worth my time to teach you kids to clean. Your grandmother didn’t teach us to clean either.”
“Your aunt asked her once how to clean a toilet. Your grandmother told her that she didn’t teach any of her kids to clean toilets, and by golly, she wasn’t going to start now!”
“That isn’t helpful.”
“She had a theory, Honey. She always told us that if your guests notice that your house isn’t perfect, it will give them the feeling of superiority. Of course, it is appropriate for a hostess to instill a feeling of superiority on her guests: proper humility.”
“And, of course, if your guests DON’T notice that your house isn’t perfect, then it really would have been a horrific waste of time to have fussed over it.”
My grandmother really said that.
So, I do clean my house, a little. Everyone has to, really. But, I maintain my strategy of showering my guests with good food and good conversation to distract them from noticing the details. But, if you happen to come over and do notice that my house isn’t perfect, please relish that feeling of superiority I have bestowed upon you.
(But please, don’t tell anyone else. I would like to maintain any psychological advantage I can over those unknowing guests. They won’t even know why they feel so happy!)