"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Doing a Little House Cleaning

My Grandmother and Great Grandmother were good house keepers. I am not and my mother was worse. My mother thought proper house keeping was vaguely immoral. Being a slob was one of the ways she rebelled against her emotionally distant parent. I was taught, and not just by osmosis, that people who spend time cleaning tend to be cold and self centered.

Some of my friends were terrific housekeepers from the time they were in the cradle. When I was young, I really didn’t put together that they were warm and wonderful and still managed to be clean and tidy. One of my most free-spirited girlfriends used to say (at age 13), that, “A messy room is a depressing room.” She is now about 50 years old and has been a successful working artist for most of her adult life. That only goes to show that free spirits can also be neat.

Her mother was a nurse. I wonder if that had anything to do with it?

Truth be told, I really didn’t know how to clean house effectively when my kids were growing up. More importantly, I didn’t “get” that it was important. Laundry piled up (often on the floor in heaps), beds weren’t made, it never occurred to me to dust the baseboards, clutter ruled. I can’t count the number of hours I spent in frantic searches for missing keys or shoes. The messiness of my home was both a symptom of my feelings of being overwhelmed, and a contributing factor. I don’t think I can make the argument that my messy house was proof that I had a good heart. Much as I would like to make that case, I think I was just a slob.

My housekeeping habits, or lack thereof, were a major source of frustration in marriage number one. When Husband No. 1 yelled at me for being “slovenly” (yes, he once used that word), I equated his desire for tidiness to being insensitive – thus proving my mother’s point. The more he fussed, the more convinced I was that the need for a clean home was evidence of a cold, controlling heart. In hindsight, I believe I misjudged the situation. Name calling is mean but I now realize that it was likely a reflection of frustration more than anything else. Unfortunately, it escalated the divide and turned it personal which wasn’t helpful. Oh well.

Husband No. 2 (aka, the final husband) is a non-apologetic neat freak. We did not live together before marriage so I did not realize it was a mixed marriage until after the vows were spoken. He didn’t waste his time arguing with me over cleaning the house. He just took care of it the way he normally would before we got together. A sense of general fairness inspired me to do my part. Over time, lessons from my grandmother seemed less oppressive (Clean the sink and mirror after you brush your teeth – every time. Soak your hairbrushes to clean. You haven’t finished the dishes until you clean the sink. Vacuum first, then dust. Change the linen every week. Don’t leave out water glasses. Put away your magazines. Vacuum under the bed.). Long story short - I have learned the value of a clean house in my middle years. I’ve not lost keys or eyeglasses, in forever. I actually like having the place uncluttered and tidy. I’m not even close to perfect (I have shedding dogs, after all), but I am well past the notion that a relatively clean house means a relatively sterile soul.

I do a lot of home visits as a guardian ad litem. I like to do them because they are a great way to see a child in his/her natural environment; you can assess the neighborhood; you meet the other siblings and family members; and you get a feel for the home environment that you simply can’t in an office. Small children absolutely love to show you their room and toys. You are on the parents’ home turf and that sometimes allows them to feel a little more in control and, hopefully, less intimidated.

I am amazed at how many people have hamsters.

I was in a house, recently, that had nice wood molding on the doors. There was literally an inch and a quarter of brownish orange dirt piled on the molding and the baseboards. It would take years for this to accumulate. It honestly looked like someone had taken orange paint and painted above the molding. I looked twice to see if it was orange tape placed there to protect the molding for painting or something. It was that bad. The homeowner, a young, healthy woman (an owner, not a renter), sheepishly admitted that she had spent two days trying to get the house clean enough for company. She was oblivious to the things like the dirt on the molding and I didn’t mention it.

Some people who are good souls simply do not know how to maintain a house or yard. It is not on their radar. Sheets, in some segments of the population, are apparently optional (This makes me crazy). I frequently walk into homes where the antiseptic smell of recently cleaned house (in preparation for the GAL visit) will burn out your nose hairs. Those same houses frequently have front doors that have never been wiped down (i.e., years worth of finger prints on the doorbell and mud on the front steps). Trees and shrubs are attempting to eradicate any signs of civilization and are attacking the roof. They are weeks away from a hole in the roof if it is not already leaking. Gutters are clogged. The ground beneath the gutters is a swamp as a result. Not surprisingly, water is flowing downhill towards the foundation and that is never a happy situation. Trash has fallen behind the shrubbery in full view of the front door. Shutters are half off. Invariably, there are apple cores or other pieces of trash or food strewn along the front walk. No one edges the pavement. This is not just rental property. This pretty much describes the home of the young lady I just mentioned.

A lot of folks “clean” the way I used to clean. When company is coming, run the sweeper, dust the table, wash the dishes (drain on the counter), hide the dirty laundry (but leave the smell). Spray room fresher – that’ll take care of it. The windows are filthy, the yards are overgrown, the wood work is nasty, the front doors are a disgrace (“A sin and a shame!” as my grandmother would say), the beds aren’t made and no sheets are on the beds (actually, I rarely went without sheets. The sheets thing really bothers me. Did I mention that?).

**** BUT NOTE **** Some poor families’ homes are immaculate. I see a lot of new immigrants whose floor, including the bathroom floor, is clean enough to eat off.

The majority of the ill kept homes I visit are lived in by people who are young and clueless, or who simply don’t “get” that it is important. They don’t even see the dirt. They usually don’t appreciate that an orderly home helps them to have orderly lives. They may be lazy. They may lack discipline. They may be overwhelmed. Mainly, I think they have simply not been taught to value a clean home or just don't have high standards in that regard. Not infrequently, I see parents who I suspect don't clean as a some sort of reaction to tidy grandparents with whom they have a strained relationship (shades of my mother).

Housekeeping/home maintenance can be learned. IMO, if you don’t teach your children HOW to clean or maintain the property, and if you don’t instill in them that it is IMPORTANT, you aren’t doing them any favors. I’m hoping my kids will rise above my deficiencies in that area.


Stephanie said...

Great resource: Flylady.net. She had never been taught how to clean, was married to an abusive man who further trampled her self esteem and had no clue. Her book "Sink Reflections" goes into greater detail, but she has a wonderful system.

I am one of those who learned only to "crisis clean" and never saw the dirt, either. It has taken me a long time to learn what others seem to be born knowing, and I still lag behind the crowd, but her site helped me make a move across country from a 1900sf home with a large garage and 2 storage sheds to a 1500sf home with a garage and no other storage sheds or basements, etc. No small feat.

I think it would not only be what you're looking for, but it would sure open the eyes of those young gals who don't know what they don't know.

Anonymous said...

Well, I was about to say how much I loved you...then you said..housecleaning can be learned! waaaaaaa...I don't want to learn! I like my clutter!
Okay..in all honesty...if we don't have bugs or extra uninvited critters...I consider things a-okay! (and we don't!) I crisis clean. But I also don't see the dirt until other people are in the house...then all of a sudden, those dust bunnies in the corner are standing up and screaming! Why can't they do that when I'm home alone?? Before the company gets here?
I knew I had a problem when my then 4 year old said to me one day...'mommy...if you give me a rag, I'll dust for you.' I said...is it that bad? He said yes. sigh.
I have gotten better. But my floors will never be 'eat off of'...ever. I will never have all the laundry caught up. But the kids always have clean sheets and clean clothing to wear...always! The kitchen is clean and bug free.
That's the best I can do right now! My kids tell me our house is better than some of their friend's houses. I don't know if I want to know that info or not!

Penny said...

Well, when I say it can be learned, you have to understand where I started out... And when you have little ones at home, you probably have so much on your mind that things are going to slip and rightfully so. Studies have shown that certain cultures are tidier than others - in general. Certain norms are handed down and you adopt your standards from your parents, usually.

Jacquie said...

Great post Penny. Sometimes I find it hard to find a balance between cleaning and living. My mom was a nurse and kept a beautiful house, hospital corners on the beds and all. She taught me how to clean. I have loosened up over the years especially when I had children. Messy is now ok, (to a point) dirty isn't.