Be warned: This is the kind of article that will make anyone even slightly obsessive about a clean house get twitchy. For some, especially women, these sorts of confessions should never be made public. I’m sure my great-grandmother is rolling over in her grave as I type.
Here it is: I am not a committed housekeeper.
If you come by my house in the middle of the day there is often clutter on my desk and counter, unwashed dishes in my sink and some combination of kid detritus on various surfaces. It’s not that I haven’t tried to come up with the perfect system to habitually de-clutter our home. It’s just that we all know the task is endless, repetitious. The important cleaning gets done, but there is always chaos lurking.
Those who do it well have wonderful systems for the movement of paper, laundry, dishes, etc. I know because I’ve read all of their books — which now clutter my bookshelves.
I have tried every schedule, every system, every mantra. I’ve tried redefining washing dishes as a meditative act, with the right scent of soap and a relaxed, thoughtful attitude. I accept that making a bed can help set the right tone for all that follows.
After each fresh start, something in me eventually wants to buck the system I’ve set in place. I rebel against my own prescription for clean, domestic bliss. Though they’ve never said it out loud, I think the rest of my family patiently executes the new “daily five chores” or the “all laundry done on Tuesday” scenarios, but secretly wait for the system to break down, when we all relax back into our slightly cluttered, only somewhat organized status quo.
What I have to come to terms with is this: Something in my temperament doesn’t want to hold my house to some standard that is so rarely achievable. And when it is, someone is almost always unhappy — usually me!
Does it really matter how my children decide to keep the state of their room between our prescribed weekend tidying (when it happens)? Can’t I allow that pile of books and magazines to spread over the coffee table like a delicious literary buffet line? Isn’t that what entices my kids to pick up that National Geographic and read about history, science, art and culture in an uncontrived moment?
Housework became even more of a challenge when I returned to work outside the home after several years working from home with young kids. My family is absolutely willing to help, but I usually get the ball rolling. So why do I frequently hold the ball and instead decide to read/write/bake/walk the dog/play with my kids instead of accomplishing that to-do list that would keep us on track?
I don’t have an answer, but for some reason I am more content to live with the question now than I used to be. I so admire my friends whose routines and temperaments lead them to keep homes that really appear happy, healthy and tidy, for whom a stray basket of unfolded laundry rarely graces the couch.
One of my favorite housekeeping book authors, Marla Cilley, calls these people B.O.s (Born-Organized). They seem to understand how to tuck housework in and around their daily lives in efficient and intuitive ways.
I have come to terms with the fact that B.O. is just not my M.O. in the housekeeping arena. I’m grateful that it does seem to be my strength in other areas that matter more to me. As long as our house continues to welcome our friends, I’m going to make peace with the dust bunnies.
In a funny twist of evolution, a mini B.O. did come into the world through me and I just hope we don’t ruin her. My youngest daughter has always liked things neat. During a preschool phase, she slept on top of her made bed so that it would stay made, despite our pleas.
I learn from her: sorting and recycling papers straight from the backpack; saying goodbye to unnecessary toys; laying out her clothes the night before. How she arrived to the world with this built-in skill is anyone’s guess.
Please, don’t worry. I will never appear on some cable show where they have to dig me out from under piles of unsorted school papers and old magazines. If you came to my house right now you might wonder what I am talking about, because I know how to stash things fast to give the illusion of orderliness.
You now know the truth — and accepting the truth has really set me free.
Megan Blair-Cabasco is a Walla Walla writer and mother of three interesting children who inspire the wonder and humor that make this column possible.