My Clean House
Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, points out in an interview I heard on NPR that the housewives and homemakers of the sixties have morphed into today’s stay-at-home moms. The emphasis has changed from keeping house to parenting. Staying home with the kids has become a luxury. Whether they work or not, moms are too busy to clean house to the standards of earlier generations.
My mother kept house like nobody’s business. Most of my sixteen aunts did too. The few who didn’t worked outside the home and/or had lots of kids. Rather than judging a sister or sister-in-law for falling down as a homemaker, the non-working aunts felt sorry for her. Bless her heart…she has to work.
My Aunt Dee was a domestic goddess and my mother, her acolyte. Aunt Dee kept plastic covers on her living room furniture and plastic runners on the carpet. Mom says you could eat off Aunt Dee’s bathroom floors — an accolade nobody else has ever earned. Aunt Dee slept with toilet paper wrapped around her head to keep her bouffant from going flat too.
Mom tried the toilet paper thing, but never went with the plastic covers and runners. Just about every day she cleaned house, watched soap operas while ironing all the laundry, and cooked supper. Aunt Dee’s well-organized and tidy drawers, cabinets, and closets were her gold standard. She never fell short either. My aunts used to bring friends over to see Mom’s closets.
Keeping things neat and tidy was drilled into me from an early age. Mom would come into my room to dust, vacuum, and change the sheets. Every few months, she’d pile all my clutter onto the the bed, forcing me to find a place for everything. As soon as I could drive to the laundromat, she quit washing my clothes. Oh wait, that’s another story.
When I was a high school senior, I went to a party at the house some college-aged coworkers had rented. These guys weren’t the cleaning kind. I don’t remember anything about the place except this one image, burned in my mind after all these years, of a turquoise toilet covered with pubic hair. I’ve seen worse since, but you never forget your first nasty potty.
I kept my own apartment neat and tidy after I moved out, making my bed every day and otherwise straightening up in case someone dropped by. For years, I silently wished Mom would come over to tackle my closets, cabinets, and drawers. Knowing she’d be horrified by the contents, I never asked.
My standards for a clean house, I’ve discovered, are high — perhaps even Herculean. For thirty years, significant others prevented me from reaching the gold standard set by Aunt Dee and instilled in me by Mom. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is way more than some people — perhaps even most — can handle.
Now I live with Toodles — my six-pound chihuahua. She leaves unfinished chew treats around the house, dumps her food bowl now and then, and sheds a little. To compensate, she sweeps the floors clean of anything edible, leaves my stuff just where I left it, and would die before she’d do her business in the house. Besides, I adore her and she makes me laugh a hundred times a day.
The house I downsized to more than a year ago stays squeaky clean — even the windows. Every drawer, cabinet, and closet is organized. Where appropriate (and for we OCD types, the possibilities are endless), rotation is built into the system. For example, newly laundered towels (all folded EXACTLY the same way) go on the bottom of the stack (facing the same way) in the linen closet.
The shirts in my closet are organized by style (flannel, dress shirts, long-sleeved with collars, long-sleeved w/out collars, short-sleeved with collars, and short-sleeved without collars) and within each style, by color. Pants are grouped by color too, with navy and black on opposite ends so I don’t get them confused. I do the same thing in my sock drawer.
Guess my clean house makes me old-fashioned. I can live with that — a lot easier than I could live with a messy house. Next time you’re in town, stop by. I’ll show you my closets.