Earlier this year, I published a post on this blog (“I Hate Housework, Too”), in which I confessed my tormented ambivalence towards housework: Having grown up in a spotless house, I have high standards for cleanliness, but I hate the actual effort needed to reach those standards. I admitted that my own house suffers from “creeping kids’ stuff,” which I handle through a combination of breaking the cleaning into manageable pieces, and shrugging off any oversights with the “I have three kids” excuse.
While I was writing that piece, and for about five minute afterwards, I felt great. I felt like I’d finally found equilibrium when it came to the state of my house.
And then, because this is real life, I went right back to stressing about housework. In fact, my husband will tell you that housework is almost always the straw that breaks my mental health — and with it, the overall mental health of our family. I can handle the kids screaming and the dog barking, but if I feel like the house is spinning out of my control, I start to become unhinged. “I need some degree of neatness in order to think!” I’ll wail to my husband, who will in turn catch my stress, and so on, until the whole family is entangled in my stress cycle.
Of course, with three young children and now a DOG, the house is constantly spinning out of my control, and any effort I put into wrestling it into a state of basic neatness is undone minutes later. HOWEVER, just the other day I had a revelation that I think may change my perspective for good. It came to me, oddly enough, while washing the dishes. Here it is:
MY HOUSE IS NOT ALIVE.
That seems like an obvious statement, and it is. But to expand a bit: I am surrounded by living things that, at this moment, depend on me for their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. My house is not one of them. My house has no chance of ever going out into the world and making a positive difference. No matter how I care for it, my house is slowly breaking down, and will continue to do so until the day (decades hence, I hope) when some young, investment-banking couple from Manhattan will arrive to gut the place and install granite counter-tops and jacuzzi tubs.
My house is not going to attend my funeral and eulogize me for the amount of care I gave it. And while we’re on the subject, have you EVER been to a funeral at which it was said of the deceased, “She was so CLEAN!”?
No, my house is not alive. But my daughters, and my husband, and my dog, and my family, and my friends, and mySELF, they are alive. Am I prioritizing my time and energy and mental health accordingly?
It my be that I’m alone in this war with myself over the state of my house, this pointless battle to maintain a baseline of cleanliness. But in case I’m not alone, perhaps this thought will help you, too: your living space is not going to feel hurt if you neglect it a little. The living beings who surround you, they’re another story.
Here’s hoping that you and I can let ourselves off the hook for good this time!