Growing up our house was always clean. Not the sterile-hovering behind you with a towel while you drank juice-Stepford wives kind of clean, but the comfortable-homey-warm kind of clean. The kind of clean where you knew you could still make messes but you never felt that itchy, claustrophobic feeling that comes with chaos and clutter. You could never write your name in the dust on the old knick-knack shelf in the corner, the countertops were always clear of the junk mail and miscellaneous crap that accumulates out of nowhere, and your feet never came away blackened and crumb-crusted when you walked around barefoot on the hardwood floors.
My mother set a high bar in the cleaning department.
But the whole perfectly clean house thing? I have never been able to nail that down. Schedules, rotations, checklists, phone reminders, paper planners…I just can’t stick to it for longer than a few days. And in those few days everything else suffers as I focus all my energy on the elusive clean home. Riddled with guilt at my inability to balance work, parenting and the seemingly simple task of keeping a respectable home, I once asked my mom how the hell did she do it? How did she raise 2 kids, work and flawlessly mom like no mom has mommed before? Her answer?
I didn’t sleep much.
We laughed, that kind of laughter that’s just a little uneasy with acknowledgment that there is truth hidden in the joke. But I think what she was trying to say was this:
You have to choose. Something always has to give. For her it was sleep (that’s a hard pass for me. Naps are life) but I’d needed to find what I could give up in order to keep my sanity. If I kept trying to do it all, I’d lose it completely.
But I “knew better” and kept on as I always had, trying to have it all, thinking I could be the exception. I didn’t need to give…I’d make it work. I always made everything work eventually so why would this be any different.
Suffice it to say, I couldn’t make it work.
Recently, these attempts have reached a frantic pinnacle. Since I started staying home I’ve gotten obsessve about making sure everyone knows I’m “actually doing things” and not sitting around eating bonbons. I use baked goods and clean clothes and checked boxes to justify my day to the world (PS, no one has ever once in seriousness accused me of sitting around doing nothing. This is ENTIRELY in my head). Instead of writing and playing with my kids I’m scrubbing cupboards and vacuuming all so that if someone were to come over they’d approve…approve of my house, my children, my choice to stay home, me.
So I’m giving up.
I’m giving up doing the shit I only do for show. I’m giving up the stuff that feeds my representative and keeps her looking shiny and pretty on the outside. Because the more time I waste worrying and working to look good to others, the more miserable and panicky my authentic self becomes as she watches those hours swirl down a sparkling toilet bowl.
Writing. Eating semi-homemade meals most of the time. Being present for my kids. Exercising in whatever way makes me feel amazing. Reading. Therapy. Strengthening my marriage. Naps/sleep. These are the things I choose.
Pristine house. Perfect clothes. Weight obsession. Projecting my own insecurities about my life choices onto unwitting victims. Feeding my representative while my authentic self starves. These are the things I’m giving up.
We won’t live in squalor. I’ve found I need a certain degree of order and the occasional frenzied cleaning spree to stay mentally balanced. But it’s time to let go of these things.
To be totally honest, I don’t think I’m going to miss any of them.