Tidy, Whitie!

10 Jan

When I graduated from college, I moved back home but I couldn’t wait to get out of what I saw as my mother’s house.  I moved out on my own as soon as possible and never moved back. I’ve been a homeowner for nearly 20 years now and a mother for more than 15. I can say with all honesty that I would give my wood-burning fireplace and my private master bathroom to live in my mother’s home again. My mother’s home was immaculate; my home is, as we say, a pig mess.

Coats were hung in my mother’s home. Counters were clear in my mother’s home. Floors were grit- and stain-free in my mother’s home. Chrome shined in my mother’s home. My home? Not so much. There are sweatshirts lying on the couch and jackets hung from the backs of chairs. Papers are stacked in a precarious pile on the kitchen counter. While the dog patrols the kitchen floor, he doesn’t do it for aesthetic reasons. No. My home is decidedly a pig mess.

I’m not proud of my pig mess, but I’m really at a loss as to how to eliminate it. If I knew what my mother’s secret was I would use it. My mother worked, had kids, had friends, took lessons, even had hobbies. In short, we aren’t talking June Cleaver here. The problem is, I don’t remember what my mother did.

I have no idea how my mother got the house clean or even when she got the house clean. I don’t recall her dancing around the living room with a dust rag and a can of Pledge singing the “Lemon Tree” song. I saw Santa Claus more often than I saw Mr. Clean. I never saw my mother with a mop in her hands. I have no idea how the toilets got clean. I have no memory of my mother cleaning anything other than my mouth out with soap over sassing back.

I never thought of myself as a pig. When I lived alone, there was the occasional “oops, I left the dirty dishes in the sink while I went out of town” thing, but I generally lived in a clean, neat environment. Even after I got married, our home was usually clean, certainly never embarrassing.

Then we had a child. Children themselves are small, particularly when they are infants. They fit in your arms quite nicely. They can easily be carried around in a carrier or sling or duffle bag or whatever the hell kind of thing babies get carried around in when you happen to have your baby.

The problem with children, obviously, is the stuff that comes with them. Eventually, you move into the “stuff goes in but never goes out” phase of parenting. Sure, the kids outgrow things and things break, but new stuff comes in. Our son has outgrown the toys with itty-bitty parts phase, just in time for our daughter to enter it. Now, instead of stepping on Legos in the middle of the night, we step on Littlest Pet Shop figures. Both are equally painful. Our son hasn’t given up hoarding, though. Once, we couldn’t get our son to bathe enough. Now, he bathes every day, using a clean dry towel from the linen closet each time and depositing said towel on his bedroom floor.

I fear my children’s slovenly habits have influenced me. I no longer leave just my shoes lying around. Now, I leave papers on the counter where I’ll see them and remember to do whatever it is the paper reminded me to do. Right now, there are two checks, a note from my daughter’s dentist, three library books, a magazine renewal form, liner notes from two CDs and a recipe all sitting in a pile by the telephone where I will see them and remember to deposit the checks, call the dentist, go to the library, renew the magazine, put away the liner notes and get the ingredients for the recipe. The pile has been there for two weeks. There is similarly justified clutter throughout the house.

I used to say that I was tired, I was busy, I had two kids, I was in grad school. . . all to excuse my pig mess. But, I’m no longer in grad school and I’m not particularly tired. I still have two kids and I’m kind of busy, but I don’t really think those excuses can fly anymore.

See, my neighbor has two kids and she’s pretty busy and her house looks great. All the time. I would really like to hate her, but I can’t. She’s a great neighbor and she doesn’t flaunt the fact that her house looks great. In fact, she doesn’t think it looks so great at all. That is probably why it always looks good.

I think another reason her house always looks great is she cleans it. In the summer, I like to sit in my gazebo with a cup of tea in the morning and read the newspaper. Sometimes, when I finish the newspaper, I’ll refill my cup. Then, I’ll need something else to read, so I’ll go get a paperback. I’ll sit in the gazebo, drink my second cup of tea and read my book. Then, I’ll hear a sort of whining noise coming from the neighbor’s house. It sounds familiar. I focus on it and realize my neighbor is vacuuming her house. “Hm,” I think. “Maybe I should vacuum something. Maybe at the end of this chapter.” You know the rest.

One day, I decided that my house was messy because I didn’t put my things away, thereby giving my children the idea that they didn’t need to put their things away either. So, I have been putting my things away. I cleared the space next to my bed of a shopping bag full of paperbacks, several out of date magazines, a pair of shoes I thought were lost and six half-finished knitting projects. I successfully broke the habit of putting things on the steps rather putting them away immediately. I have gotten myself down to one pile of junk in the kitchen. My kids are still slobs.

I will never know how my mother did it. I’m sure it involved lots of cleaning and straightening that I will probably never master. I know this means that I will never live in a home like my mother’s. When I have that hankering for the peace and calm that a tidy home provides, though, I’ll go knocking on my neighbor’s door. I promise to wipe my feet on the doormat.

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3 Responses to “Tidy, Whitie!”

  1. Elaine January 10, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Well, you may call your house the messy house, but Claire assures me it’s the fun house! And despite my cleaning neuroses, I know that the fun is what the kids will remember – not how spotless the floor was. It’s a vicious battle between me, myself & I! And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m sure something needs scrubbing around here. 😉
    P.S. You’re a great neighbor, too!

  2. jmlindy422 January 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    See, I knew I lived in a fun house!

  3. Cinda January 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    You are so right about your mom’s house…I remember remarking to her about her (kitchen) stainless sink. How I hated mine – she ALWAYS had a clean, shiny one like it was never used! I think she just did little things as she moved around the house so it wasn’t noticeable that it had been done. What a special lady!

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