We Do Not Live In Filth, But I Gave Up On Having A 'Clean' House

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
clean house
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There are certain things you do, as a mom, certain things that are expected and presumed and done. You dry tears. You cook lunches. You read Dr. Seuss. You wipe butts, you wipe faces, and you wipe countertops. You pick up toys. You pick up dishes. You pick up anything and everything, because you are the Picker-Upper, the Wipe-Downer, the Cleaner. You sort the mail. You sort the socks. You sort the laundry, and you do all this because you are the mom and this is your job, and if you don’t do it, nobody will.

Well, I looked around one day and said, “Fuck that.”

Instead of a clean house, I have three children. Three happy children, whose mother is not constantly following behind them hollering, “Who’s going to pick that up?” Because their answer was always “You,” and that was super-depressing. Then I’d have to threaten to take their toys to Goodwill, and many tears would ensue along with much rushing and cleaning and misery and resentment and rage. So I decided not to clean.

Okay, that’s a lie. I still clean. But I decided not to clean certain things. I made the same decision so many wise moms have made before me: Clean what’s absolutely necessary, and screw the rest.

At first, this meant I had to cultivate a Zen-like detachment from the condition of my house. We’ve all been indoctrinated with the image of the perfect ’50s housewife — the one who wears heels and red lipstick while she vacuums. I had to kill her like the demon spawn she is. “It’s okay if your house is not clean,” I told myself. “It’s okay your house is not clean. It’s okay your house is not clean,” I chanted until it became a mantra. I had children; therefore, I had mess. I had a life; therefore, I did not have to change the guest towels.

I could allow my children to keep their possessions and have mess, or I could confiscate their things, consign the meager remnants to plastic bins, and have a clean house. Take, for example, the stuffed animals. They are neglected. They are sad. If I anthropomorphized them, I’d cry. They are scattered through my son’s room and used mostly to build forts — even the stuffed sloth. Who doesn’t love a stuffed sloth? Apparently my kids, because he’s good for nothing but building material.

I could bluster and curse and make them arrange them: some under the bunk bed, some on top of the toy chest, some in the corner. They would look very nice like that, a whiff of the English nursery. But then the kids would just bust them up to make a fort. So I let them stay scattered. They drift tidally through the room, piling up against the train table, trailing away from the wall. I have learned to live with it.

And you will live with it too if you visit me. You will come to my house, and you will think, Who is this woman whose laundry lives everywhere? — because I have the spare time to wash it, dry it, and put it in baskets. And there it sits, in the kitchen, in piles. Sometimes I sort it into other baskets and put each basket in front of a dresser and leave them there. So everyone has their clothes. Everyone has their clean clothes. But the clean clothes are not in drawers, and I will not apologize for that if you come to visit me.

I will leave the bath toys on the floor of the bathtub and pull the curtain.

I will let the dishes go until I can’t find a clean spoon and have to resort to plastic.

I will stop trying to scrub the crayon and pen and marker off the walls because every hint from Heloise has proved futile, and they’re loud, they’re proud, and you need to get used to it.

I will never dust again, at least not until my mom visits. You will not judge my lack of dusting, and if you do, you either have fewer children, more time, or a maid.

I will not sort the mail until I absolutely have to. Until then, it will live on the kitchen table in tidal piles, sort of like the stuffed animals.

I give up. This cleaning thing sucks — sucks up my time, sucks up my energy, sucks up my life. I won’t do that to myself anymore. So some of my life will be lived in a mess. There will be books on my living room floor, shoes in a pile, dishes in the sink. You can still come over. You can judge me if you want. But everything’s sanitary, there’s no filth, everyone’s sane, and it works for us. My house is a wreck. And I refuse to be ashamed. So come over and hang out.

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