Surprise my sister on any random day of the week, and her house is, without exception, pristine. Her husband is a neat freak, her live-in mother-in-law is a neat freak, her two older girls have been trained to be neat freaks, and the baby changes his own diapers. Just kidding about that last one, probably. My sister is a self-proclaimed former slob, but she says her husband inspired her to change her ways. Her family of six is like a troupe of dancers fluttering gracefully through the house in a choreographed ballet of tidiness, each doing his or her part to rid the home of unsightly clutter. Pretty sure my baby nephew crawls around with mop attachments affixed to his hands and knees.
My house is the exact opposite of this, and I’m jealous as shit.
I’ve always liked for my things to be organized, clean, and aesthetically pleasing. I’m a minimalist at heart; clutter makes me anxious. Growing up, I always dreamed of having a home that would “rise up to greet me,” as Oprah used to say, and I don’t mean tripping over a pair of shoes and having the floor rise up to greet my face.
The catch is, I refuse to clean up anyone else’s mess.
My husband is a great guy who works long hours and does a lot around the house in terms of general maintenance, but he is, indisputably, a slob. There is no malice behind it — he’s just wholly and hopelessly oblivious to the trail of socks, receipts, and coffee mugs he leaves in his wake. In the early years of our marriage, I tried to train him, but that has been an epic, ongoing failure. Our kids are slobs too, as kids tend to be, and I don’t begrudge them for it; I know I have to teach them. And I’m trying to keep up with it all, really, I am. But without sacrificing my entire day to picking up messes I didn’t make, my house goes straight to shit.
I’ve gone back and forth with this, at times surrendering and thinking, This is my life now. I must accept it, reluctantly resolving to let my family’s mess float beneath my awareness like water under a bridge. I read articles advising not to try to change your spouse and am momentarily assured that ignoring the clutter is the right thing to do. I see the quirky wall prints that say, “Excuse the mess. We live here,” and pat myself on the back for being so mindful and progressive.
But then I’ll visit my sister or binge-watch a season of HGTV’s Fixer Upper, and suddenly I’ll get a burst of “If we work as a team, we can do this!” I’ll don my imaginary battle armor and storm into the wreckage brandishing my broom-sword, gesticulating wildly for my family to “PICK THIS UP! AND THAT! AND THAT! AND THOSE! DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!”
And when I nag and point and scream and helicopter and act generally insane, they do pick up their shit. So, I can have a clean house, as long as I maintain constant hypervigilance over everyone at all times.
But *takes a deep cleansing breath* if I look away for even a couple of hours, the whole fucking operation goes right to hell. Last weekend I was up against a deadline and needed to hole up in my office for the day. When I emerged, the kitchen counters were piled with dirty plates, aluminum foil, mugs, and napkins; shoes and helmets lined the hallway; toys and art projects cluttered the living room and kitchen table; and several unidentified sticky spots had appeared at various intervals along the floor. I burst into tears — snotty, incoherent, ugly-cry blubbering.
I looked away for one day, people.
I am so tired of looking around at the piles of discarded clothes, papers, Nerf darts, and dirty dishes, and realizing that none of it is mine. I am so over grabbing the vacuum and realizing that in order to complete that chore, I have to pick up a bunch of other people’s crap first. I want to go on strike. I want to say, “I won’t vacuum until you pick up your shit!” But if I do that, I have to hover until that task is done, because I know if I dare walk away, that shit’s not getting finished.
I’m not begging for anyone’s kidney, here. I just want my family to put their fucking clothes in the hamper and their dirty dishes in the dishwasher. I want to be able to say, “Yo, clean the living room,” and have it actually happen. Why is this so impossible? Why can’t my family be like my sister’s — synchronized in our quest for order? I so desperately want my family to give a shit.
But they don’t.
And so I, a neat freak among slobs, am faced with a choice: Do I turn a blind eye to the chaos and hate my environment, or do I nag my family relentlessly and end up hating both myself and them?
No, seriously, I’m asking: What would you do? Because I’m fighting a losing battle here, and I am fucking exhausted.