The Life-Changing Magic of Being a Total Slob

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

A while ago, I read a question a gal posted to Ask Metafilter asking how to get salmon that had sprouted mold and grown through a lace blouse out of the lace blouse. Yes, you read that correctly: She had eaten half a plate of salmon lasagna in bed and then set the plate on the floor. Then she took off her blouse and dropped it over the plate and went to sleep. She forgot about the lasagna until laundry day, when she picked up the blouse to wash it and found that the salmon had grown tentacles of black mold that had entwined itself through the lace.

Is this not some kind of mythic cautionary tale about women, the vanity of fripperies and lace, and the sin of untidiness?

I would have been ashamed to ask this question. I would have just thrown the whole moldy caboodle away, screaming my high-pitched screams, and then started a nice cleansing fire in the bedroom. But no, she was rather matter-of-fact about seeking strategies on how to get salmon black mold out of lace. (Vinegar? Shout? Cleansing fire?)

I have a lot of sympathy for this woman, because that could be me. I am very messy. This has always been a source of shame for me—when I was single, I went long stretches with no guests because I couldn’t motivate to clean. I leave suitcases unpacked for weeks upon returning from trips. Dishes teeter in the sink.

But it got me thinking … why is my untidiness such a point of shame? It’s the same feeling as when I run out to the store in a state of unkempt-ness—droopy jeans, no bra under a coat, scraggly hair. The shame is worse since I’ve had kids—I don’t want to look like a messy, disorganized mom. I don’t want my kids to be ashamed of their mother. I’ve learned to fake it as well as I can: Like a sociopath, I scan the Internet for clues to what normal people do when someone is dropping by in five minutes. (The Internet tells me they run a Clorox wipe over the bathroom and make sure there is nothing awful in the toilet.)

I don’t think men have these same anxieties. My husband is not especially tidy either—when he was single, he would do a major clean at the end of every semester and otherwise let things slide. He doesn’t care if someone drops by and the kitchen is dirty. He runs out to the store in droopy jeans and an undershirt all the time and doesn’t think it reveals any failure to “keep it together.” Messiness is just not the kind of demerit for him that it is for me.

Have you heard about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? How could you not: It was reviewed by the New York Times, Slate, SFGate, even TheMid. All the reviewers are women, suggesting that male writers are not especially interesting in magic tidying. In fact, the Times recently ran a story on how much time men spend on cleaning, which was a very short story (I kid, I kid). But yeah: Even when they’re unemployed, men spend a lot less time on housekeeping than women do—so even ordinary, non-magical tidying doesn’t get done.

Marketers, that terrible Greek chorus whispering gender essentialisms in your ear, reinforce the idea that women are responsible for a tidy home. Recently I looked online for a new highchair. At least three of the models have marketing copy reading “easy clean-up for Mom!” I thought, “Where’s Dad? Chained to the wall?”

Recently I met a mom who seems to, like the salmon-mold-lace gal, have a refreshingly masculine view of cleaning. She doesn’t do it, and she isn’t ashamed. She has the busiest life of any parent I know: She works part time and stays home part time. She has a band and gigs regularly. She has people over to her house a few times a week to play music. She leaves the kids with grandparents and takes road trips with her husband. She posts pictures of herself volunteering.

I came up to her apartment—cramped, as New York apartments are—and it was literally awash with clutter. Like, we were wading knee-deep through a plastic hellscape of toys. But she totally didn’t care—she swept an arm over the couch to make a place for me to sit, the kids dove onto the living room floor like it was a ball pit, and we had a perfectly nice time.

The only neat thing in the house was the meticulously organized handmade chore wheel on the fridge, complete with an arrow lifted from a board game and beautiful hand-lettering. It indicated which parent was responsible for what weekly chore. It clearly hadn’t been touched since 2010.

This was liberating. I mean, yes, the men in our lives should be pulling their weight around the house, and basic sanitation is a plus for health reasons alone. But how about, also, if we just … didn’t worry about it? Let’s go on a trip, go gigging, leave the kids with the grandparents. Ignore the chore wheel. Embrace the plastic hellscape.

Don’t go as far as black mold creeping through your blouses, but if it happens: OxiClean. I know because I saw a mother on TV use it.

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