Friday, October 22, 2010

To Clean, Or Not To Clean

I am not the neatest person in the world. Four children make it harder to keep things clean as it seems like stuff is constantly shifting, like sand grains blowing away from sand dunes, rising and lowering with the wind. I have a counter by the stove that can never be cleared away, try as I might, and is always piled with incoming mail/newspapers/library books. When I need to use three burners on the stove, I have to reorganize the pile on the counter and more than once, paper has gotten singed (thank goodness it's an electric stove and not a gas stove or else it would be 'whoosh!' and not singe)

I do my best at keeping the house clutter free. I beat back the rising tide of laundry only to be drowned again in a couple of days. The dishes pile up quickly and I hate doing dishes, especially ones I only just washed 10 minutes ago. Sweeping is a constant as is wiping up spills, drips and messes. Books are always being pulled out to be read and not always put back right away. I feel like I am always picking something up-- spilled puzzle pieces, dumped game pieces (thanks, Peter), over-turned apple box scattering apples in the sunroom, tipped over clothespins... And this was just in the morning.

For sure, a white-gloved finger would be very dusty after swiping along the door frame and window trim. For sure, I wouldn't want to eat off the living room floor, knowing who and what has been traipsing all around, leaving behind goodness knows what, but the dishes and forks are clean. Beds are not always made, though Mama's is. Towels are not always hung neatly, but they are clean. There's finger prints of paint under the light switch in the bathroom, but the fingers are now clean. For sure, it's a lived in house.

I don't want to be constantly cleaning in order to maintain a spotless house. Yes, I envy those perfect-looking rooms you see in the pages of magazines, but I know it's a lie. They've been cleaned and buffed and spit-shined by a multitude of people then photographed in perfect lighting to bring out the best features of the couch/floor/rug. Even bloggers cheat when they photograph rooms for show and tell and messes get cropped out or the one room is kept clean while the rest of the house is messy. Then there are the exceptions to the rule, whose homes really are neat and tidy and nary a wrinkle in the bedspread. They probably have no kids and no pets, or maybe they're OCD, or maybe, and I say this with a little pang of jealousy, they're one of those people that clean when they're nervous or anxious or excited. When I'm nervous or anxious or excited, I eat.

I've tried it once, to be always on top of messes, put things in their place, sort mail before it piles up, clean spills before they get dried and sticky, wash dishes as soon as they hit the sink, do laundry before someone runs out of underwear, take out the trash before it smells, sweep up paper scraps before they slip under the hutch, wipe up paint before they dry onto the tablecloth... It was exhausting and I wasn't happy. I had no time to enjoy life because I followed it around with with a broom and dustpan, focused only on the messes it left behind. I missed out on enjoying my meal because I fretted about the dirty dishes. I paid no mind to the lovely pictures my children made because I only saw the paint spills and paper scraps. That's no way to live.

I accept the messes in my life. I beat back the clutter and every now and then, clutter wins. I accept that 4 children can be messy, really really messy, like poop running down their legs messy, but I love them, messes and all. As long as I can still reach in the middle of the pile on the counter by the stove and pull out the exact paper I'm looking for, then the clutter is under control. If I can see that my floor is clean, maybe not eat-off-the-floor-clean (who does that anyway??), and I can lay down on the floor and wrestle with the kids without getting up looking like I've been tarred and feathered, I'm good. Life is messy. I can embrace the messy.

Does it mean I never get frustrated? Do I resign myself and my house to pig-pen status? No, I still get hissy fits about the messes. I yell at the kids for making a mess of the just-folded pile of clothes on my bed, waiting to be put away. I get upset when the floor I just mopped now has chicken poop tracks from someone who forgot to take their shoes off before coming in the house. I growl in exasperation when I pick up yet another book or movie off the floor. I yowl in pain when I step on another jack/lego block/barbie shoe and holler for the kids to come and pick up their toys.

But I pick my battles. As long as the kitchen, bathrooms and living room are clean, and the doors to the bedrooms can be shut, I'm happy. When company comes over and it takes me less than 30 minutes to give the house a quick clean-up before they get here, I'm happy. When we go out for the day and I come back in the house, I sniff the air, and if it smells good and not like the litter box/dog/poopy diapers, I'm happy.

Someday, when I can put something on the table and it's still there an hour later; when I can buy yogurt and it's not gone within 5 minutes of putting it in the fridge; when I can leave the toothpaste on the counter and not find it squeezed out in the sink; when I can wash the windows and not find nose smudges immediately after; when a clean piece of paper doesn't get scribbled on and stays in the printer paper tray; when I can fold clothes, walk away and they stay folded; when I can leave a glass half full of tea, it will still be there 10 minutes later, I'll know the kids have gone and moved away. I'll miss them, won't miss the messes.


Cheyenne said...

Trust me, you will still miss even the messes once the kids are gone. Because those messes usually mean happy times. Enjoy the kids now because they grow up so darned fast.

I look at it this way...if someone comes to my house unannounced and the place is a little messy, and they don't like it? Too bad, because they could have called first so that I could make it decent enough for them.

I hate cleaning and just about everything that goes with it, except laundry, that's ok. As long as my cats (and husband) don't complain, I don't worry.

Sugar said...

I would love a super duper clean house too, but all these years working FT leaves me with little energy to be a "June Cleaver". Although I should say had I raised my kids to be happy helpers around the house, it might have been a fairly clean & picked up house. With one still living at home, you would think help would certainly be a there, but so far nope. Teach your kids while they are still little and get rid of stuff you don't need, because as you age it will become easier. At least that is what I am going to try to do!

jenny said...

Cheyenne-- I don't know.. I find it hard to believe I'm going to miss cleaning up spilled syrup or picking up hundreds of puzzle pieces! :o) I'm with ya on the drop-in visitors, though. I have had people come by and I felt a little embarassed, but then again, they should have let me know before coming over. For the most part, the house isn't too bad, but we have our moments when it looks like the toy box and the trash can vomited at the same time! LOL!

Sugar-- I agree.. we are trying to teach the kids to pick up after themselves, to put away one game before pulling out another; to make their beds and keep their rooms clean.. I have been known to let their dirty clothes sit on the floor of their room until they complain they have no clean skirt/jeans/underwear and I point and say, "If you put it in the dirty clothes basket, I would have been able to wash it, but since it's on the floor-- too bad." It works for a while until they slack off again and get lazy. I think the best thing is to be a good example for them, what good is it to tell them to clean up when mama and papa don't clean up. I know it's hard for people that work fulltime out of the home and trying to find the energy to do things around the house... I feel for ya.

Sugar said...

Mountain Mama/ do I invite you to visit my blog? I am back in blogger land and don't remember how to do it. :)

Sugar said...

Ok, done. Thank you! Hope to see you there.

Peg said...

Hi Jenny: my husband and I don't have kids, so it's just us making all the mess! I am slowly getting things under control thanks to FlyLady ( She may not be the solution for you, but then again, she may. If nothing else her program is free. I hope you don't mind the suggestion. You are so generous with your cooking tips and such, I saw this as a way to maybe give back to you some of what you've given me.