Monday, July 29, 2013

Cleanliness is Next to Impossible, So Get Over It

My mother is a clean freak. Her version of clean is everything put away, surfaces spotless, floor vacuumed and mopped. Think of a house that is on display by a realtor, and that's my mother's version of clean.  My mother didn't work outside the home, so she kept the house clean.  Very clean. The Five Second Rule didn't apply to her floors; they were as sparkling clean as the table top.  I can remember my mother yelling at one of my friends for pulling into the driveway of my parent's new house; my mom didn't want to get the driveway dirty. 

When we were old enough, my brother and I were expected to help with the dishes and the trash and the dusting and the vacuuming.  Which is normal--kids should help with the chores when they are able. My mom was in a never ending battle with dirt and clutter, however, and her children were aiding and abetting the enemy if we weren't helping her keep a clean house.  The bathroom had to be spotless.  If it wasn't, we were lectured about keeping the house clean while my mother went in there and did it.  

Children have been manipulating their parents for years, and we were no different.  It is a known fact that the best way to get someone else to do your work is to do the job as sloppily as possible, for instance.  My brother and I knew that if we did a terrible job with our chores, my mother would follow us and do it.  That's just how she was, and we knew it.  Feeling guilty didn't mean that I changed my behavior, of course.  I felt a little guilty about it, however.  Maybe a twinge. 

That's what I grew up with, and even then I thought that was a ton of pressure to put on a child.  What is the point of putting all the toys away if you're just going to get them right back out to play with them?  Why have toys at all?  We finally just started throwing all our stuff into the closet and shut the door.  This met the letter of the law(put your toys away), and my mom never opened the closet doors. She likely would have had a heart attack if she had.

Now I have my own house.  Turns out that I don't mind a bit of clutter.  When you live with two guys, it's necessary.  I don't mind toys on the floor for a few days.  I don't mind that there's water spots on the mirror, or that the ceiling fan doesn't get dusted on a daily basis.  I can overlook the dishes in the sink for a couple of days.  I can even pretend that the trash doesn't need to go out until Larry does it.  I am not a clean freak.  I'll go through phases, where everything in the house must be either put away or thrown out, but that's only about once a year. I keep the bathrooms clean and I keep the kitchen clean.  My husband, who is in charge of vacuuming, is on a bi-yearly schedule, unless someone is coming over.

But I'm the one who gets to listen to my mother when she comes over to visit.  It's like I'm still ten years old, the way she goes on.

"Child Protective Services will come and take Zane away, this house is so dirty."

"This house could be on an episode of Hoarders."

I understand that this is a central personality trait of my mother's.  I understand that having everything clean reduces her feelings of anxiety.  I understand that she can't help herself, but I find myself wanting to scream at her.  I often wonder, does she do this to everyone, or just family?  Then I decide that I don't really want to know.  I know that I should say something to her about this, but it would be the same discussion we've had over and over.  She just doesn't get it, and maybe she never will. It is getting so that I don't even want to invite my parents over anymore, and that would be a shame.

She is so focused on the clutter and what she sees as dirt that she misses the entire point of why she was invited over to our house:  her grandson.  He doesn't care about dirt or clutter, he just wants to show his Grandma his new toy, or his new soccer ball, or the picture he drew at school that day.  He is what is most important at that moment, not whether there's a Skylander on the floor.  I hope that she remembers that before it is too late.



  1. Clutter and kids just seem to go together. I had a neighbor when our kids were little who was a lot like your mom, I was always a little intimidated by her neat freakiness.

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  3. I really feel for you because I know exactly what you mean. I adore my mother and she is a dear most of the time. However, like you, I don't mind a bit of clutter, toys around the place, not washing up immediately, folded laundry or indeed a full laundry basket, a bit of dust etc. I like my fridge, cooker and loo to be reasonably clean and to be able to eat and drink from clean dishes but that's about it. I may be untidy and not as fastidious as some people but you won't get food poisoning or come down with some disease from visiting so I'm happy with that. However, my idea of reasonable and my mother's idea of reasonable are two totally different things. She is forever nagging me about the state of the place and trying to wash up and do stuff when I'm attending to my little boy. She's almost 80 and as she's not in best of health, I wish she wouldn't bother. I just want her to enjoy visiting our home and not be so het up about it. She just can't seem to help herself and I find it soooo annoying. Her own house is like a church, spotless, shiny, like new. She was always like this, if not quite as bad, when we were kids. She lives alone now so there's nobody else to mess it up and she gets stressed when we visit and are messy. She can't really do much housework now, not that her house needs much doing as it's so glossy. She has a cleaner come in twice a week but she hardly needs it! Even the cleaner says it's the cleanest house she has to clean!

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