I have a clean house. There. I’ve said it. I’ve come out of the closet, and guess what? It’s a clean closet, gosh darn it! It’s an organized closet, and has bins and strategic color coordination.
And, I also know that my level of clean is in the minority. Those of us with clean houses, who I will call Mrs. Cleans (instead of our more well-known misnomer, “clean freaks”) know how—through the twisted comparison game that women like to play—our homes sometimes make others feel badly. We know this, because we are reminded of it all of the time, in many little ways. One recent reminder was a blog post I read the other day where the author—who has a messy house—essentially tells Mrs. Cleans to shut up because we are freakish anomalies that belong nowhere in the realm of normal.
Well, my normal is a clean house. It is the fresh scent of bleach wafting from the bathrooms, me frequently answering the door with cleaning gloves on, and people buying me electronic brooms for Christmas (much to my delight). I get that my normal is probably pretty abnormal. And I would really love for that to just be okay with everyone else. If it isn’t, then we are succumbing to the comparison game, one that is fruitless, a waste of energy, and responsible for so much unhappiness in our lives.
I know my woes here aren’t going to garner much sympathy, but we Mrs. Cleans have a voice too. Here is our side of the story.
First of all, I don’t keep a clean home for anyone other than myself. I don’t need compliments or attention about it. I don’t invite people over to show off or brag or tout. In fact, I would love to never have to have this awkward conversation ever again:
Person I invited to my home: “Wow, your house is so clean! Mine is a such a disaster!”
Me: (Wait...what do I say here?...Thank you to the first half of what they said, or some kind of commiserating statement to the second half, which they might misinterpret as condescension? Hm….that’s not as risky as saying thank you, which might seem like bragging or self-righteousness, so, here I go...) “Oh, it’s not, really. You should see the basement….” Person: “Whatever. Your house is always clean. I don’t believe that for a second. I can’t ever have people over, my place is too messy.” Me: (Agh! What do I say now?...I’m sorry my house is clean?...No, that sounds snarky….Do I need to offer validation? Yeah, go with that.) “Oh, your house isn’t a mess...I mean...you should really see my fridge….” (What is this, some ‘whose house is the messiest’ contest? This is so twisted! Why do I have to feel guilty about my clean house? Why is the messiest housekeeper a ‘winner’ in this scenario? Agh. I’m really at a loss here…awkward silence alert! Quick! Change the subject!...)
If I could crumple up that conversation and any similar ones and throw them in my clean and neatly-labelled recycle bin, never to encounter them again, I would be a happy camper. Because if you really look at it, that conversation isn’t about us complimenting others; it’s about us purging some sort of “comparison guilt” we have (something that we, as women do in many areas, not just about our homes).
That whole conversation also gets at a double-standard in our society: somehow, it has become socially acceptable to make snarky jabs against Mrs. Cleans. It’s funny. It makes those of us who struggle with it feel better. But imagine the tables being turned. Imagine someone coming into your home and spending 20 minutes discussing how messy your house was, and doing so with judgment and a sense of derision.
So, to clarify, I keep my house clean because I want to keep it clean, not to impress other people. I actually get really anxious and stressed when it isn’t clean. Cleaning lowers my blood pressure and gives me a sense of control over my life, which so often has elements in it that I can’t make sense of. Sometimes, my world is so chaotic that cleaning gives me a sense of order.
Besides, when I see that glistening kitchen counter top, I feel like Rocky after a good workout. I do it for the intrinsic reward. Yes, I would clean even if I lived by myself in the middle of nowhere with no house guests, ever. I will clean when I’m senile, puttering about with a rag. So contrary to the accusation that Mrs. Cleans have a “desperate need for reassurance,” we’re actually just surviving, like anyone else; cleaning is just one of our survival methods.
To go along with this, a clean home is my very specific way of avoiding crisis and stress in my life. I don’t handle stress very well, and when I can’t find my car keys, or run out of clean bowls for my morning cereal, or my son walks by wafting the distinctive smell of week-old underwear, it takes me one step closer to a meltdown. I don’t like meltdowns: they’re embarrassing and inconvenient, not to mention that I’m an ugly crier (imagine the sounds of a dying donkey and combine that with the face of someone allergic to bees who was just stung). And no, I don’t like panic attacks—the feeling of suffocating to death is kinda unpleasant, you know?
A clean house is part of a larger life philosophy that I have which consists of “crisis prevention.” If I were to find out I had to move across the nation in 2 weeks, it would be a much larger crisis if I wasn’t organized and clean. When guests come to stay, I have to spend much less time cleaning to get ready for them than if I didn’t clean regularly. Also, it teaches my kids daily routine, hard work, and preparation, and reduces crises in their lives. So, the hard work that it takes to keep up a clean house is, for me, worth it. Because I hate stress. And I have a lot less of it in my life when my house is clean.
Secondly, contrary to popular belief, Mrs. Cleans do not always have perfectly clean homes. Seriously, we don't. I promise. Homes get lived in, and living is messy. But here is what we do have: pretty solid routines that keep things mostly under control, so that polishing things off isn't as overwhelming...it's all part of that whole stress-reduction thing.
Lastly, and I know that you aren’t going to believe this for one second, but we Mrs. Cleans don’t care what your home looks like, and it isn’t going to have any bearing on whether we like you or not. We only care that our house is clean, because that’s our kingdom. When I leave my kingdom, I know I’m travelling, and I love the experiences it affords me, and I love the amazing friends I find as I travel. So, stop apologizing about the state of your house when I come over. Even more important: let me come over, period. I have had several experiences where I have not been allowed to come over to people’s houses at all, simply because my house is clean. Like I have a contagious disease that they need to quarantine themselves from. That always makes me sad. I love you, I love your house, I love your kingdom. Let me be with you.
So, there you have it, ladies. Mrs. Cleans have feelings too, for cryin’ out loud! Let’s stop judging each other! Don’t let anyone else’s house make you feel bad about yourself--it has nothing to do with you! Let’s stop the derision and awesome-shaming!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not playing the victim card here—I don’t cry when I read posts where people like me are told to shut up and go away. I go do my dishes, feel the stress flow out of me with the dishwater, and move on with my life. But, this post is for those of us who don’t like being villainized. And for those of you doing the villainizing: isn’t our job as mothers and wives and women hard enough already without the judgment, veiled or blatant? Every one of is is doing the best we can do, in the way we do it best. Let’s be happy with that, and enjoy the unique kingdom that each of us dwells in.