On Cleaning: Oh, Mom, I Get It Now

My mother said, “I guess I didn’t raise you to keep a house properly.”

She was right. She didn’t.

Oh, she forced us to do some things weekly. My mother made me dust, vacuum, clean the tub and the sink, but never the toilet. I had to clean the cat box but was never asked to pick up dog poo. My brother and I had to mow, but not weed. But our general day-to-day life was a messy one. My first husband told me that he knew he could never marry me after seeing my mother’s house, because I obviously would never be able to keep the standards he required. (Too bad he changed his mind on that, could have saved us both a lot of grief and lawyer’s fees.)

But I learned many things on my own:

  • A $8.88 iron from Wal-Mart burns itself out if left on all day, but it does not catch the house on fire. I tested this with several irons. 
  • The Mr. Coffee mini pot will not crack if left empty on the hot plate for 36+ hours, though the dishwasher will not be able to remove the scale inside, but a simple sponge will do the trick.
  • I finally learned never to have a white dog in a house with red carpeting. (Note: I still have a white dog and red carpeting.)

But I did eventually learn to pick up after myself, and to never let the mess build beyond a certain point.  I wasn’t successful at this until I was forty. I have to say it is a habit that has increased my relative happiness more than almost any other new habit, including wine. I often wonder how much better my life would have been if I had learned this earlier.

Oh, I know I am more comfortable with clutter than I should be. I tend to look at the middle of the room, and ignore the build up at the edges. I never dust. Or rarely. Maybe a few times a year. I’m nearsighted—I don’t see it. It doesn’t bother me, but I wish I cared a little more when we have people over. Then I see the dust everywhere.

When I had children, I had great plans for teaching them to clean from a young age. I figured that I'd give them a choice: we could clean together and then play, or Mama could clean alone and they would have to play by themselves. I knew how much I wanted more mom-time with my own mother, so I figured they'd be happy to clean with me. The little weasels chose to play by themselves every single time.

By and large, I haven’t made the kids do much in the way of cleaning. Sure, they half-heartedly make their beds once a week, occasionally put away laundry, and pick up their toys (meaning stuff them into the closet when I’m not looking). This is more than they do at their father’s house, so they feel I am mean and unreasonable. But so far, they haven’t actually contributed to the overall cleanliness of the household, meaning the common spaces.

Why I haven’t made them clean:

  1. Divorce guilt. They are only home 5 days a week and it breaks my little Mama heart to make them suffer.
  2. They stink at it. Completely. Making them clean just irritates the heck out of me and them both.

But life skills—not just for parents anymore! I will have an eighth grader this year. College is just around the corner.

Copying a friend, I made a chore list, and each week they have to do one community chore in addition to their basic picking up after themselves stuff. One had to vacuum, and the other had to clean the bathroom and take out the house garbage.

I had to show Child #1 where the garbage cans were.

Explain how to scrub a toilet.

Point out the schmutz on the sink.

But he didn’t complain about it, so I am counting it as a win.

His brother, wielding the vacuum cleaner, didn’t do much better. I had to show him what a one-foot by one-foot area of clean carpet looked like, and then explain that I expected the rest of the carpet to match. And I read a text message and in that time period he rolled over the cord and got it stuck in the wheels to the point that I had to turn the vacuum completely upside down and forcibly remove the cord with both hands.

The students are willing. The teacher is weak. It took us several hours to do what should have been a twenty-minute job, and next week we get to do it again. I understand why my mother gave up.




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Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge

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