Wednesday, 8 July 2009

How clean is your house?

Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shovelling the walk before it stops snowing
Phyllis Diller, ‘Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints, 1966

My idea of housework at the moment is to sweep the room with a glance. In fact, my philosophy (or coping mechanism if you prefer) over the six weeks summer holidays is if it doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire or block my path to the fridge then let it be! Juggling writing with bringing up a small child is harder than you might think. It’s a mystery to me how JK Rowling managed to do it seven times. The problem is that writing and childrearing are both very demanding, all-consuming occupations. Most days my head feels like it has reached saturation point by midday. Trying to combine the two means that something has to give and for me that something has been housework.
When I think back to the pre-Junior years I shudder when I think about how much time I spent doing household chores. I did a lot of cleaning and running around as a nursery nurse but I still found the energy to come home and start all over again on my house. Weekends were usually spent changing beds and hovering up invisible fluff. I see the years of being a mum as some kind of slow metamorphosis. I don’t remember waking up one morning and thinking, “I don’t really care if the floors are sticky” or “what’s the point in dusting, you only move the dust from one place to another” - it just kind of happened gradually. As a childless woman in my twenties I used to like a clear path from the front door to the kitchen. I would get stressed if things were left lying around or not put back in their right place. I used to like the cups on my mug tree all going the same way. I used to like the labels on the tins all facing outwards. I used to like the cushions on my settee to lie zip down! Oh, the luxury of time and energy!!
I’ve had no choice but to learn to be more laid back when it comes to being house-proud (and car proud because that’s the other area of life that has, quite literally taken a back seat! Things get thrown in the back at school pick up and forgotten about and the ‘No Eating’ rule has flown out of the window). What’s the saying? “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Well I say “Cleanliness is next to impossible” when you have a five year old boy around! The trouble with being a single parent is that it’s always your turn to cook and do the dishes. I have been encouraging Junior to help out with small things but at the moment I only trust him to wash the plastic plates and cutlery. Sometimes his ‘help’ can result in double the work for me!
Becoming a mother has been good for my obsessive compulsion with having everything neat and tidy. I used to pride myself on being organised and immaculate, now it’s a case of,
“A tsunami in the bathroom” - Nothing ten towels and an hour won’t take care of.
“Snot smeared all over the back window of the car” I can still see out the front!
“Underpants dangling from the lampshade” Sure, why not?
“Chocolate handprints on my cream chair” What the heck, it’s only furniture!
“A dinosaur minefield all over the living room floor” I’ll just tiptoe my way through them whilst juggling a pile of ironing and a hot coffee.

It’s not that I don’t like a tidy house it just feels like there are more important things to be getting on with at the moment. In the great scheme of things it really isn’t a big deal if the house looks perfect. The way I look at it is our home is clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy. It’s certainly nowhere near needing a visit from Kim and Aggie. I do insist on making the beds every morning. But that’s only because there’s something about an unmade bed that depresses me. Oh, and my toilet is always spotless - maybe something to do with having a five year old boy with a poor aim.
Now when people are coming round for a cuppa it’s “take the place as you find it” whereas five or six years ago I might have spent hours preparing for their arrival - organising sock drawers and making sure the duvet cover was perfectly equal on all four corners of the bed. Crazy, I know!! And I’m cool now with shoes being tossed carelessly into the shoe cupboard whereas before anything other than footwear left at perfect right angles would have brought me out in a cold sweat.
I know this messy stage will not last forever. One day in the not so distant future when Junior flies the nest I can go back to having alphabeticalised CD’s and perfectly plumped, stain-free cushions. No more unidentifiable blobs dangling from my banister, no more jam smears on the TV screen and no more half eaten vegetables hidden inside my slippers. And do you know something, I’ll kind of miss that...

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