Looking through Pinterest, there are several thousand pins on how to organize and clean your house. How to continuously make sure things are in order. Spic and span. Ugh.
When I was younger I had chores. Lots of them. I was in charge of sweeping, dishes, mopping, picking up leaves, crushing soda cans, picking up dog poop and cleaning the kitty litter. And like most children, I hated doing them. They took up all my time that I wanted to use to read or swim or play softball or hang out with my friends. I hated being told what to do and when to do them. Because I had extracurriculars the majority my chores were on the weekends. I wasn’t really allowed to sleep in. I was woken up to the sound of “Reveille” (played on the mouth bugle, one of the most annoying instruments ever created). Ugh.
Becoming an adult and moving out was my ticket to freedom from chores. But then again, I married a Marine who had regular barracks inspections. Which of course meant that he expected some sort of cleanliness and order to the apartment we shared. Say what? Yet another person expecting me to clean?? How dare he?! I am an adult!
Needless to say, my immaturity among a list of other issues between the two of us helped end that marriage.
After I had my son and I was living on my own I was in hog heaven. Almost literally. I lived in a pigsty. Dirty dishes everywhere, messy floors due to not having a vacuum cleaner, laundry piles a mile high. It was a wonder we survived.
What changed my mind?
I don’t really know, to be honest. I would clean sporadically. I matured over the years and started to take a certain, small pride in how my apartment looked. Plus, scorpions decided to migrate into our apartment. Making sure they weren’t in my son’s play areas became almost an obsession for me.
When we moved from the desert to Sacramento I could breathe again and become a slob again. The thing is, after going back to being a mess, I didn’t like it. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not compelled to clean everything to the point I can see my reflection. I moved to a nicer neighborhood, nicer apartment and I had begun to acquire nicer things. I wanted to make sure they were taken care of.
Then I realized something: those chores I hated so much when I was a kid meant something. It meant I was fortunate enough to have so much stuff that my room needed to be cleaned. It meant I was fortunate enough to have animals that knew I loved them because I took care of them. I was fortunate enough to have a house that I lived in and helped take care of.
For a while there I was interpreting those chores as a punishment. Then it was about “building character.” Then it was about teaching me responsibility. I rebelled against it. Hated it because it was forced on me.
I turned around and did the same thing to my son. I had made him do things because it seemed like the right thing to do. And I wanted him to help me out because I had homework or other obligations. Forcing him only lead him to hate his responsibilities.
And I don’t want him to go down the road I did. It shouldn’t take a broken marriage, a house full of arachnids, several interstate moves and 20-something years to realize what it is he’s got.
I looked around my current apartment and recognized the fact that I am in a cleaning slump. I started in one room and started to pick up. A book Lil Goob was reading during breakfast. He voluntarily read a book. I should care that he was reading and eating but I can’t bring myself to care. He was READING OF HIS OWN VOLITION! Ok.. sorry for the excited capitalization of the previous sentence. What was I saying? Oh, right..
I picked up a book and remembered seeing him enjoy it. I moved onto a pile of receipts. Yes, I realize it’s a waste of paper but it also symbolizes that I was able to afford the things we needed and wanted. Huge, ginormous steps, leaps and bounds forward from where I was just a few short years ago. Sitting on the corner of the table was a Minecraft Lego set along with instructions which was a reward for Lil Goob for receiving an award at school. A bottle of St. Ives lotion. To treat the minor sunburn Lil Goob received after spending a day outside in the unseasonably warm and sunny weather. My running band iPod holder sitting on the table after my walk with Lil Goob.
You know what all these things have in common? They all mean I am alive. I am alive and able to enjoy the small things. The big moments. The sad moments. The joyous celebration of awards. I have changed my perspective on cleaning. It’s not a dubious chore to make sure everything looks like it’s ready to be featured on the front of Better Home and Garden magazine. It’s more like reliving and realizing what I am doing is cleaning up after living. Cleaning up after dinner means we had enough to eat. Picking up dirty socks means we are physically able to run around and sweat and that we have clothes and the means to clean them.
I might forget my epiphany every now and again and get annoyed at cleaning up the same mess again and again. How many times do I really need to put away the cereal box I didn’t eat from? But I know seeing my child grow and thrive will help remind me that there is a reason I do the things I do. It’s because I am a maid. An unpaid maid. Who works odd hours, mainly 9pm to 11 or so and again at roughly 5:30am to about 6:50am. Sigh.
My break is over and I need to go grab the clean clothes out of the dryer and appreciate them as I fold them into piles and remember how lucky we are as I stuff them in drawers. Or drop them on a chair. Whichever is convenient.