It happened twice this week. I took my two little kids to my friends’ houses for play-dates and their homes were spotless. I’m positive they cleaned their houses for me. So I could see it. So I could think to myself, “Her house is cleaner than mine, she’s perfect.” Why would my friends want me to think like that?

I get it. I also feel the pressure to be seen as perfect. I admit I’ve cleaned the house for play-dates. But that was before I realized why I was doing it. I was showing off. Pretending that I had everything under control so I might be admired. I was making my friends feel bad about their home by making mine look so unattainably clean. I was being rude.

I don’t do that anymore.

I no longer clean up before other moms come over and I don’t apologize for the mess. That means leaving the dishes in the sink, leaving loose macaroni on the table, and leaving the toys scattered. Having a home full of young children is nothing to be ashamed of and yet I was constantly trying to hide the evidence.important work

The first time I had company over with my house in its honest state, I got physically uncomfortable when I heard the knock on the door. I knew they were standing next to the dirty diaper bucket on the porch and it wasn’t empty. I could see the diaper bucket, greeting them, “Hello, welcome to our home”. I let them in; she stepped around the Legos and abandoned shirts and sat on my couch. With a heavy sigh she said, “Thank you for not cleaning your house for me. It’s nice to have a friend who doesn’t pretend.”

I’ve been following this rule for a few months now and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I have heard the words, “Thank you” in regards to my disheveled home from every single mother who has entered it. I have had mothers express that going to a “perfect” house causes them, “serious stress… I just worry that my kids are going to mess things up.” This simple act has also increased the depth of my friendships. As soon as I quit trying to bolster my ego through vacuuming, my friends got real with me. They sat in my messy living room and cried about husbands, finances and loneliness.

And my friends stopped cleaning their houses for me. Funny how that works. I have gotten the chance to see how my friends really live. And it’s beautiful. There are signs of life everywhere.

I understand that there are some parents who have mastered housekeeping and there are some three-year-olds who are helpful and neat. I understand that every home has a different cleanliness base-line. I get it. I really do. But, in the world I live in, the minute you invite a toddler to live in your house, it becomes a zoo… pooh flinging included.  I know that there is someone out there who would be like, “Wow. I’m uncomfortable with this mess and you’re disrespecting me by not cleaning it for me.” To those critics I would say, “I’m not ashamed of my house, I’m not ashamed of my life and if you can’t handle this type of reality, go somewhere else.”

I stopped cleaning up my house for play-dates because I don’t want to add to the perfection epidemic. When my friends come over I want them to feel like they’re in a home, not a museum. I’m not washing my dishes before you come over because I don’t believe in making my friends feel bad about their dishes. I want my friends to know that they are welcome in my space. I am not pretending to be something that I’m not. I am not here to make you feel small. This is where I’m at right now.

I’m not saying I’m giving up trying to keep a clean home. I’m not. If I took so much as a week off, I’m pretty sure child protective services would be knocking at the door with concerned looks and clipboards. No, I’m really trying but I’m not perfect and I’m done pretending to be.

I bet someday we’ll miss the mess. I bet someday we’ll be wrinkled and old and we’ll finally have all those tall imported curtains and delicate vases. Someday everything will be in its place. When that day comes I bet we won’t clean up after grand-kids in hopes of showing off the mess to our old lady friends. So that we can say things like, “Yes, the grandchildren came over and look at this mess!” Someday we will long for the mess. It will be quiet and we’ll wonder why we ever tried to hide the fact that we were raising children.over

 

Written by Kristin

Kristin is mother, social worker, wife and writer. She believes in second chances and in the power of picture books. She is also the co-author (with Brian) of the upcoming children's book, Candy Monster.

11 Comments

jodigblatt

This is so insightful. I wish I would have been this wise and secure when I was a young mom. It’s never too late, as a grandma now, don’t expect perfection, life is too short to worry about the little stuff. Enjoy each day. Well done Kristin.

Emilie

I think this is a decent idea, but i think your logic for why people clean up is pretty presumptious. I have never once thought “I’m going to tidy up to make YOU feel bad about your house”. That’s ridiculous. Tidying up before company comes is not necessarily and act of emotional war or deceit. I generally tidy up so others feel MORE confortable. I move the clean clothes heap off the couch so people have a place to sit. I empty the diaper pail so others arent breathing in poo-fumes and feeling naseaus. I dont cleam obsessively for company, but when i do tidy up it isnt to pretend i’m perfect.

Sariah

I get where you are coming from, but you are assuming that everyone cleans up for the same reason you do. I have four little kids and my house is always clean because I can’t stand it dirty. I have never cleaned up to make someone else feel bad. I clean because I think dishes sitting in the sink are gross and Cheerios on the carpet would make my skin crawl. I totally respect your opinion, but you and I probably wouldn’t be friends.

Just Plain Marie

I have never cleaned my house to make others feel bad. Had I not read this, I’d never have imagined anyone would think like that. “I didn’t clean up so that you won’t feel bad about how awful your homemaking is.” 0_0 Isn’t that a nice slap in the face? How about “I didn’t put on clean clothes or comb my hair so you don’t feel bad about how awful you look.” or inviting someone to dinner and “I’m serving Kraft Dinner and cheap wieners because I know you serve crap to your family, too, and I wanted to make you feel at home.”

Cleaning up for expected company is an act of respect.

And in case you’re wondering if I have children – the ones at home are 1, 2, 5 and 7, and I homeschool, so they’re home all day. In an 800 square foot cabin with no basement or storage. We’re off-grid, so electricity is restricted (no vacuum or dishwasher) and I don’t have hot water. My house is never perfect, but my goodness, if I know someone is visiting, I’ll do my best to make sure I don’t have food on the table and dirty dishes in the sink.

NotMolly

It’s not an either/or situation. We have six people living in about 780 square feet (we do have electricity, though!). We work from home, and homeschool…. so there is never a day when we’re not all here and doing and using the space. It’s not show-house tidy, but it’s not a wreck, either. There’s the broad middle of “Presentable and pleasant to our family”–that’s the goal. I don’t want to step on stuff. Allergies mean we need to keep the dust load down. I actually like vacuuming. The kitchen is small, and washing the dishes helps a lot with avoiding feeling overwhelmed. Ditto the bathroom. If we don’t put the books IN the bookshelf, there’s quite literally not room for them and us.

I don’t clean up to show off or pretend or anything else… we do it for our own comfortable living, even with stacks of kids and their stuff and sleep deprivation and chronic illness and everything else. Basic tidy-ups are a daily thing–usually twice daily, actually. Not to make someone else feel bad, but to keep the six people, two cats, and three hens who live here happy and healthy and creatively charged. I don’t apologize for my home–I’d rather welcome my friends in, grab them a cup of tea or lemonade, and let the kids free range while we visit or work on a project. Basic tidiness (not showplace perfection) makes that possible for me.

miathereader

Kristin, this is a great post to get us all think about our motivation for what we do to prepare for guests. If you were coming over today, you would find some messy areas and some clean areas in my house. I would have “cleaned” for you, like probably the bathroom would be freshly wiped down, but there would still probably be crumbs under my kids’ high chair, some dishes in the sink, and some terrible mess I haven’t noticed in weeks, like the grimy glass door or light switch that I don’t even see anymore. =) I admit to having cleaned before guests come because I want them to admire my house cleaning, but if I’m working on getting to a mental place where my motivation for cleaning is the guests’ comfort, and not so much my ego’s needs. However! I don’t think it’s fair to blame a host who cleans for making you feel guilty. Guilt originates in ourselves, and if we feel guilty, it’s not someone else’s fault. I’m glad you know where you stand and that you can decide your own comfort level, but I would feel kind of hurt if someone came over and instead of knowing that I went out of my way to make them comfortable in my home, was angry with me for cleaning. So, come on over but don’t get mad if there are only cheerio crumbs in 25% of the house. =)

WaterTigerFour

Kristen,
What a blessing you’ve found in being real. Your connections your world and your children will all thrive in such a beautiful space as you’ve created….
I have a poem for you that I treasured while my children were growing up and it seems very fitting to what you’re sharing here..
It’s called
“Patty Poem” by Nick Kenny

She never puts her toys away;

Just leaves them scattered where they lay–

I try to scold her, and I say

“You make me mad!”

But when to bed she has to chase,

The toys she left about the place

Remind me of her shining face,

And make me glad.

When she grows up and gathers poise

I’ll miss her harum-scarum noise,

And look in vain for scattered toys–

And I’ll be sad.

Kristin

Thank you for sharing this lovely poem. I have to remind myself everyday that someday I’m going to miss this… just enjoy the chaos 🙂 Thank you.

KARENALBERTWINSLOW

Dont kid yourself you will still not do the dishes or pick it all up after they are gone because then you have no one to judge you. I dont so I dont do it till I run out of forks. I live like a single guy at 64 LOL. I used to visit my neighbors house & it always even on a bad day looked like a model home YES IT DID. she could be sick & it was still clean. When the kids were gone she got white carpet. WHO gets white carpet. Someone who vacums everyday & has no TV in the living room. Wait they have beige in the family room. Anyway. I would go home & tear thru the house & then say to myself “my house will never look like hers because my house is lived IN” We have hobbies & books & eat in the living room & nap on the couch. We dont wipe out the sink after we wash our hand & straighten the towel. She even mows her lawn twice a week so it looks perfect ! But she has done it since forever so its easy for her even when she had little kids it was easy & they are all neat adults. OH WELL. My Mom was neat but Im not.

Jessica

I think the point of this blog is to help us contemplate our lives and the meanings/motives we hold in our lives. I now deem Kristin as a “contemplating blogger” that being said. I’ve contemplated and found new purpose behind my to or not to clean situations. Thank you for helping me contemplate life Kristin. You rock! (Exclamation) and……..(period)

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