Friday, May 11, 2012

Housework anxiety

Sometimes I wish the judges would just show up and resolve my anxieties once and for all.

My most trivial anxieties, that is: not the ones about my children’s future or our family’s carbon footprint, but the ones about my housekeeping abilities.

And perhaps it’s a sign of the current ethos, dominated as it is by American Idol and other judge-centric TV shows, that I feel like the best way to determine how I’m doing is to turn it over to a panel of critics.

I picture them showing up unannounced and walking through the house dispassionately but with purpose, brandishing clipboards and taking notes. I’d see my home anew through their eyes as they gauged the cleanliness of each nook and cranny. Stainless steel appliances polished? Check. Sills recently dusted? Of course. But what’s this sheen of stickiness on the stovetop? What’s up with the piles of homework strewn across the kitchen counter?

I can be confident that the beds are made….well, sort of. The covers are smooth, but please don’t check for hospital corners. That pile of mail on the hall table? It just arrived yesterday, I promise! Yes, I know there are too many boots by the back door, but it’s been a rainy, muddy week. And really, you wouldn’t believe how often I sweep the floors, but with the dog going in and out from the yard so often….

Given my housekeeping shortcomings, it probably seems strange that on some level I actually want these hypothetical judges to show up. But then at least I’d have some answers. Left to my own imagination – and working at home, surrounded by this particular environment throughout the duration of my work day – I vacillate constantly on whether our levels of tidiness, neatness and cleanliness register as mostly all right or mostly insufficient. Our house is a lot less cluttered than many homes I’ve seen. But we don’t have cleaning help, and I’m not someone who always remembers to look for cobwebs up by the skylights. And while it’s true that my kids’ possessions seem to flow one-way only – from their bedrooms into the family room and never the reverse – surely that’s what everyone’s kids are like, isn’t it?

Turning it over to a third party to make the determination is not the answer, I realize. I have to make my own peace with how I choose to keep the house, and I shouldn’t need to think about it from the perspective of an outside arbiter.

Sometimes it reminds me of something the labor-and-delivery nurse who taught our birthing classes before Tim was born said at the first meeting. “How many women do you know who have won awards for how successfully they went through the birthing experience?” she asked. No one responded. “Exactly!” she said. “There isn’t an award for it! You do your best, you do what works for you, and you hope for the best results, without worrying about whether you did it ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’”

The circumstances with housekeeping are a little different, but I still find her words useful. Unlike writing an article or driving a car, nothing depends on whether someone else thinks you’re doing it well or poorly. You just have to do it based on your own priorities.

My priorities? Clutter-free surfaces and sanitary kitchen conditions, and no clothes on the floor. As for the cobwebs by the skylights? Well, those spiders have to live somewhere. And if they’re up there, I can take it as proof that they aren’t on the kitchen counters.

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