I think I've cited before the report that found that both working mothers and stay-at-home moms cited the quality of their housekeeping as one of the principal areas they feel guilty about. (This makes both perfect sense and no sense, of course.) Frankly, I don't know many women over 22 who don't feel guilty about their housekeeping - and this tendency is not less expressed in those whose homes are cleaner. The neatest of my (generally very neat) friends apologized for the "mess" with obvious anxiety when we dropped by on one occasion. I later discovered she meant a single bowl and spoon on the counter (I had been searching for the mess for quite some time, finding nothing). Her house is ten times as clean as mine (even when I've just cleaned), and if she can see the dirt in her house, she can see the dirt in my house. So why didn't she just conclude that she's always going to be exceeding my standard, and feel smug and not mention it?
I don't have an answer for that question, by the way. I just think we have some collective mental disorder on this subject.
But before I get to my point, I will mention one other thing. There was a time in my life when I thought my housekeeping was just fine: when I was in college and law school. I knew I was a bit of a mess in college, but I was good-natured about it. If someone had said my room wasn't that clean, I would've laughed, and thought no more about it. Here's a reality check: I washed my sheets once a year. When I took them home in the summer. That will give you an accurate idea of how clean my space actually was. I didn't tend to pile papers on my desk (when I was done with a project, I took my books back to the library), and you could see the floor. My clothes were generally in a pile, but the pile was in a bin. By my standards, I was quite neat. (In fact, by college standards, that actually was neat!) And I never worried about not being clean enough. I used my bed - the one with the unwashed sheets - as a makeshift couch. And I never noticed a single person stopping by (there were lots) who was put off by it. Part of me hyperventilates thinking about the positively unsanitary impression I must have given them (note: I have not one memory of how everyone else, other than my roommates, kept their beds or their rooms. I just didn't care). And part of me wishes I could recapture, for one second, the unimpeded joy of welcoming someone into my home and focusing on having a nice chat - not what they'll think about my couch.
In law school, I had an apartment for the first time. I shared it with another girl. We were great roommates because we had similar approaches to everything - no misunderstandings. We had some food that was ours individually, and some things (like toilet paper, potatoes, and milk) were impractical to buy in one-person batches, so we alternated purchasing them. I never sat down and did the math, but I bet we came out within pennies of totally even. We also had similar approaches to cleaning. While it would be a safe bet that she (and every other human) was neater and cleaner than I was, we had the same routine: we'd let things get generally out of hand until the dishwasher needed running. We kept our real messes in our rooms. Things left out in the living room would be returned to our rooms periodically. And then, when we had company coming, we'd check each other's schedules, and decide: who cleans the bathroom? And who cleans the kitchen? The bathroom was dirtier; the kitchen took more time. We tended to alternate. The system could not have been more perfect - it was efficient, effective, and agreeable. We enjoyed entertaining, and I spent zero time worrying about my housekeeping. It did not cross my mind ever.
I now spend free time worrying about whether that roommate secretly thought I was a dirtball.
So while I am hoping to have a big party in February, and I have already decided that that means not only that I have to sweep the house, clean the kitchen and both bathrooms, make all the beds, straighten the living room, dining room, and porch, and go shopping for food - but that I also need to clean all the windows (inside and out) and all the woodwork in the house. I have not done so in the 2.5 years we've lived there, so by a good housekeeper standard, the place really is filthy. (I note that I periodically clean areas of the dining room, kitchen, and bathroom woodwork that get visibly grimy. And there are two windowsills that occasionally get cleaned.) On the other hand, why am I spending my time thinking about this? If it's not important enough to do, why is it important enough to worry about? What is the worst that someone could think about a woman with dingy baseboards? (Don't answer that.)
Thus, of course, I identify with nearly every article, blog post, ideabook, or other tract on the subject of housekeeping woes, and what we can do to combat them. (Maybe reading about this all the time is contributing to my malaise?) But a few months back I read something I did not identify with. Someone - a blogger? - had said that she has great ambitions for keeping her linen closet clean, but it naturally descends back into chaos, and she eventually has to go back, remove everything, and do a complete overhaul, again. Why can't it just stay clean? This frustrates her. I have similar-ish problems with my pantry cabinet (though after the last big cleaning, I think it's staying quite a bit better), the under-stairs closet (again, after a recent cleaning, it's stayed orderly for several months), and the carriage house (ditto). But I have zero problems with my linen closet. It's always exactly the way I want it. Everything is folded and sorted perfectly. (It's not something Martha Stewart would be proud of - it's where we keep all the mismatched towels, extra sheets, and excessive medicine cabinet things that we don't really need most of the time. But it's perfectly organized. I actually think the riot of color is cute. I might take a picture of it.)
The secret, by the way, is exactly what you think: I never get lazy and stuff something in there. Every item that ever goes in is folded with mathematical exactness. That way the stacks stay stacked, and they look nice and even. I am trying to use this principle to keep the carriage house and the pantry neat as well. While they drift a bit more, occasionally pushing the chairs back against the wall or re-stacking the paint cans or putting the rice back by the beans seems to keep things humming along.
And it occurred to me that for all the mental energy I spend on the snarl of cords in my living room, and the wallpaper seams I can still see in the dining room, and the wainscoting by the trash can that seems to be permanently discolored, I spend no time thinking about my linen closet. Or the organizer things I installed in the carriage house to hold the shovels and rakes, which are fabulous. Or the fact that my clothes closet stays at least 95% organized 100% of the time - no overhaul needed.
The internet is full of criticism for my cleaning habits. And suggestions for fixing them. And the stores are chock-full of things I could buy (that would clutter my space) to make my house immaculate, so they claim. But, I was thinking the other day, why doesn't the internet know about my perfect linen closet? Why have I not received a medal, and official state recognition, for effortlessly conquering a challenge that many homeowners (with far higher standards and greater diligence than mine!) consider nearly impossible?
Vanity is not an issue here; my opinion of my housekeeping is as negative as it gets. I am even hesitant to mention this achievement, for fear someone else would conclude, "Your linen closet is UGLY. The paint color is hideous, and I see that you ignored it when you repainted the room. You may say that it's a fun color for a closet, but I think it's lazy. And it probably could use some touching up along the shelves in any case. Also, putting all the vitamins in a crate is chaotic and you can't pretend they're organized. And hiding the cleaning products behind the wall is cheating. Finally, it doesn't matter how neatly you fold them if your spare towels and comforter are hideous. You should throw all this stuff out. The fact that you use it is no excuse."
But I am resisting, because I know that my linen closet is immaculately neat - 365 days a year - and that's what people find so hard to achieve. And I like the look of it, genuinely; I haven't any desire to change anything. Justice demands, therefore, that I recognize this success, if I am going to recognize my many housekeeping failures.
Therefore, recognizing that duty compels me, I bestow on myself the MAGNIFICENT LINEN CLOSET AWARD.
I know I am not the only person whose failures have thus been rhapsodized, and whose successes unsung. What awards does justice demand YOU receive?