I fucking hate cleaning. It drives me insane. Not so much the cleaning – which at times I find relaxing and cathartic – but the constancy of the cleaning. Day after day, it never fucking ends. The ever-present mountain of washing. The pile of dishes on the sink; so entrenched it has practically fused together. Shit everywhere; thoughtlessly dropped to the floor and never picked up. Does my husband have knees? No he must not. If he did he could bend down to pick shit up occasionally. Sadly, he also passed the kneeless gene down to my sons.
“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”
― Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
As a point I do the bare minimum. It would be easy for me to dedicate my life to cleaning my home. My kids are at school now and I work from home (at the moment writing a novel, et al). Oh how easy it would be to use my messy house as an excuse to procrastinate. “Oh look at this place! I can’t diddle away writing when there are windows to clean!” But yeah, fuck that.
I made a choice a long time ago to settle for housekeeping mediocrity. I’d rather live in semi-squalor than achieve nothing of importance in my life. I decided I didn’t want to be either a martyr or a nag. No more did I want to commit to a life of nagging my children into cleaning, than I wanted them to witness me playing the part of the poor mother, who must scrub the floors with her own tears. I’d rather them see me writing books, playing guitar and making messes instead of cleaning them up.
“Housework won't kill you, but then again, why take the chance?”
― Phyllis Diller
If I were to commit to a life of pristine house pride, it would not be for me. It would be for the voices of the inner critic that lurk inside my head. The voices of my grandmothers, who lived to keep a tidy home. The ghost of my great-grandmother who would hand-wash 15 cloth nappies each night, hang them up below the rafters, then wake early to take them down again and fold them crisply. I hear them scoff at me for leaving dishes on the table. For shrugging when the kids walk dirt inside. For leaving the bedlinen unchanged for more than a week.
“Other women were satisfied with their lives, she thought. What kind of a woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfillment waxing the kitchen floor? She was so ashamed to admit her dissatisfaction that she never know how many other women shared it.”
― Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
It would be for the silent judgement I feel inflicted upon me; by society, by other mothers, by even my close friends. Friends who mean well but still believe that a woman’s worth is measured in how clean her house is. After all: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
I would like to refuse. Stand strong and say “fuck the lot of you!” Some cleaning though, can’t be avoided. If I don’t do the laundry there will be no clean undies. If I do not do the dishes, it will only make my life (as the family chef) harder. So, day after day, I clean shit up. I scrape old Weetbix from bowls, I fish dirty socks out from behind the T.V, I scrub melted crayon from bed sheets. I do it because I must. Because someone must. My biggest challenge is to do it without resentment. To find some joy in this task of necessary evil. I play music. I sing and I dance. As I fold washing I listen to audiobooks, or podcasts or TEDtalks. I take time to be slow. I feel the fabrics against my hands and relish in the smell of the sun-dried sheets. It’s in these moments of necessary evil, that oft beautiful things are born.
“The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes.” --Agatha Christie