by Bethany Young Hardy
Whether you dread it, avoid it, outsource it, or just suck it up and do it, cleaning the house is a task most parents loathe. It’s exhausting, it never ends, and for many, it ranks right up there on the list of Things Most Likely to Push Marriages to the Breaking Point. Add in the hormone imbalance and sleep deprivation after a new baby comes home, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
During the past three years of my parenting children adventure I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with housework. Nothing settles my chi more than a clean and organized house, but the thought of doing the work to get there makes me want to gouge out my eyeballs with an ice cream scoop. There are just too many other things I’d rather do with my coveted free time.
Still, it’s that inner tug of war that drives me nuts: clean house good, cleaning house bad. This spells trouble when you consider that I have chosen to be the stay-at-home parent/de facto housekeeper while my husband attempts to make a living. I’ll admit that privately. But if he should dare comment on the fact that the tomatoes in the back of the refrigerator appear to have sprouted hair like Dog the Bounty Hunter on a bad day, look out.
Thanks to this happy little vicious cycle, I’ve become obsessed with the different ways people fight their housekeeping demons. I’ve secretly observed friends and family members in their own environs. I’ve done my research. And before I go on, I should warn you that I am not a licensed psychologist (although I’d like to think that years of therapy count for something).
With that caveat in mind, and with the generous help of real, live professionals, I offer the results of my field studies:
The Five Housekeeping Hangups
1. BASKETCASE. You have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to mess in your house, which makes you constantly edgy, and life miserable for everyone around you.
EXPERT ADVICE: The experts agree: something is seriously out of whack here. “Get a life. Find an exciting hobby. Get a personal makeover,” says Jodi Stoner, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the book, Good Manners Are Contagious. Stacey Crew, author of The Organized Mom, says you shouldn’t forget what’s important: “From an organizing standpoint there needs to be a place for everything, but a family also needs an opportunity to relax and enjoy the space.” And Steven Sultanoff, a clinical psychologist who specializes in therapeutic humor, expresses concern that the obsession with organization may mask a larger problem. “You may have a mess free environment, but at what cost?”
2. CO-DEPENDENT. You’re the household martyr, too busy cleaning up after everyone else to worry about your own needs.
EXPERT ADVICE: “Co-dependents do for others in order to please themselves,” says Sultanoff, who suggests that the obsession with cleaning up after others represents a misplaced sense of fulfillment. “As a parent, it’s our duty to prepare our kids to take care of themselves when they are out on their own,” Crew adds. “By picking up after them, you’re missing the teaching moments.”
3. IN DENIAL. You maintain a constant but superficial level of order in your home, wagering that no one will open any closet doors.
EXPERT ADVICE: These types are only kidding themselves, says Stoner. “The inside of your closet speaks more about who you really are.” Crew adds that they’re ignoring real “housekeeping” and living in chaos, which stresses out the entire family. Her advice: “Set a goal of a few hours a week to work on organizing, perhaps starting with a few full-day Saturdays to make a big initial impact.”
4. SPLIT PERSONALITY. When not entertaining, you let the house become a pigsty. But hours before a dinner party, you have a panic attack trying to scrape calcified Pop Tart off your carpet.
EXPERT ADVICE: “Some balance is needed here … Hiding a dirty little secret will only keep you feeling guilty and self conscious,” says Crew. Stoner suggests enlisting the help of your spouse and kids, pronto. “Chores give all family members a sense of belonging by contributing to the family's well being and teaching children responsibility,” she says.
5. DELUSIONAL. You aren’t willing to admit your house is a wreck until you toss a Yellow Pages on your computer desk and it finally pancakes from all the weight.
EXPERT ADVICE: It doesn’t look good. “Until this personality type says, ‘I’m Jane and I’m a hoarder,’ there’s little hope,” warns Crew. “On a serious note, start with a therapist and an organizing expert who specializes in hoarding.”
Although I’m a card-carrying member of the “In Denial” approach to housecleaning, I’ve identified with almost all of these types at various points in my life. And maybe that says something about me.
That’s probably why I found Sultanoff’s advice most comforting. “All the types have an underlying assumption that having a mess is bad and therefore it makes you bad. There is huge difference between wanting order and having to have order,” he notes. “[You should] want order and accept mess. Life is not perfect and neither are you.”
Bethany Young Hardy is a mom, writer, and public relations consultant. Her experience includes political, nonprofit, and healthcare communications.