Cleanliness/godliness/nature/nurture

Holy shit, I have a high tolerance for uncleanliness. Not with myself–I shower daily, wear clean clothes and wash them regularly. And not with food related things–I always put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and clean the table after I eat. But everything else. I have a shit ton of stuff on the dining room table (that’s in the kitchen because we don’t have space for it in the dining room of our too small house). Papers, cards, pens, unopened mail, untouched magazine, my bamboo flute I want to practice, etc. There is dog hair all over the shit brown carpeting in the living room. (Honestly, who the fuck puts dark brown carpeting in their house?) There are throw blankets hanging off all the furniture because it’s always cold in this house right now since we turned off the heat. (It’s spring after all.) Sometimes the blankets are on the floor. There is a stack of New York Times sitting next to me that takes up nearly all the space on the small end table. There is incense ash, dust, cat hair, dog hair, aspen wood chips on the floor upstairs as well as Timothy hay pieces (that’s where the guinea pigs live, obviously). Some days it makes me crazy, but generally it doesn’t. 

Part of that is the shithole we live in. Now, I try to remain grateful for having a roof over our head. I don’t want to take that for granted and the fact that it’s so close to work I can walk there, which is really nice. However. We have literally unpacked maybe 15% of our boxes. There are boxes stacked throughout this house. One entire room is being used as storage. The house is old (built in the 1870s); it has brown fucking carpeting; it is small. And cleaning it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference because you still have brown carpeting, it still feels dark and depressing, and there are still packed boxes lining most of the walls. We have framed photos and paintings leaning against walls, our queen box spring for the guest room is leaning against the wall behind the television in the living room. Basically, we live in a storage unit.

(On a side note, I have come to hate carpeting with a white hot intensity. I would be happy to never have it another of my homes. I don’t know if that will be possible, but I’m trying to weed out carpeted homes as often as I can during our current house search.)

In our Illinois home, a house I loved, I enjoyed cleaning because I loved the house and making sure it looked great. I didn’t clean it daily or weekly even (though with dogs and cats, I probably should), but it was a beautiful house that only looked better when the papers were recycled and the dust bunnies were swept away. 

When I look around my current rental, I think, “My mother would die if she saw the state of this place.” My beloved mom is a clean freak. She has lessened her militancy about cleaning as she’s gotten older and dealt with health issues, but she is still more militant than I have ever been. She grew up with a strict cleaning regime–there was to be no sitting or resting until all the house was cleaned and all the chores complete. This routine has lasted her entire life and she told me during our most recent visit that she literally cannot sit and relax if there is work to be done. My stepdad has no problem sitting for hours reading a book or watching a tv show while my mom is literally breaking a sweat while mopping the floor or doing the laundry or cleaning the closets or sewing new curtains. He’ll reprimand her for working too much and tell her to sit down and relax and she simply cannot do it. The only thing that sidelines her from keeping up this habit on occasion is her health. Sometimes she hurts too much or is dealing with chemo side effects so that moving around the house becomes difficult. But the moment she’s feeling even a bit better, she’s up and cleaning. It’s not until 7:30pm or so, when everything is done, that she’s ready to relax with the newspaper and television. Often she falls asleep while trying to enjoy these two things.

She was like this when I was a kid too, of course, more so because she was in the prime of her health, but once she left my dad, and I moved in with him and my brother, cleanliness of the house took a backseat. Not that it was terrible. I do recall the bathroom getting a bit disgusting (because no one wanted to clean the bathroom…ick) and I recall the place where my dad would stack the firewood left all sorts of small wood pieces behind that no one bothered picking up. I suppose part of this is laziness, too. 

And then I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house, who lived just down the hill from me. She had a house full of dogs and the fleas that went along with them. For a long, long time, I thought fleas were an inevitable part of having dogs, and they did not bother me at all when I was at her house, even when they landed on me or when I saw a them crawling around on the snout of one of the dogs with white fur. (Today, I would lose my shit if we got fleas–happily we’ve never had them in the house, knock on wood, but we always treat our dogs for them.) There were cobwebs and dust bunnies in grandma’s house and dust and dog hair and ashtrays with cigarette butts and ash. And the counter that was in her dining room was overflowing with papers–so much mail, so many magazines…just everything. It all got stacked on that counter until it was mountainous. I look back on it now and I’m perplexed at how I absorbed that stacking method of “organization” as my own without even realizing it. Osmosis.

I don’t know why I didn’t become more like my mom with her inability to sit still if the house wasn’t clean–I witnessed that throughout my life. Perhaps since she was doing the work, she allowed me to go have fun, allowing me to disassociate the need for a clean house before relaxation. She didn’t have that luxury growing up and she wanted me and my brother to have a very different childhood than she did.

And also, I take after my grandmother in many, many ways. From the way my body is built, to my love of statement jewelry, to me my efforts of developing an eye-catching personal style (my grandmother once wore a fantastic yellow suit and slayed it…not many people would wear yellow from head to toe. And she probably got the outfit from Goodwill.), to my love of dogs and my love of naps. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I would start stacking all sorts of crap on the dining room table.

But this is something I need to work against, for my own sanity. This is where I need to ask, What Would Mom Do? And I already know, the answer is not Take A Nap.

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