I have always wanted to be a good housekeeper. I visit friends whose houses are clean and clutter-free and envy them, like a far-reaching star that I just admire. My pattern is typically this: a super-clean house for a day, then three days of “oh dear, I really need to get to that,” then a total nightmare where I don’t want neighbors stopping by for muffins. At that point I drop off my children at school, roll up my sleeves, and clean it like we all just might be licking icing off the travertine. We go in three-day cycles of sparkling and disaster around here, and when it gets too much I just call in the professionals. My lovely housekeeper, Esther, doesn’t speak much English and no matter how many jugs of Meyers cleaning spray I set on the counter I still get notes that say “buy more Tilex!!” and “pick up before, maybe?” I honestly don’t know why she even deals with me anymore.
My ex-husband was very neat. His sink never had toothpaste residue, his counters clean. He put his clothes in the hamper and rinsed out his dishes. It just never occurred to him that if you get something out of a certain place that it would be returned anywhere but there. That is really admirable, if you ask me. And when I stood there smiling and shining with a roast chicken and root vegetables on a platter in my hands, he would glance behind me and see the gravity of what was left behind. Pans and open containers and a stickiness abounding. But I made a homemade gravy! And there’s apple pie for dessert! It’s like I couldn’t ever really see it, or was too focused to pay attention, and when I feel the call to write or read or garden or make a care package for a friend on a random Wednesday, picking up the house was just not on my radar. This life is so short, and making beds seems like an incredible waste of time when there’s mantles to be arranged with pumpkins.
So I sigh and look around me now, piles of papers and cereal bowls in the sink. There is laundry to be done and things to be folded and I just wish for a moment that I put more of a priority on the business of housekeeping. That I made a few less banana muffins and a few more runs with a mop over the kitchen floor. The truth is that I don’t want to be this way. I wish there was a course at the local community college about how to maintain your house more efficiently, or put as much priority on laundry as one does on reading books, because I am a living example to my children, who see me singing and dancing and writing chalkboard sayings in the kitchen with seven pairs of shoes strung around the floor. And if there’s a dinner party to be had, I’m focused on the table décor without much thought given to the state of the countertops.
When I quit my job a while back, I tried to improve upon this. I did somewhat. I had more time during the day to load and wash and sterilize and scrub. But now that I’m looking to go back to work it’s going to be up to poor Esther again, sighing and telling me to buy more Tilex.
We are all born with certain talents. Some motivate and others encourage. Some are good listeners and others lead. And as women we have this feeling of worth that’s connected with an orderly home, as if we must succeed at this or we are failures in our God-given roles. Well I’m born with many talents, but keeping a perfect home isn’t one of them. I can barely get my kid’s t-shirts run through the wash, and we are often searching for keys and lost shoes. But what I have come to accept is that my worth is not tied to the state of my bathroom sink, although it does get gross and seriously, can I not just bust out a washcloth from time to time, or learn to put my make-up in a drawer?
So I’ve started to give my daughter simple chores, and we try to have clean races and sweeping parties, and I’m going to wake up every new day trying to be a better example to my children as a housekeeper. But I’m going to fail at times, and that’s okay. Because pretty soon I’m going downstairs to make that kitchen sparkle. Just as soon as I finish writing, editing, calling my bestie, and drinking coffee. Immediately after I read a few more chapters, pay some bills, check on how my carrots are coming up, and take a hot shower. Then, really. You’d be so proud. It will smell like Pine-Sol and Fall harvest up in here.
Deficiencies are just areas to improve upon with every day, the way I see it. They are not flaws that eat us alive. So loosen the grip on guilt at whatever you’re not perfect at, and realize that you make up for it in other ways. Then roll up your sleeves and get to work, whether it be practicing the violin or making beds or writing or cooking dinner, because there is always some bit of sparkle at the end of the rainbow. And that holds us over for a while — the constant struggle to improve, the glory of overcoming, and the feeling that you’ve put yourself back together, one dish and folded towel at a time.