Every once in a while, I feel bad about my house.
I have a lovely house. I am thankful for it.
But it’s not Pinterest-worthy. It’s rarely even Instragram-worthy. I look at pictures of my friends’ homes on social media, with their perfect, unblemished walls, and I wonder whether they repainted just last week.
I have to remind myself of something frequently:
Anytime you have 9 people in a space most of the day, especially when 7 of those people are children and one is a man, you will have messes.
My house resembles a school, a youth hostel, a cafeteria. Most of my friends have 1-2 kids, or none at all. There simply is no comparison.
No, this is not a used shoe store. It (was) my foyer. Clearly, getting the shoes ONTO the shoe rack is too difficult.
All too frequently, I hear myself saying aloud, “I’m tired of cleaning up messes I didn’t make!“.
There are remnants of smudgy, strawberry-jellied handprints on my walls, doors and windows. (Children younger than 12 cannot seem to stop themselves from touching walls all day long.) And the memories of Magic Eraser-ed crayon. And stickers I attempted, with varying degrees of success, to remove.
There are black scuff marks on the (white) risers on my stairs. (Whose bright idea was it to paint stair risers WHITE? When we buy a house, if we have stairs, I will paint the risers a nice deep grey.)
My white bookshelves have tea and coffee rings on them from family members who, despite my
constant nagging loving reminders, insist on putting drippy mugs on them, leaving instant and life-long stains.
(Clearly, all my furniture and walls need to be a creamy coffee color and all this could be avoided.)
Cute sofa cushions refuse to stay put because children use them to build forts and hit each other. Rather than just sitting down, they sort of catapult themselves onto couches.
The kitchen is never clean for more than 10 minutes, and don’t you dare try to put a piece of paper down on the countertops, it will be covered with some sticky substance because the person who last made tea/poured wine didn’t wipe it down afterwards.
(And that person is NOT ME, people.)
If I want my floors to be clean, they have to be swept THREE times a day, not once like normal people’s. Mopping? Once DAILY, not once weekly.
My dining room table, long enough to easily serve as an operating table for a 10-foot-tall man, is a Pollock-esque conglomeration of fork stab-holes, kids’ paint stains, Sharpie and other mystery art tools.
All of this makes me feel as if there is something terribly wrong with me. So I examine myself.
Am I lazy? No. Am I a terrible housekeeper? No. Am I totally disorganized or have too much clutter? No.
So, pray tell, why is my house messier than other people’s?
Recently, my perspective on this changed.
My family went to look at a house. (Makes sense, since we’re currently in the market to buy a home.)
We found one in the perfect location. It was big: 6 bedrooms. The pictures on Zillow looked lovely. The yard was awesome. It was semi-private but still close to everything. The price was right.
Then we opened the door and went inside.
The first thing that hit me was the smell of the vanilla candle whose purpose was clearly (attempting) to cover the smell of urine in the carpet.
The laminated wood floor, clearly a badly-done DIY job, was filled with gaps and badly bowed in the middle of the living room. The carpet, filthy. The kitchen walls, painted with chalkboard paint, thick with chalkboard dust.
We walked into a converted garage and I realized this was a homeschooling family (which made me feel bad immediately – do people think homeschoolers are this dirty? we have enough negative stereotypes to overcome), and this was the schoolroom. And several children lived here, because their names were on the wall (we counted 4).
I told the realtor, personal friends of ours, that my house has never been this dirty. Even with 7 kids. Even after I give birth. Even when I’m exhausted. Even when my preemie was in the NICU.
It was a total mess. Clutter covered every surface. Half-finished projects in every room. (How bad did it look when they weren’t trying to sell it and having total strangers walk through?)
We go upstairs to the bedrooms. There were underwear all over the floor (that clearly belonged to a child old enough to clean up after himself), dilapidated dressers falling apart, stickers on the walls, writing on furniture.
The realtor commented to me, “this looks like the home of a hoarder“. My reply? “Or, someone suffering from depression.”
This was the home of a woman who has given up and allowed herself to sink under the rising tide of kid mess and clutter.
I haven’t given up. I clean up the inevitable large family messes.
This wasn’t a family living in poverty (not that that would excuse dirtiness, poor people can and do keep things clean), because they had expensive, new-looking trucks in the driveway. And homeschooling costs money (they had plenty of curriculum and electronics, keyboards, computers, and a huge flat-screen TV) too. That wasn’t it.
For some reason, the homemaker here had realized at some point that she was grossly outnumbered, and simply gave up.
That made me sad.
I sometimes feel like I’m shoveling snow in a blizzard, or brushing my teeth while eating Oreos.
But still, I fight the mess and clutter. And I teach my children to clean up after themselves, and why it’s important to do so (that we represent homeschoolers, and Christians, and large families, and that people will make judgements about those groups when they see our behavior).
I make them clean their rooms. I make them do their chores. I make them help clean out the van. They don’t enjoy any of it.
Life is messy, clean it up, I say. God is one, not of disorder, but of peace. What if the solar system operated in such a chaotic fashion? Suck it up, Buttercup. You made this mess, clean it up. You didn’t make this mess? So what? Have I ever cleaned up after you/cooked for you/earned money for you? Well there you go.
Yes, I’m outnumbered. Yes, I care more about keeping things neat and clean than any other member of my family.
But I’m certainly not giving up.
And I’m not judging this mom. Maybe she is suffering from depression. Maybe she has ill health. Maybe she and her family just don’t care about mess. Whatever, man.
I would point out, however, that if they are trying to sell their home, they won’t be successful unless they clean things up or halve the price! I was also slightly ticked that the pictures told a false story and wasted my family’s and the realtor’s time! Not cool.
I had the overwhelming urge when in that house, to grab a box of trash bags and begin decluttering and cleaning. As I’ve often said, if I were to ever start a brick-and-mortar business, it would be Professional Declutter, like Marie Kondo.
But I’m not going to feel bad anymore about my imperfect, not-as-clean-as-I’d like-it-to-be house.
There’s a whole lotta people in this house, and they do a whole lotta livin’.
My husband, who is in other people’s homes every day in his business, tells me that our house isn’t bad.
And now I believe him.
Related: Decluttering = happier kids