My husband is neat freak. He hates clutter, piles, dust, . . .anything that is out of its place. He tells our kids that if they don’t play with their toys, they should just throw them away, then – out of the same mouth – he tells them that if they leave toys out that they have played with, he will throw THOSE away. One time, he was trying to wash a quart sized pot but found it too difficult so he threw it away. For the first few years of marriage, whenever he would clean, he would basically take his long arms and sweep whatever was left out into the trash. I think he thought that if he did this enough, that I and the kids would learn our lesson and put everything away after using it. Of course, he didn’t know what he was up against.
My family didn’t care enough about having a clean house to actually clean it. In my mind, I wanted to live in the kind of house where you opened the door whenever people stopped by unannounced – but in actuality, we hated cleaning more. Instead, if someone knocked on the door, we would sit in silence until they went away. However, we knew enough to try to hide this about ourselves. Some people will gladly be real and dirty in front of whoever wants to see. I believe that this issue is very near to the root of my natural inclination to be fake. Don’t let people see the imperfections. Don’t let them see the truth. Control your image.
While there is a fundamental flaw here just by virtue of being fake, a side effect of this lifestyle is that I spent 20+ years, practicing to be dirty. I did not go into my marriage with the values or the ability to exercise cleanliness. Most young couples fight about money or sex. We fought about clutter. Knock down drag out fights would occur because I didn’t care about picking up after myself and he couldn’t be content if a dish was left in the sink.
Clean or dirty? Is it natural or nurtured? Both of my kids rooms would be totally messy if it were left completely up to them. When I think about what my parents taught me about cleaning, I remember a cute (yet sneaky) trick, my mom would do with us kids.
In an effort to entice us into cleaning, mom would occasionally make up a huge and very detailed list of very specific chores that we could do for pennies. It might look something like this:
Clean the front bathroom mirror .07 cents
Clean the bathroom counter .23 cents
Put away all the books .11 cents
Empty the back bathroom trash .06 cents
Dust the living room .19 cents
There would be a grand list and every time one of us completed a task, she would inspect and we would get credit for the pennies allotted for that chore. At the end of a very long day of cleaning, she would divvy out the pennies (and we really did get paid in pennies) and then she would act like “the bank” and change our pennies into dollars and silver coins. We could earn as much or as little as we wanted although I don’t remember there being a choice to NOT do chores at all. This little incentive program would be fun and we might make upwards of 3 bucks for a whole days’ worth of child labor! 😉
What I did learn from this process was how to break down a large task. You see, my mom would never put “clean the bathroom” because that would result in me, sitting on the bathroom floor, wondering how to start, being overwhelmed by the daunting task, muttering to myself “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” and eventually just playing with the dirty clothes and empty toilet paper rolls – then after an hour or so, the bathroom would still be as dirty as ever. But “wiping the mirror” was definitely doable.
I used this technique to teach my kids how to clean their rooms pretty much as soon as they could walk. One task at a time. They don’t earn money for cleaning (which is probably why their rooms are dirty more than they are clean.) Josh has eased up a little and I pick up every now and again and I think we are both better people for finding the middle ground. And if you stop by my house unannounced, I will open the door, pleased at how there’s only a few socks on the floor and a sink full of dishes and Josh will be mortified.