Good Housekeeping: Totally Slobtastic Slackermom Edition

March 20, 2009

If you were ever to visit my neighborhood, I would love for you to drop by. I’d be thrilled to see you, and I would totally invite you onto my verandah, and I would fix us up a nice pot of coffee and we would sit outside and eat cupcakes – fresh from the bakery down the street – and drink our coffee and chat. Or maybe it would be, like, late afternoon or evening and I would bust out the wine and the cheese and we would sit outside and enjoy the sunset and it would be lovely, really, just perfectly lovely. But I’d really hope that you wouldn’t ask to use the bathroom. Because I’d really kind of rather you not come in my house.

It’s not that I have anything against you, or that I have weird bathroom issues. It’s just that, you know, if you’d just dropped by? And I hadn’t had enough notice to do a total sweep of the house in advance of your visit? I just would totally not want you to come inside. Because, really, it usually looks something like this:


That’s what it looks like, all the time. Worse even. That room at the back? That’s supposed to be the dining room. Needless to say, we don’t do a lot of dining there. We actually moved the table out so that there’d be more room for things like, say, easels and chalkboards and paints. Also, giant stuffed cows and little plastic grocery carts. The piano is there, just off to the right, and it does get played, but it also functions as a toy shelf and Dora puzzle storage unit.

Oh, we try to keep it tidy. Two or three times a day I shove toys and books and miscellaneous child crap into the various baskets that you see strewn about. Then I vacuum. And then the room looks clean for about fifteen minutes before Jasper and/or Emilia begin upturning baskets and flinging toys everywhere again.

And then it looks something like this:

And this isn’t even the worst room. If I, in a fit of transparency, let you in the front door, I still wouldn’t let you up the stairs. That’s where I hide the real mess: the piles of laundry, the unpacked suitcases (seriously), the random pieces of barely used baby equipment, the children. The bathroom is also upstairs, which is why, if you mentioned a need to use the facilities, I might suddenly suggest that we head to the cafe around the corner. For cookies! They make the best cookies! Also, their restroom doesn’t have childrens’ toothpaste smeared across the vanity mirror, and they probably actually put the toilet paper on the roll.

It’s a losing battle for me, keeping house. I just can’t do it. I have a ten-month old baby who is just starting to walk and using his newfound mobility to seek out things to scatter and destroy, and a three-year old who loves nothing more than to mark her territory by spreading toys and books as far as she can see. And I have a husband who has trouble figuring out the relationship between socks and sock drawers and two cats who have an enthusiastic affection for dragging miscellaneous crap underneath sofas and leaving it there to collect dust. It is Sisyphean, I tell you, the work of managing a household while tending to two very small children and a tidiness-challenged husband. It is impossible, and unavoidable, and necessary, and it causes me no end of stress.

Derrida and Bukowski get tossed and stomped. Not shown: destruction of the lesser post-modernists and later dirty realists.

I can look at pictures, in magazines, of skinny mom-celebs – the Gwyneths, the Angelinas – and it doesn’t bother me, because, please. I know the work of a trainer and a private chef when I see it. But I see images of tidy homes – homes that are ostensibly occupied by families, by people with children – and it makes me a little bit crazy. Because even though I know that images in magazines are set-decorated and fluffed and faked, it still worries me, the idea that somewhere out there, other parents are keeping their homes tidy. I do not, and cannot, keep my own home in a state that even approximates something that even resembles a simulation of ‘tidy.’ And I have no idea how to change that. If I really wanted to lose my muffin-top, I would join a gym or do that shred thing and I would have some reasonable expectation of having some success. But getting my house organized? And keeping it that way? Figuring out the alchemical formula for turning cat turds into gold seem seems a more attainable goal for me.

So I’m trying to come to terms with it, in the same way that I have been trying to come to terms with the muffin-top. Embrace my outer slob, as it were. And it would really, really help if somebody – anybody – out there would stand up and to admit to some slobbiness, too. You don’t have to post photographic evidence (although if you wanted to do that, I’d be really impressed. And grateful.) (Here’s a Flickr group to post to, if you’re so inclined.) Even just a show of hands? Anyone else out there losing the battle of the mess? Anybody else pretty much just ready to surrender?

If not, that’s fine. You’re still welcome to come visit me. Just make sure that you pee before you get here.

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    { 177 comments }

    Heather March 20, 2009 at 9:32 am

    This is my house on a GOOD day. I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t seem to make it all work at once.
    My girls are healthy, happy and well fed. My house is a mess. It’s a combination I can live with, though I’m not exactly thrilled with 100% of the time.

    Jozet at Halushki March 20, 2009 at 9:32 am

    This makes sad. I’m sad because I hear so so so so many women – my friends, my friends who I talk to about periods and poops and vomit – my friends who I know are beautiful writers and funny gals and insightful and creative and even grumbly and sarcastic and real pills, and all who I’d love to spend an afternoon with – we don’t any of us invite each other over because we think our particular brand of chaos will be too much, and that our friends won’t want to be friends anymore or that they’ll whisper or think badly….

    And that’s just not true.

    Listen, I’ve sat in a home with a sheep in the corner and stacks of old Life magazines raised to the roofs and had one of the most lovely afternoons ever. I LIKE looking at other people’s clutter. I don’t care about toothpaste on the sink, for heaven’s sake, I’m okay with using outhouses with raccoons in them.

    I know that this doesn’t help anyone’s self consciousness over Their Mess. But honestly…I’m tired of pretending the way I was tired of trying to get my hair to feather perfectly in 8th grade.

    So invite me in. I’ll invite you in. Dammit.

    Here. My tender white underbelly: http://www.halushki.com/2009/02/wordless-wednesday.html

    Anonymous March 20, 2009 at 9:36 am

    You are not alone, I have this poem framed and hanging in my home.

    Excuse This House:

    Some houses try to hide the fact
    That childen shelter there,
    Ours boasts of it quite openly,
    The signs are every where!

    For smears are on the windows,
    Little smudges on the doors.
    I should appologize I guess
    For toys strewn on the floor.

    But I sat down with the children
    And we played and laughed and read,
    And if the door bell doesn’t shine
    Their eyes will shine instead!

    And when at times I’m freed to choose
    The one job or the other,
    I want to be a home maker
    But first I’ll be a mother.

    Major Bedhead March 20, 2009 at 9:37 am

    You have no idea how happy it makes me to read this post and all the comments that follow. My house looks pretty much like yours, minus a piano. It’s a mess. 2 toddlers, a teenager, a totally oblivious husband, a dog and a cat and my house could be a federal disaster area. It’s awful and it makes me crazy and makes me weep tears of frustration on a regular basis. I don’t like living in such a mess but I don’t know how to keep up with it either. I don’t have the money to hire a cleaner, so it’s all up to me. I hate it. I don’t want to be Martha Stewart, I just want some semblance of tidiness, y’know? Just a smidgeon.

    Pgoodness March 20, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Yeah, uh, I can’t even invite you on my deck right now, as it is an un-sealed, toy splattered mess. But at least it matches the rest of the house!
    I spent 5 hours cleaning the playroom the other day. FIVE HOURS.

    This morning I got up, looked around at the kitchen and boys rooms and the volcano of laundry and went WTF HAPPENED???

    So I feel ya. I posted pictures on twitter the other day of the playroom. It was frightening.

    Shannon Orestis March 20, 2009 at 9:42 am

    The mere mention of someone coming over puts me in a panic… and yet…. it’s not getting any cleaner at this rate… better log off and get on with the housework.. that NEVER ENDS!!!! It’s quite the point of contention, but no one around here is willing to let go of any of their clutter, so it all just piles up and up and up and there is no end to the stress, shame and mayhem. (Not to mention the constant judgment from those who have no kids and look down their noses at those of us who can’t manage to keep it all spick and span… Don’t get me started!

    Susanne March 20, 2009 at 9:46 am

    So, first I’ll recommend flylady.net to you. Don’t be fooled by the slightly weird appearance, or the over-the-top cheerfulness, the system is actually very good. And helps to deal with the day-to-day chaos, and toothpaste on the mirrors.

    Second, nobody with children will mind things on the floor because we all have it.

    Third, right now I’m trying to vacuum the house for the first time in three weeks. (Not much success as you can see, but I will do it some time today.)

    Fourth, I’m sorry that I can’t show you any before pictures of my son’s room. We spent about two hours sorting, and throwing away last weekend. Afterwards you could feel the whole family breathe out in relief. Also, there’s an actual floor in his room. Who would have thought!

    I also remember the time when he started to walk and pulling everything out as the worst in this respect (and I only have one child). We were constantly moving things back, or putting them on top of all the furniture. Nice look.

    Hand in there. You’re not alone at all.

    Mary Helen March 20, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Your house looks cleaner than mine. And for me, the kitchen is worse than the bathrooms.

    Plus, there are toys EVERYWHERE. There is not ONE room in my house that doesn’t contain toys. I would kill for a playroom where I could at least pretend all the toys would be put away.

    I tell myself that if I could just stay home from work for a couple of days, sans kids, I could actually get caught up. But it never happens. I hate it.

    Thank you for admitting that there are others out there like me.

    moodswingingmommy March 20, 2009 at 9:49 am

    I hear you, but right now mine is worse. Last week my F**&^% MIL asked me for the Windex to wipe the kid handprints off the windows. NExt she suggested she come over for a day to play with the kids while I cleaned my house…or that I get a cleaning lady. Bitch! (Thanks for letting me rant. We all feel your pain!)

    Jen March 20, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I’ve got a busy three year old, an autistic eight year old, an oblivious husband and a never ending battle with a desire to never throw anything away. My house is NEVER neat. I also have a mother who lives less than a mile away and it totally ocd about keeping neat. (She freaks out if a couch cushion is out of place.) It’s led to lots of stress and some not so fun conversations. I should direct her to this post. She’s pretty sure I’m the only mother with toys on her living room floor and school papers on her dining room table.

    Amanda March 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

    My mother (god love her) kept the most tidy house I had ever seen when we were kids. I have no idea on this earth how she did it (maybe because she is obsessive compulsive). I know that if I ever have kids there is no way that I’m going to find the time to vacuum the whole house daily and clean up every single little mess.

    Even though I grew up with Mrs. Clean for the life of me I don’t know how she kept things that way!

    NES March 20, 2009 at 10:02 am

    I’ve taken pictures just like these. I’ve felt compelled to – like I need to punish myself for the OMG-this-is-awfulness of it all by creating documentary evidence. I’ve never had the courage to out myself by posting them, though. You’re courageous, and you have lots of commiseration!

    Anyabeth March 20, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Oh mine is at least that bad if not worse. And I only have one child. If you invited me over I would tell you how much I loved your house. And I would mean it.

    Sarah March 20, 2009 at 10:05 am

    You mean everybody’s house doesn’t look like that? Oh man. I pick up messes all day and the kids just keep making more. And the whole bookshelf thing, I’m starting to wonder if having books out is really worth it with my third hellion. Who cares if people know if we read or not. Which reminds me, I have people coming over tonight, CRAP.

    TheOtherJennifer March 20, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Dust will always be there. The kids will not always be small. You have their whole teenage years to have a clean house and exercise.

    I don’t think anyone here would even care…and might put a book or two back on the shelf on the way to the bathroom.

    anna March 20, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Thank you for this. I am having a really bad day of cranky kids and total chaos and it’s nice to see that I’m not alone. I hate going to my friends’ houses and seeing immaculate floors, clean counters, spotless rooms. It just doesn’t happen here.

    Bad Mummy March 20, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Oh, I am there. Right now a friend is heading over to help me deal with the crap. I’m purging all kinds of stuff, but it’s the getting it together and to its destination that gets to me. In an ideal world, I’d be able to have a six-hour window in which everyone could come get their stuff: The kid carrier/backpack destined for Peterborough. The hand-me-ons for the superstitious friend who doesn’t want baby stuff in the house until baby is born in July. The piles of baby clothes destined for the consignment store and the clothing swaps. It all needs to go.

    I would love a group effort…we team clean all the houses, one at a time.

    liz March 20, 2009 at 10:19 am

    My hand is up like a total Hermione. My house is generally worse than what you’ve got there and I don’t have a just-started walker or a cat.

    Sherry March 20, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I had to step over couch cushions, a prone child and her toy laptop, and a bunch of crap from the Barbie Diamond Castle just to get to my desk to read this post. After I comment, I’m going to go kick a few stray toys under the couch and toss the rest haphazardly onto the shelves at the other end of the living room, but then I’m closing the door to the kids’ room and calling my day done.

    My goal of having a tidy home is unattainable at this point unless I’m willing to spend 85% of my day cleaning up after two kids. My new goal is going to be to just try to keep things to the point where I can maybe have it presentable within 15 minutes if someone is coming over.

    Maybe.

    Magpie March 20, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I laughed out loud when I got to the second picture, with the cat front and center.

    My house goes in waves – mostly because my husband is a neat freak of epic proportion and will not countenance disorder. So when he’s not home, all hell breaks loose. Then he comes home and puts everything away. Except in the child’s bedroom, which is a minefield.

    Cheryl March 20, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I can’t remember the last time we kept toilet paper on the roll. I mean, we have it in rolls, but we never hang it up on the little toilet-paper-hanger-thingy, because someone inevitabley grabs an end and races through the house with it. We have to keep our rolls out of reach of shorter people. It seems kind of normal, now.

    Karen Sugarpants March 20, 2009 at 10:21 am

    that is pretty freaking normal for most of us I think. it got better for me once my kids were older, plus my husband is an anal clean freak at times so i have that on my side i guess. (when he gets bitchy about the clutter tho, i want to strangle him)

    Miguelina. March 20, 2009 at 10:30 am

    You vacuum every day? Wow. I’m impressed.

    I used to have those pretty wicker baskets – and the boys would flip them over 20 times a day. Now I have those cheap sterilite boxes from Target (the ones with the tops and locks) and I let the kids open one each at a time. It’s helped a lot. But I don’t vacuum everyday, so you’re not allowed to look under my couch.

    Her Bad Mother March 20, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Miguelina: I HAVE to vacuum every day. The baby has an extraordinary scouting talent and will put any stray piece of crap in his mouth so there needs to be a full floor sweep multiple times a day lest he find that one furball or elastic band or doll shoe and shove it in his mouth.

    It’s exhausting, I tell you. EXHAUSTING.

    Amo March 20, 2009 at 10:38 am

    I JUST had this conversation with a friend on the phone while I scraped permanent marker off the dining room table! Yes, it is called permanent for a reason, but enough scrubbing will remove it…along with the finish, but whatever. Kids live here! If I wanted a nice house, I would run away from home.

    Did you read my post about when the welcome wagon lady came to visit? I would post it here, but it feels too cheeky to do such a thing. It would certainly make you feel better about your ‘mild clutter’. (If you want to read it, email me.) Seriously, I had a beer bottle in a candle holder on the front porch that I didn’t know about.

    louralann March 20, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I have absolutely no excuse. I have no kids, no husband (or boyfriend), a very very very clean almost analy so room mate and 2 cats. Yet for the life of me I can not clean my house.

    My poor room mate cleans, almost every day. She does the dishes, the bathroom, she cleans the kitty litter.

    The only room she does not clean is my bedroom. Subsequently for a while..I had a literal pathway to my bed. So on tuesday I went on a cleaning frenzy. I did 7..yes count them 7 people!! 7 loads of laundry!! (I had run out of undies AND socks…I was getting desperate). I also picked up my entire room, moved furniture around, cleaned all the crap OFF the dressers…and shoved them into, but at least it’s out of sight..right?

    I have no excuse….and I need a maid.

    Baxter March 20, 2009 at 10:49 am

    I have had to let it go I guess, it really bothers me too. I can’t sit still, I just try and organize pile after pile. I have one less child, two additional cats and a 130 pound dog. In about 900 square feet ….

    Megan@SortaCrunchy March 20, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Oh thank you. I’ll happily join in the slobtasticness of this club. I have an 18 month and a 4 year old and it’s truly like shoveling snow in a snowstorm trying to keep things picked up. I do two clutter sweeps a day – once at naptime and once right before Hubs walks through the door (mostly just to clear a path from the front door to the back of the house).

    Life is too short and too tenuous. I’d take a kid-cluttered house over the alternative (sudden silence in the absence of little hands and loud voices) any day.

    Jane @ What About Mom? March 20, 2009 at 10:56 am

    I posted pictures awhile back, and was surprised by the comments I got (both grateful/supportive, and a few mean).

    Katherine March 20, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Yep, same problem. I’d just make everyone take their tea and cakes in the bathroom as it’s the only room that’s “done”. I have done Ikea, got the storage solution boxes and my house is still horrific…c’est la vie!

    Goldfish March 20, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Well, there’s actually toothpaste smeared all over the roll of toilet paper, which is conveniently placed on the counter several feet away from the toilet. But! my kids occasionally peruse Bukowski, too. If it’s at the top of the pile of books that rarely make it back onto the shelf.

    Michelle March 20, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I agree with what some of the other commentors said. It is CLEAN, just not TIDY. I don’t know how it could be with small children.

    Sarcastica March 20, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I would totally take pictures of my untidiness for you, but I’ve lost my camera in the mess – seriously. I think it’s been missing since Christmas. I hope to find it when I move, cause it’s brand new.

    I fail too :)

    Beth Noel March 20, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Me too, sister. And what’s worse about my house is that we were one room into fixing it up when I got pregnant and just managed to get the baby room completed before his arrival. The rest of the house is in various states of ‘unfinished’ from splintery pine floors to wallpaperless, paintless walls. And then there is the couch we use just to put things on. And because our walls are bare and in serious need of spakle, there are always little pieces of wall on the floor and even if I sweep or vacuum every day, there is still grit and grime on the floor. And the cat hair everywhere and my hair everywhere.

    I’m glad to know there are others in the world who wonder how the eff people do this. Cuz I ask myself how every. day.

    Ashley March 20, 2009 at 11:18 am

    My house is clean ONCE per week. We do a top-to-bottom cleaning – with dusting, vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing – on one weekend morning. The rest of the time, my house looks “lived in”. Just like yours! We do a once/day toy sweep and general tidying once per day. But not every surface!

    If I was chasing crumbs and scrubbing floors constantly, what would I be giving up? Do my kids want mom = cleaner? Does my husband need a maid? I think a clean house is the LAST thing I’ll be thinking about on my death bed.

    So I think about other stuff instead.

    mek March 20, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Oh yes – this is also my house. Except with only one child. But the two cats, yes, and aren’t they the real problem?!

    What I’ve really been sitting here trying to figure out is which Norton Critical Edition Jasper has chosen. :)

    Kelly March 20, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Our house is a total of 1695 square feet. A mansion, no! This becomes a clutter problem in itself. Our kitchen table is too big, therefore no room in the kitchen for anything. Our living room furniture is too big. Toys, clean clothes in piles, jumparoos and a dog bed cover everything.

    Then there’s the kids rooms… UGH. Don’t get me started. I’d love to buy a larger house, unfortunately my house is worth only half of what we paid for it. My kids will be in college before I can move.

    Her Bad Mother March 20, 2009 at 11:35 am

    mek: that would be Middlemarch ;)

    marla March 20, 2009 at 11:43 am

    I am extremely close to someone who has been in the New Orleans home of one of your aforementioned celebrities and it is a pig stye…so no worries, life gets messy, I on the other hand am being stalked by a rather large and angry looking dust bunny right now…

    FishyGirl March 20, 2009 at 11:52 am

    My house is totally a disaster all the time. Your pics look tidy compared to the horror that is my house – you don’t have the crushed cheerios and carpet stains we have, even though I vacuum every couple of days if not every day. I figure I’ve got time to clean it up when they’re all in school together (of course, I’ll be back at work, but then! I can get a cleaning lady! and nobody will be here messing it up 55.4762 seconds after I clean it up!). No worries.

    JNo March 20, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you to “Bad Mother” and everyone else. I was feeling like such a failure as a wife, mother, housekeeper, (keep adding other titles) because our house it a pit. I just cannot keep up and if I have to choose between “mommy come play/snuggle with me” or dishes, folding laundry, whatever, I chose kid. Thank you for helping me feel like I’m NORMAL!

    daysgoby March 20, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    HERE! Standing up in support.

    If it’s not the kids flinging crap everywhere (thank GOD not literally) it’s the ancient old cat (who hates noisy children) who stress-craps.

    In the middle of the upstairs hall.

    In consistantly ONE place.

    We call her the ‘Indiscriminate Shitter’ and it’s my main fear that someday we’ll have someone over (the house, clean-ish) and suddenly from upstairs will waft the scent of ‘I may be old, but I still enjoy a good crap once in awhile’

    Out on the deck? I would be honored.

    MJMILLS March 20, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    My house looks like that too! Im glad Im not alone! I was starting to think how lazy and gross I was,,,my house is clean, but a mess!!!! There’s no way to work a fulltime job and cook, clean etc. Unless you have a nanny or something! YAY for messy houses and the fact that Im not the only one! YEEHAW

    barelyknittogether.com March 20, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Can I say it? I love you! How refreshing, how absolutely generous of you to let us in!
    I had a friend say she was jealous of my ability to let things go so I can play with my kids. I’m not sure how to take that.
    But anyway, since my blog is dedicated to making women realize they are not nearly as bad as they think they are, I’m totally posting pictures tomorrow. I will put you all to shame.
    All your mess are belong to ME!

    Miss Grace March 20, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    My house might be worse, because it’s me, a toddler, and a one bedroom apartment, so there’s a lot less space for the same amounts of CRAP ON THE FLOOR.

    hydrogeek March 20, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    My house looks at least this bad and I pay someone to clean every other Monday! I stays clean for about 3 minutes after the kids or my husband gets home. I’m trying to make peace with it, but I have a couple of friends with a kid each who DO have that house in the magazine with everything in its place. And then I have another friend with THREE kids and that house. I am an inferior housekeeper.

    Sarah March 20, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    About once a month or two I throw a screaming fit at my husband and two teenagers about the disgusting mess that is our home and they help me get it all clean. I spend the next week or so NEVER SITTING DOWN! So as to maintain the pretty clean. Nobody comes over, everyone is too busy to see us. At some point my husband says something along the lines of “Oh my God, please stop circling the room and SIT DOWN! So I do. And the house “throws up”. As soon as the house is good and dirty, my parents (or his mom) will drop in.

    Repeat.

    K.Line March 20, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    I can browse at 50 different gorgeous models without caring a whit that I don’t look like that. But show me a gorgeous, tasteful, clean room and I am a bundle of inadequacy. Kids are like the death of tidy! Good expose…

    Mommy Melee March 20, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    We have that same easel!

    JPTG March 20, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    the post is so “me.” In fact if I could suggest a #11 to your previous list about suggestions for pre-kids, it would’ve been to keep a tidy house THEN, b/c surely it will not be accomplished after the kids.
    My most stressful evening of the month is the night before we have our housecleaner arrive- trying to declutter (hide somewhere, anywhwere) so she actually can clean surfaces underneath. We clean for the housecleaner. Good post, HBM.

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