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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    Georgia March 20, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I would suggest you hire a cleaning woman once in a while, but I did that last week and not only did she NOT clean my apartment, she left a kitchen knife in my cat’s bed (seriously!!!). I think the best thing to do would be to resign yourself to a messy life for now, that way you don’t have the added bonus of guilt. But you’d probably slap me for saying that after seeing my tiny, spotless, childless one bedroom apartment.

    Cleo March 20, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I grew up in a spotlessly tidy home. It’s doable.

    Nikki March 20, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    A-fucking-men. We’ve got guests coming over for dinner this evening– a couple without children– and I’m currently curled up in a fetal ball,weeping, at the thought of getting the mess in hand by 5pm. Sigh.

    Carrie March 20, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    You aren’t alone. We moved in here a month ago and I’m afraid the last few boxes have just become a part of the scenery since I have no idea where to put all the junk they contain. Maybe I should get off my ass and go take care of them. Blog reading is more fun.

    chermonblie March 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Please! As I was reading this… the toddling tornado dumped a huge tub of toys….and is now piling them all in my lap saying “Thank You.” :) Surely a tidy all the time house doesn’t have nearly as much fun as we do! ;)

    Eva Robertson March 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Your house is so beautiful and TORONTONIAN! Makes me miss my years growing up there. Looks just like a house I used to visit off Queen St. West.

    Now, at least you have places for things! That’s a start. It was just recently that my friend introduced me to “decorative baskets.” They’re great and pretty dumping grounds.

    Norm March 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Oh man. Our house is the same way, and we don’t even have the toddler-stomping-on-Derrida problem (I’m rooting for the toddler, btw). I’ve staked out a couple areas of the house for which I have complete responsibility and any stuff left in it will be cleaned/moved/shredded/canned so I can clean the surfaces underneath. I cannot control the whole thing without a lot more help. It’s a strategy …

    Megan March 20, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    My home looks just like yours. Someday I’ll get the balls to post pictures of mine but today is not that day.

    No Mother Earth March 20, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Well, I’m with you for sure. I’m desperate for playdates and social interaction, but completely embarrassed to have people come over to my house and see the state in which I live. And if I am mortified by it – what on earth would an outsider think??

    I can’t seem to reconcile myself to it either. And yet, when given the choice to read or clean, which do you think I choose? Every time.

    Amy March 20, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Just for you and your bad self. A slacker post of my own.

    With pictures.

    Of my house JUST THIS AFTERNOON on a good day.

    ANTM March 20, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Meh. What’s a little mess when you have two of the cutest muffins I have ever seen??!!

    I grew up in a spotless household. Quite literally…and I can tell you that what I remember the most was making sure not to dirty the clean floor with my shoes or being told the Play-Doh had to stay outside. “Perhaps your barbies could just stay in the closet today…I just cleaned your room.”

    Your kids? They’ll remember the fun, the painting, the piano playing, and the book piling because it’s all right there in front of them to enjoy! :)

    margalit March 20, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Blaming innocent babies for your mess is… well, accurate. But if you think it’s bad now, you’re not going to BELIEVE the teenage years. I actually kept a pretty neat house with my twins when they were small, but when they became teens, all bets were off. It is astounding to me to be living in the kind of filth I do, but honestly, like you I can’t do much to change it. The main rooms are cleaned professionally on a weekly basis, but they are dirty and messy within hours after her departure. With two kids who can’t throw away ANYTHING, who cook themeselves meals and leave everything all over the kitchen, who bring dishes upstairs that never come down again, and who drop their crap willy nilly all over the house, it’s just not worth it to even TRY and fight the filth.

    However, I am counting the days until college.

    Ms. Huis Herself March 20, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I’m sorry – I don’t have the time to read through all of the comments today, so somebody probably already mentioned it, but I’ve just started cleaning/tidying the way.

    It’s nice because it’s all about doing small things and building habits and doing 15 minutes worth of decluttering/cleaning at a time. It makes it seem so much more manageable! Only been doing it a few months, but it has definitely helped a lot! I’ve not got a perfect house by any stretch of the imagination, but it really has helped.

    That being said, I canNOT understand the way her website is laid out, and sometimes it all comes on a little much “chicken soup for the soul,” but I’m much more likely and willing to do a little cleaning and tidying than I was before! (I’m a SAHM with a 4yo and a 22mo.) And I’m still spending quality time with my kids.

    Amber March 20, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I gave up a while ago. Luckily my husband is tidy by nature, and we have a cleaning lady who comes once a month, so we’ve avoided serious health infractions. I just can’t justify cleaning one room while someone’s destroying another. So I don’t.

    There’s another great Flickr group, too, which you can find here:

    Adventures In Babywearing March 20, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Whew. This means I can totally have you over now! There are certain people that I would not let come inside my house because I know they are neat freaks. And even though I should be more confident it still makes me feel insecure, those weirdos.


    Chicky Chicky Baby March 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Throw in two dogs, pounds more pet hair, and an even more sloppy husband and you’ve got my house on any given day. I told friends a long time ago to NEVER under any circumstances to ever drop by.

    becks March 20, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    My house is the same as well. Once a week those baskets are organized into like items, the rest of the time I just throw the shit straight into the first emptyish basket within reach. As for vacuuming? Forget it… I have hardwood, I try to sweep every couple of days. It’s BEYOND exhausting. I have a 2 yr old and a 3 yr old and man those two can tear the house apart.
    I totally agree with the upstairs being worse…. my mirror gets smudged with baby fingers covered in mummy expensive face cream or various hair lotions and potions that are so attractively packaged to the wee ones.
    ALSO – toilet paper goes on the roll??? It makes sense, I guess, but then that would eliminate the 2am hissing at my husband to get up and get me some toilet paper because someone (probably under the age of 4) has wandered off with the roll again and I’m sitting on the toilet in a compromising position…

    toyfoto March 20, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    My house is always a mess and I blame my husband who works from home and never cleans up the messes he makes or lets the kids make. If it weren’t for him we’d still be messy, but I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t be in danger of having to A.) obtain a zoo license, and B.) suffer the indignation of having it revolked for health and hygene related offenses.

    Amy Ruth Webb March 20, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    We never invite people over for the exact same reason. I feel guilty, but I hate cleaning so much, I just can’t get the energy up to do it. I always say that I stepped out of my career to be Henry’s mother, not a housewife.

    Issas Crazy World March 20, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I lost this battle so long ago that I don’t even know when it was that I lost it.

    In my house just add: dog hair every where, little scraps of paper all over the floor, because my four year old loves to make “cornfetti” and hair brushes and hair bands in places that one would not expect to find such things. Like in the freezer. Or in the glass cupboard.

    Issas Crazy World March 20, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Oh and sorry for the double comment, but…my mom once told me that a picked up house isn’t possible when you have children in your house. She says that the first time her house was truly clean and picked-up and she noticed it, she sat down and cried.

    Joy March 20, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    LOL! I am in good company. :D

    I always say when someone is starting to get snide that I am a Stay-at-Home MOM, not a stay at home housekeeper! And I definitely choose reading over cleaning, any day. (Once in a while I get into a cleaning jag, and almost everything gets cleaned up, but that doesn’t happen very often.)

    Magic27 March 20, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    In our place, it’s got to the stage where I can’t take photos of the girls inside any more because there isn’t a single place (except perhaps the ceiling, but that’s a bit tough logistically) I can put them that doesn’t have mountains of crap behind them, to the sides or on the floor round them. Oh, except perhaps the bathroom. Not that it isn’t a mess (it is) but one wall has no furniture on it, so I can photograph them with a white tiled background (but that makes it look like they’re standing in a public toilet or something, so it’s not ideal either).
    I have uploaded three photos to prove my point on the Flickr account mentioned in your post – look if you dare!

    Magic27 March 20, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Forgot to add that the photos on Flickr come from my other e-mail address (the “professional” one ha! ha! ha!), so my “screen name” isn’t Magic27 but tomtrad1…

    Ali March 20, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    My house is so messy, my three year old told me I had to clean up because it wasn’t tidy. Damnit, the tidiest room in the house is his bedroom!

    I FAIL at housekeeping. It’s a good job I’m anti social really.

    Vasilly March 20, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Thank God! I thought I was the only one. I lose the cleaning battle several times a day. It’ll get better one day but until then . . .

    ChristophersHeart March 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Well, I gotta tell you I have to say thank you!

    I am so glad that I am not the only one with a house dominated by toys, toys and more toys with a few odds and ends thrown in here and there. I fear drop ins for the same reasons as you!

    But you, if you dropped by my house I’d let you in, ’cause you’d get it!

    Karly March 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Oh, yes. My house is a mess all. the. time. My husband hates it, but seriously, what is the POINT? It just gets messed up again five minutes later! Why waste the energy?

    Barbara K. March 20, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    We gave up the fight on the dining room. We don’t even call it that anymore – it’s just the playroom. Most days I close the french doors and ignore the mess. I even broke my never-going-to-IKEA-again rule and bought some storage bins. They helped contain the clutter for about a week.

    Beautiful kitty in that one photo!

    Another Suburban Mom March 20, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Puh-leaze! There is only one way to clean your house.

    Get a box of large black garbage bags

    Toss everything that does not fit, or annoys you in there.

    Never buy anything again.

    Otherwise just wait for the people to become teens where they can have all their crap in their rooms and you can close the door.

    Heather March 20, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    My house is similarly cluttered. I’m certain it drives my husband insane (he’s the cleaner, he likes to get rid of things, he has no emotional attachments to things). But I am enjoying my kids instead of spending all my time cleaning. Although I haven’t had any friends in my house since the baby was born in May.

    Petit Elefant March 20, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    You’ve read that Erma Bombeck quote, no? The one that goes something like this: Cleaning up after children is like shoveling the walks while it’s still snowing”

    A total waste of time.

    Christina March 20, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Yep, just like my house. I gave up on looking like a home from Good Housekeeping even before Cordy was born.

    I’m more content with the chaos than Aaron is, though. He gets so frustrated with all of the clutter.

    Fiona March 21, 2009 at 12:08 am

    I embraced my outer slob and feel much better now! lol

    katef - March 21, 2009 at 7:10 am

    We moved out to the middle of no where to stop people just ‘dropping by’… no one drops by any more.. to big a drive to risk us not being home. Thank goodness!
    I posted a photo a while back.. it’s only the tip of the iceberg.. I’m not game to post any more..

    Anonymous March 21, 2009 at 8:40 am

    A house with kids that has no mess is a repressed house. Kids need to feel free to explore and mess about. It is like going into a house with no books….it gives me the creeps. That being is nice to have one sacred room free of mess…even if it is the smallest room in the house.

    Anonymous March 21, 2009 at 9:44 am

    *raises hand*

    Shawna March 21, 2009 at 10:07 am

    This is where I get to smugly think to myself how much better my house looks… and then remind myself that it’s because we’re trying to sell our house and we had a viewing yesterday and another one in (my God) two hours.

    It’s a blessing and a curse, because it’s so refreshing and wonderful to have a clean house, but it sucks like, well, I guess a baby would be more accurate than the usual mutha, but I digress… it totally sucks to have to actually get it to this refreshing state of cleanliness.

    mothergoosemouse March 21, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Here’s the thing: I may be a little insane where it comes to my own house, but as long as there isn’t actual excrement on the walls, I don’t pass judgment on my friends’ houses.

    sugaredharpy March 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Oh sister, YES. My house still struggles with the mess…and my kids are 13 and 14 now. It gets better, though, I promise. Toddlers are impossible to keep up with, feel comfy in that you’re just being a good MOM instead of a good housekeeper. Mom is way more important.

    Sara March 21, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    yes, yes and yes. I tell my husband the house will be clean when they’re in college.

    Linda March 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Haha. I drove by your street on Friday afternoon and actually thought about seeing if I could spot your house if I drove along… maybe you’d be outside with the children, or I’d spot a trike in the yard?

    I have one child — and she’s older, five — but I cannot keep on top of the housework. I think our house is in worse shape than it was when both my husband and I had full-time jobs. Now, I’m at home and am confounded how people can keep on top of groceries, meals prep, kitchen cleanup, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, bed-making, clutter-clearing, etc. I mean, are they doing it from the moment they awake? Do they continue to sweep, wash and declutter into the night?

    L.A. March 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    For the love of gawd get off the computer and clean your house! Just kidding (sort of). My house looked like that until we converted a spare room into a playroom. ALL TOYS are kept in there. The rest of my house looks sorta normal now. (it’s hard to keep up with the cat hair though.) We’re also thinking about hiring a cleaning lady. I’ve recently gone back to work and I want to spend my weekends with my kids, not cleaning the house.

    Heather Happymaker March 21, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Oh God you crack me up! I can so relate. I’ve got a baby and a toddler and quite literally I can follow the toddler around 2/47 and pick up after him and the place will still be a mess.

    Lately I’ve been getting flashbacks of my friends’ houses in the seventies when I was really little. They were always a mess, with stuff on the floor. As I got older, the memories change – the houses suddenly got much cleaner.

    Do what you can, keep things as sanitary as possible (old cats are a disaster) and spend time with your kids. The one regret I hear so often from old ladies is that they wish they spent less time cleaning and more time with their kids.

    I have a picture of cat vomit on my site! You are not alone!

    Anonymous March 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you for making me feel normal! I have 4 kids–14, 13, 6 and 1, and my house looks just like yours, except we have gray carpet and a dog. No matter how much I try and keep up, the mess just takes over. I love you HBM for freeing me from my slob closet!

    Stephanie March 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Laughing out loud! I had to write out the words to really tell you how funny that was. The funiest part was I just wrote a blog the same toddlers pulling books off the bookcase! WHO CARES how clean the house is….my view is this….
    the messier the house the happier the children; why? Because you are actually being a mom and not a maid….the house comes later…enjoy playing now!
    KUDOS! Long live the messy toothpaste sink and mirrors.

    the new girl March 22, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I just wrote a post about it last week. It puts me into like, DEE-SPARE.

    I have total neat-freak friends, whose houses look like magazine photos. EVERY. DAY.

    I don’t know. You’re brave to post the pictures and I appreciated seeing it. For me, I feel SHAME connected to it but that’s ANOTHER STORY.

    Shannon March 22, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    I can’t resist – even if I am the 150th commenter. Thank you! I feel so much better. I have 2 girls, 21 mos. apart (now 3 and 5). When I was still working part time, I told myself that was the reason I couldn’t keep up. Now I barely work at all. When they were little, little guys, I told myself it would get better as they got older. At the end of the day, as I’m looking over my destroyed belly splayed in my favorite chair at the destroyed living room while my husband bitches about the sad state of affairs around here, I just can’t figure out what happened. I can’t really say why it’s like this. We didn’t do anything much all day. I vaguely recall making like 27 different meals as they disdained one healthy option after another, thus it took 27 meals for them to get 27 bites. I have an idea it was around 3.5 hours getting them down for nap as they traded off throwing fits. And that I cleaned up the same messes at least 5 times over the course of the day, ran the dishwasher at least once, possibly twice, and rehung the same articles of clothing too many times to count. Yet it looks as if I’ve been eating bon bons all day and I find myself feeling vaguely guilty as I really have no idea how this happened….

    SUEB0B March 22, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    My sis bought her best friend a license plate frame that says “Dull women have immaculate homes.”

    Mama Bub March 22, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    I don’t understand homes that are neat all the time, I just don’t get it. Nor do I have ANY idea how to attain such a home.

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