Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My House, My Self?

I have recently made a resolution, not to perfect my house, but to stop apologizing for its many imperfections. I hate it when anyone else does, especially when their house turns out to actually be immaculate, but, say, with a child’s puzzle splayed out charmingly atop a freshly vacuumed carpet. The effect is the same as a skinny woman apologizing for eating a French fry—it just makes everyone involved feel terrible.

Because I once lived in a tool shed in Arkansas for a few months in my early twenties, I feel I can say on full authority that our house is “Very Arkansas.” But even with the half painted walls, the haphazard shutters, the backyard full of nearly functional machinery and the hole in the fence large enough for our neighbor’s dogs to climb through, our house does boast a certain resourcefulness and creativity that I found in concentrated supply in the tool shed’s surrounding grounds. In the spirit of Macgyver, my husband can restore things to usefulness that, had I been single, would have inspired me to move out. Like plugging our broken bathtub drain with a rubber ball, for instance.

Looking back, “in cleanliness and in filth” should have been part of our marriage vows, directly following “for richer or for poorer,” because over time, we have wrestled with and accepted varying degrees of all four. Whenever I point out one of my husband’s rat’s nests of wires, tools and dirty socks beneath his desk he has but to look in the direction of my overflowing piles of photo albums, books, journals and junk mail to settle the score. As they say, “you spot it, you got it,” and oh, how I’ve got it. I envy my friends who are naturally inclined to pick up a scrub brush to battle their grief, stress or anxiety. For me, when anything hits the fan, I pick up a pen, the phone, a book or a deluxe sized package of Little Debbies. I talk, eat, read and write my way through my troubles, but rarely, if ever, do I put on rubber gloves and scour them away.

I love it though, when my friends take trips to third world countries, because even before I see their pictures of the dirt-smeared children or hear their livestock-on-the-bus stories, I am reminded of how filthy rich we actually are, even on days when our bank deposits are in increments of one.

My son started kindergarten this year and, upon inviting new friends over for play dates rather than thinking, “Oh boy, my son is making friends!” I braced myself with, “Oh dear God! Another West End mom is going to see my house!” But, I tell myself, kids like spaces in which they feel free to make a big, artistic mess and that the crayon art preserved like a caveman’s buffalos on the walls promotes a certain creativity that sterility might stifle. And, by the sheer volume of art produced in our house, so far this seems true.

I keep a reminder from my 2010 “Daily Bitch” calendar on my fridge: “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life.” It at least partially balances out the other idea- that the state of one’s house is an outward reflection of one’s inner life. Because that is frightening. If it’s true, my inner life probably needs a power-washer and a full time maid. On the other hand, the contents of my inner life--- the sloppiest, the ugliest, the most real and the most beautiful-- are always available for my own inspection, and for the inspection of those I invite in, as well. And for this, I am not sorry at all.

Belle, March 2011


  1. “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life.” = perfection! (as I type from my pigsty)

  2. "I envy my friends who are naturally inclined to pick up a scrub brush to battle their grief, stress or anxiety."

    I know, right? Is there a pill for that? How did I get stuck with "ignore your chores and write an essay about fractional reserve banking" as a stress coping strategy? I need some countercyclical habits.

  3. Ha! I'm kind of OCD about my house. I think it comes from living with parents who were...shall we say...lackadaisical about neatness. I sort of equate my messy house with my messy life and believe that if everything in my house is tidy and orderly I will naturally have a tidy and orderly brain. It never seems to work that way, though...sigh....I always feel like my house is one left out sock from a total descent into chaos. So....not necessarily anything to envy. It's kind of exhausting and entropy always wins.