Friday, November 18, 2011


I write this as one of my cats drinks out of an old water glass that has been sitting on the table next to my couch for the last few days. I have been writing about love and death and politics for the past few posts and I think it is now time to talk about something really important. My deepest insecurity, my most intimate personal detail, my Achilles heal. My relationship with housework. Or more to the point, my lack of of a relationship with housework.

I think some background is in order. I was raised in an alternative household. They called it a lesbian collective. These days my friends call it a dyke ranch, and we all dream of making our own very own version... the urban dyke ranch. In my childhood collective there were five women and three children living together in a giant lower duplex in a leafy neighborhood in Montreal. It was the 70s, which pretty much explains it. The women were political old school, Birkenstocked hairy legged lesbians, who made a reality of the dream of cheap rent, shared household duties and communal children. For the record, hands down the most awesome way to grow up, hence my lottery fantasy of buying a 4 plex and filling it with unicorns and rainbows.

Eight people in an apartment, no matter how sprawling, make mess. Five people cleaning makes for varied results, mostly averaging on the slightly untidy, but passable . The thing is, no one person cleaned and no one showed me how to. The kids cleaned their room, which was a giant finished basement that we all shared. The mums would come down every Saturday and pile ALL the crap in the room in the middle of the floor and tell us, what ever is still in the middle of the floor in a couple of hours, ends up in the garbage. It was the 70s, so we believed them. Panicked cleaning ensued, which was mostly comprised of shoving things in to play chests and under beds out of sight.

In later years after we had moved into our own house with just my mother and her lover, we did have some chores. I did dishes, laundry and cat box. My mother was an English professor. She was about as tidy as you can expect from an old beatnick intellectual. There were dusty books piled in corners, and couches that had never been vacuumed behind. Surfaces stacked with old mail, exams and papers. Cat hair. Cleaning was not that high on the list and we lived in comfortable disarray.

I went to a fancy private school and when I would visit my friends houses with their clean surfaces and white rugs and I would feel shame. I knew that my house did not stack up. I was always muttering apologies about the state of my place, which after watching Hoarders on TLC, has made me realize was not all that bad. A little dusty, and you might not want to look under or behind things, but it was not shamefully dirty. Yet I felt it. Deep inner personal shame. Like my soul was unclean. I know these friends had housekeepers and stay -at-home moms. Housewives as they were call back then. Wives of houses. Is stay-at-home mom somehow a better term? I could go into a whole diatribe about the cult of child rearing versus husband rearing in the post feminist era, but that would be a digression purely for my own amusement.

All this to say, the shame has stuck. Any friend of mine knows, that I am in a constant state of apology for my dust bunnied hallway and my mountain of unfolded laundry. I manage the dishes, the actual washing of dirty clothes and cat box mining for poo nuggets, but please don't look in my closet, or the pantry or the penicillin research project in my fridge's fruit drawer.

My favorite friends to visit are the ones who are messy too. If their house smells a little of cat urine and there is several months of unopened mail at the door, I feel instantly transported. Transported to my youth and happy days on the the dyke farm, where mild chaos meant home. My shame melts away and I happily wash out a dusty mug to drink tea without coasters and eat cookies on their couches. I know that this person will understand me, not judge me and perhaps even be experiencing the same feeling.. relief.

The other day I went into my daughter's room, which was a disaster of the proportions only producible by a seven year old. I said to her.. I am putting everything in the middle of the floor, and when i come back whatever is left there will be thrown out. I have decided not to look in her closet. Her shame is growing in there.

1 comment:

  1. In no small way, I doubt your daughter would be one to live in the closet, or breed guilt within it...

    As for the shame of untidiness, you are not alone; I know it all too well.

    The refrain organized people seem to always use is how 'efficient' they are when it comes time to lay hands on any particular document or article of clothing. Economics tells me there are usually investment costs. So all the time and energy they fritter away pigeonholing their earthly belongings could be spent on so many more worthwhile endeavors. Clutter be damned! The time it takes to seek out an item later is comparatively trivial.