I think there is one common thread among women and that is the fear and embarrasment of being “caught” with a messy house. I’m not sure if we pick this up from our mothers or from TV or where, but I think it’s a universal feeling, and it’s particularly bad if it’s in front of another woman. If a repairman happens to come over and there are a few dust bunnies or some laundry lying around, it’s no big deal, but if the PTA President, or a neighbor, or a lady from church happens to drop by it is just mortifying if the house isn’t at least close to being perfect.
I know for many people, they will refuse to let someone in their house at all. Flylady called that CHAOS – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. We will stall them on the porch, or offer to meet them elsewhere, go miles out of our way to bring something to their house, or just flat refuse to answer the door – anything to avoid that awful, shameful feeling. Or even worse, go into a crazy-lady panic mode and run around the house shoving things into cupboards and closets, or just closing off entire rooms. Or apologize about every little thing – I think that is almost the worst. I’m usually even more embarrassed if I hear a string of lame excuses come bubbling up out of my mouth.
Even though I have improved my clutter problems by a ton (literally) over the last 20 years or so, I am still intimately familiar with that feeling and I will go to great lengths to avoid being put in that situation. In fact, one of the main reasons we purchased this house is because it has a formal living room at the front of the house that prevents you from seeing the kitchen and family rooms from the front door. That seems like a strange reason to buy a HOUSE, doesn’t it, but that’s at least 50% of the reason we liked this house. That’s how pervasive this feeling of shame can be.
I used to love to entertain – another reason we bought this house is because it has an enormous dining room that can seat about 15 people. But, these days, almost the only people I will invite over is my close family and even then I do at least some basic tidying before they are “allowed” to come over. I used to love having company, but I got tired of my family complaining about the crazy cleaning frenzy I go through any time there is even a hint of someone coming over. So, I just don’t do it any more and that’s kind of sad.
What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we could just relax and be okay with it? One thing that has always bugged me is that no one has ever accused a MAN of being a messy housekeeper. That seems so unfair. And my husband is totally oblivious to this feeling – even though I guarantee that the men living in my house are responsible for a huge portion of the mess. If someone comes over and there are a few newspapers or some laundry on the couch, he just scoots them out of the way and asks the person to sit down – case closed. If there are dishes on the counter, he doesn’t even notice. He doesn’t agonize over them like I would and squirm inside that someone is seeing an unwanted or shameful side of him.
I would love to know the secret to just not caring like that. For one thing, it’s a personal lifestyle choice and I should be OK with just owning it. I mean, it really wouldn’t make sense if my house was fabulously clean all the time. Looking at it realistically – I work a full time job, plus I have several side gigs like this blog, that take up another 20 or so hours per week, and I’m a Scout leader and am involved in several other similar activities – that eats up another 10 to 15 hours per week. That’s about an 80-hour week right there. I’m writing this at midnight by the way. My son is involved in a lot of things and he still doesn’t drive, so I have to run him around to things. Fortunately, my husband does most of the cooking, but I have to eat and sleep sometimes, so when would I possibly have the time to do a lot of cleaning and polishing?
Now these are choices I’ve made with how I want to spend my time, so why should I hold myself to the same standard as the women who choose to spend most of their free time at home putting their time and energy into maintaining a beautifully spotless home? It’s really kind of crazy in a way to put that kind of pressure on myself, but I sure haven’t learned how to reach that state of zen-ness where I can just relax and be like my husband about it.
But I’m starting to think that we need to change our outdated thinking. This isn’t the 50’s any more and not everyone has the time, the energy, or the ability to keep their homes perfectly clean and uncluttered. Stop shaming other women and thinking badly about them if their houses aren’t fabulous. Even if you never say one word, it clearly shows in your body language, and she will know that you are silently judging her. Make a choice and find the strength to be OK with it. Now if it’s “call the health department” messy or hoarder level, that’s a whole different ball game, but I’m talking more everyday clutter.
I think it’s kind of like those uber-skinny, gorgeous model-types who still think they have fat elbows or a big nose. We are just unrealistic perfectionists sometimes. I think it’s almost part of our DNA. My advice is to just let it go and embrace the mess. Be OK with it. Your kids haven’t died of some exotic tropical disease, your husband can still find the remote control, and the dog is having a great time licking up the crumbs off the floor. Just let it be and work on enjoying your life. And I’m going to try that too – but just in case, can you give me a 15 minute warning call before you drop by? Old habits die hard….
What works for you on avoiding house shaming?