cleaning and class

This post was inspired by an ongoing discussion of the division of household labor that’s been going on over at Half-Changed World.

Landisdad and I are both slobs. It’s not that we never clean, it’s just that we don’t do it every day, and we tend to not put things away after we use them, so our house is always filled with clutter. Before we had kids, this wasn’t really a problem–we would neaten up our apartment every weekend, and while the overall state of things might be cluttery, it was a sort of neat clutter. We’d clean the bathrooms every other week or so, and the kitchen too. We never lived anyplace really big, so most of our clutter problem revolved around the fact that we always had more stuff (particularly books and papers) than we had room to store.

When we moved back to the East Coast from California right before the Bee was born, we moved into yet another apartment. We lived with a sun porch that was full of boxes of books for over a year, until we bought our house. And when we first bought our house, we were overwhelmed by the amount of space we suddenly had. All the bookcases fit! And we could buy more bookcases! And another couch, too! And a dining room table! But we still didn’t solve our clutter problem, because now we had all this baby stuff, too.

Eventually, we gave in to the clutter. While both of us are adults that don’t want to spend more cleaning than we have to, we are also both people who don’t like work that feels pointless. And it’s hard not to feel pointless when you spend an hour or two cleaning the family room, and by the end of the day, it’s full of toys and books again.

I tend to get highly motivated to clean when we’re having people over, or something like that. What I forget is that for people who don’t know us well, our house still looks messy even when it’s clean (by my standards). We still have piles of papers on every available surface–they’re just in neat piles. We still have funky bookcases with old toys stuck on them. We still have furtniture that doesn’t match, and weird, radical posters on the walls. Our house looks like the office of a stereotypical absent-minded professor. Possibly a professor of political science.

Both landisdad’s mother and mine have, on occasion, commented on the general disorder in which we live. My mom, for example, famously cleaned our entire house on the day that the Potato was born. This included things like cleaning the oven, washing out the refrigerator, and opening all the vents to clean out our ductwork, while my MIL and the Bee looked on in horror at the amount of cat fur that was built up inside. I think it was a kind of passive-aggressive revenge on my mom’s part–she was mad that I had asked my MIL to come in for the birth, too, and she took it out on me by cleaning my house. My MIL, on the other hand, offered to pay for us to have a house cleaner.

But as much as I hate cleaning, I will never hire someone to clean my house. To me, it would be a betrayal of the many women who have worked as janitors, cleaners, and housekeepers that I have worked with as an organizer. It would put me in the employer class. It might be a giant hypocrisy on my part–after all, even if I don’t actually employ a housecleaner, I am affluent enough to afford one. Is there really that big a difference?

I say, yes. Even if my cleaning is rare and half-assed, it’s still mine. My cleaning skills may not be up to my mother’s par, but I learned them from her, and I will teach them to my children. I don’t want them to learn that having money exempts you from doing things that you consider unpleasant.

And let me just add, for the record, that landisdad mopped the kitchen floor last night while I sat on the couch and ate bonbons. (Well, okay, it was actually a yogurt smoothie)


August 6, 2005. politically motivated, thoughtful parenting. 11 comments.