Clean or Not, Take My Home As It Is

One of the Biggest and Most Annoying Expectations Still Placed on Women in the 21st Century

Let’s be honest, adult women face a lot of assumptions. We are supposed to want to be pretty and we are supposed to want to please the men of the world, just to name two. Enjoy your sanity while you’re young, girls. One of the worst expectations that has been laid at our feet, and we should be frantically kicking away, as far as it will fly, is the expectation that the cleanliness of the home is one of our top priorities, or even a priority at all.

I had a friend over the other night. His name is Perry. I usually see Perry in the company of our other friend, Maya, but Maya was working on this particular evening that we decided to get together over a glass of wine at my home.

The last time Perry and Maya visited my home was over a week ago. Prior to their arrival for that particular visit I had warned them my house was a mess. My final week of school required a lot of writing with little time for anything more, as if I needed to make excuses for myself, but I did, because as a woman and a mom, my house is supposed to always sparkle. I don’t really believe that, but for some reason others do. And therein lies the problem.

Now, back to Perry’s solo visit. About mid-visit he’s standing, and he looks around the room. “You’ve done some cleaning, haven’t you?”

I had been doing some cleaning, but I clean pretty regularly. With two children I’m always picking up. With pets, I’m always sweeping and mopping. I don’t not do those things because those are necessary chores, just like dishes.

Annoyed with Perry’s question, I pretty much stated this to him, to which he excused his question with “I was just trying to compliment you and give you encouragement.” To which I came back with “I don’t need encouragement.”

Frankly, I was enraged, but I blew it off for sake of peace with my friend. If this incident seems like a small thing to allow one’s self to become angered over, then please allow me to explain why I found his observation both insulting and sexist.

For those who haven’t been able to keep up with the times, we now live in the 21st century. As women are no longer a majority of homemakers, we don’t need to be patted on the back when we perform domestic duties. We don’t need domestication instilled in us any more than it already has been, because, honestly, we have been allowing it for centuries and it is not who we are. It has gotten old.

I just want to differentiate for a second. This isn’t like preparing a nice meal for guests and having them compliment the chef. The situation is entirely different because I did that for you. I am giving you something that I hope you enjoy. My house, however, and the state of it, is for those who live in it.

Women are much more than providing clean underwear, warm meals and shiny toilets, and some of us don’t even want anything to do with domestic duties any more than men do. I’m one of those women.

Yet, I do perform domestic duties for several reasons:

1. I can’t afford a housekeeper, and as the responsible adult here one of us must do it. Wait, there is no us. It’s just me.

2. Filth and clutter wreck my mental organization (I struggle with ADD).

3. I don’t want child welfare knocking on my door because my children are buried under mounting clutter and haven’t been seen for several days.

I once worked for child welfare and therefore saw some pretty bad situations. Yet, even in these bad situations, if there is not an identified imminent danger (rarely there is), that family is free to live in as disgusting a home as they like and your disdain for their way of life is only stressing you.

How people keep their homes is their business and who cleans is also their business. It is not the adult woman’s responsibility any more than it is the adult man’s.

My father lives alone and he keeps his house tidy. I don’t congratulate him if when I come over the house is clean and I don’t chastise him when it is unkempt. It’s his home and it is not my place to provide commentary on how it looks — unless black mold is growing up the walls and mice are playing in the stove burners. And if that were the situation, I might suggest we just burn it down.

Men don’t say to one another: “Oh, your house is so clean, Joe! Good job!” Can you imagine if men sat around discussing what house cleaning techniques they use? Can you say “boring”?

It’s time to take this mundane and uninteresting expectation off women as well. If your friends' or family’s homes are clean when you visit, enjoy it. Perhaps even assume the family has a housekeeper, that way you don’t condescendingly smile Sally’s direction as you inspect the handy work. If it’s not clean and that bothers you, you can choose not to visit. If it doesn’t bother you, then be grateful you were invited into someone else’s home. But, do not have an expectation or have a discussion on how clean their home looks. We have long left the Dark Ages.

For the last century, women have been holding jobs, and some of us are also going to school and raising children, hopefully with the help of a partner, but often times not. We have hobbies, enjoy dinner and a movie and we travel. Most of us enjoy learning new ideas and information about the world and politics. There is so much to enjoy in this world that keeping a clean house shouldn’t top anyone’s list.

At the end of the day, observing how clean the house looks is not intelligent discussion, and shouldn’t be discussion for any one at all that lives outside the home. And the bigger lesson: Never (as I did) make excuses for the state of your home’s cleanliness. You’re asking to travel back in time.

Artist, essayist, dreamer, freelancer, humanist, humorist, MFA writing student, mother, podcaster, thinker, wayfinder.

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