A Big, Steaming Pile

Laundry kills all your free time, and if you’re not careful, your relationships.


It all happened because of that stupid basket of laundry. There it sat, leering at me from the couch for four days. From Sunday until Thursday, as I emerged from my cozy cave to scare up a warm cup of java, it greeted me wordlessly, like a giant “f*ck you” to start off my day.

I’d meant to get to it. Every single morning, I’d tell myself, “Once the kids are at daycare… after I’ve gone to the store… after I sit for just five minutes to scarf down this ice cream bar…” It became a mantra I’d repeat to myself, really driving home the fact that I am now incapable of completing any task within a seven-day period.

And during those four days of gross neglect, that pile of laundry grew taller, and wider, and became strewn across the floor after repeated attempts to find missing items within it. As a result, what was once clean laundry in a basket was now semi-clean laundry covered in dog hair and who-knows-what-else on the floor.

That increasingly soiled pile of once-clean laundry sent me reeling through the five stages of grief. Within 48 hours, I’d moved from denying the laundry was there, to anger that it needed so much attention, to bargaining with myself — if I put it away, it’ll just get dirty again — to depression about being such a worthless homemaker. And then I skipped acceptance, and cycled right back to anger, because why am I the only one stressed about this f*cking pile of laundry??

So, I solved the problem. On my way out the door to the grocery store (where I’d abandoned a cart full of items, because yet again I’d forgotten my wallet at home), feeling a sense of complete overwhelm that fanned into a fire of frustration, I glared into my husband’s very soul and barked, “I’D LOVE FOR YOU TO PUT AWAY THE LAUNDRY.” And, scene.

Perfectly executed passive aggressive sarcasm works every time.

Except that, on the other side of the (slammed) door, I felt really sh*tty. It suddenly dawned on me that my husband and I have different ways of looking at the world. He goes about his day feeling fairly unruffled. He sees a dirty pile of laundry, or mountains of sticky jelly drying on the dining table, and thinks, “Hmm, it’s getting a bit gross around here,” but he doesn’t feel any impressing sense of duty, or self-loathing as a result. When I walk around our house, I make a mental list of every single thing that needs cleaned, and I immediately set to work ticking items off, because I can’t stand a full to-do list. And then I feel stressed as f*ck.

I know what you’re thinking: why don’t you just ask for help, you dingbat? Yeah, that does appear to be a logical solution to this weighty combination of martyrdom and anger I carry around. But when I see that something needs done — the kids need snacks, dinner needs made, laundry needs cleaned — it’s so much faster and more efficient for me to just do it myself. Why ask for help when I can just tick it off my list, and then whine and yell about it later? That seems like a mature way to handle things.

Admit it: you’ve had the same thoughts. I know you have. I’ve heard way too many friends express these same sentiments to believe that I’m here at this party alone. Where does this idea come from that we need to manage everything ourselves? A circa-1950’s edition of Vanity Fair? Let’s keep in mind, those same magazines included advertisements for things like “medicated toilet paper,” and vague “health tonics.” It’s time to free ourselves from those outdated expectations, the same way we freed our rear ends from unexplained over-medication.

I’m just like you — I want so badly to be a fantastic mom. But in the whirlwind day-to-day of list-making, cleaning, and organizing, I forget sometimes that the best way to be a better mom is to play nice with my partner. Ask for help. Check in occasionally to see if the judgment and disappointment that I imagine my husband must feel when I don’t maintain a spotless home (in my pearls and pink apron) is really there… or, if I’m feeling frustration as a result of unattainable expectations I keep piling on myself.

Women are powerful. We are skilled at managing multiple tasks at once (notice, I didn’t say “multi-tasking,” because nobody can literally focus on two things simultaneously). I know that I can keep my family clothed, fed, and our house well in order — but that doesn’t mean I should.

Unless, of course, you want to see my full crazy unleashed (evil laugh).