My Need For Clean Denied

The cat naps among toys, laundry, and air conditioner.

The cat naps among toys, laundry, and air conditioner.

If you came to my house and took a gander at the crumby kitchen floor and smelly bathroom, you might not realize I struggle with a need for order and clean bordering on full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  But if you looked deep within my eyes, you would see the gleam of chronic panic and anxiety resulting from living amongst complete and utter chaos 24/7.

I try to hide it.

I even try to pretend like, hey, man, it’s all good!  I love having every single one of my children’s legos strewn about the place.  It is just so freaking joyful!  

I want to be peaceful and reconciled to life as a working mom with two kids and a husband, all of whom do not feel my compulsion for CLEAN.  I do NOT want to be “that” mom who rants about the messy house on her Facebook or blog.

I’m fighting a losing battle.

In my work as a clinical social worker, I see situations the likes of which Stephen King could only dream.   Children living among pestilence and poverty, drugs, and violence.  Parents who were so abused and damaged themselves their ability to foster healthy attachment has been severely compromised.  Granted, I don’t have to live there, but working with this population takes its toll on my self-esteem and competence when I feel so helpless and hopeless.

This is why, at the end of the day, I want to come home to a place where it smells nice, where there is order, where I have a smidgin of control over chaos.  Is that so wrong?

I mentioned the other day to a few colleagues I only vacuum once a week.  One of them looked at me, horrified, and said, “Wow!  I clean my floors at least three times a week.”

Um.  Are you serious?  I think I might literally go postal-batshit-super-wicked-insane if I attempted to clean my floors three times per week, because in my reality, they are dirty again four minutes later and this is a mind-fuck I barely tolerate.

I read the above words and think, Suck it up dude.  You’re a mom.  This is life.  They are not fucking with your head; they are being children.  But what about my husband and his need to NEVER throw anything out EVER?

I wish I didn’t care.  I wish I didn’t have such a hard time going with the flow of never-ending sippy cups, McDonald’s prizes, and birthday party favors.

I don’t know the answer.  I’ve tried cute baskets but they end up stacked in a pile next to upended toys, or overflowing with the flotsam and jetsam of early childhood.  Either way, not very organized-looking.  We’ve taught my son to use both the vacuum and Swiffer mop.  He actually likes both of these chores, but the problem is we have accumulated way too much crap in this tiny house to effectively clean.  I’m beginning to feel like I live with a bunch of crazy hoarders, but my husband says that’s just my own crazy anxiety talkin’.

Today I burnt my nostrils cleaning the toilet with bleach.  I am speaking literally. Every time I have inhaled for the past couple hours there is a ashy, burning sensation followed by the scent of bleach which somehow has been imprinted in my nasal passages.

I feel frustrated, lonely, and misunderstood in my need for order.  I feel broken by a compulsion I can’t break for fighting a battle I can’t win.

If I am super-self-accepting, I can say my need for clean is one of my quirks, and maybe someday my children will have impeccable organization skills.  Maybe they will also come to appreciate the fact I can find any lost item in 19 seconds flat.  I imagine, by then, they will be much bigger and the days of strewn blocks and stuffed buddies will be long behind us.

25 responses »

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  2. You have no idea how much I relate to this post. I don’t think you’re crazy, but perhaps that’s because of my own OCD tendencies. My husband says the same things — you’re just anxious, you’re a control freak, on and on and on. I haven’t vacuumed in nearly two weeks, and it just seems rather pointless. I did suck it up a while back and started having a housekeeper come every couple of week just to do the basic cleaning. The last few months we’ve been more strapped financially so I cut that out, but oh my goodness has it been awful. Now it has gotten so messy that I’m embarrassed to call the housekeeper. I went to therapy a few years ago and decided I would focus on changing my reaction to the chaos. I feel like I have done that. In other words, I’ve compromised. I do not feel like my husband has met me halfway, which is beyond frustrating. He really doesn’t get that this is a real thing for me, and that I can’t think straight with all our clutter. I did my best to lead by example and I threw away items I was no longer using and organized the rest — of my own belongings. I guess my thought process was I can’t change him but I can change my own contribution to the chaos. Well, now my stuff has been downsized, but I feel like my world is getting smaller while his crap is infringing on my happiness. We’re relatively laid back people, and honestly, I just don’t have the energy to fight about it. Anyway, other than sheer commiseration, I just wanted to offer some support. It’s really hard when the kids are little. I’ve noticed a big difference since my youngest is now almost five. Hang in there. I don’t know if there’s a better way to communicate your needs to your husband. It would be lovely if he just recognized that even though he doesn’t understand it, the mess makes you less happy and then because he loves you he wants you to be happy, so he starts throwing away some junk. I’m sorry, but our spouses sound similar, and from my experience, love just isn’t enough. One thing that has worked for us, though temporarily, is for me to give my husband a specific task. Like today, I asked if he would clean out the garage. Well, it’s not done, and he ran an errand, but it is better. When I first asked him about it, he immediately said, “Look, I’ll work on the garage if you promise not to start on me about the basement as soon as I get the garage clean.” Clearly we need more work on this specific part of our relationship. I love your blog and your writing — entertaining and relatable.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words of encouragement! It is really nice to know that other people go through similar stuff in their lives, homes, and relationships. I think it is just so hard to balance everything. I know that my job is super stressful, but my husband’s is too and a lot of the time I forget that and just think that crap should be done! So, I have this little trick of thinking ten positive things about him for every one negative thing (eg., the children are not bathed and that is really frustrating to me, but he DID do the dinner, the cat litter, listened to me crab about work, laughed at my joke that wasn’t really funny, picked up the children on time, and so on and so forth…) Good luck to you! And I will also say that I felt a lot better after writing this post, like the urgency and frustration had gone away and I could kind of laugh at myself… so it’s all good! xo.

  3. I can totally relate. I finally starting going through my husband’s stuff and organizing it and throwing things away that I knew he didn’t need (e.g. batteries best used by 2003). We all just have way too much stuff…it’s a disease of the First World.

  4. Amen!

    I hear this. It’s so nice to know that there are others with the same stress over keeping an organized household. Maybe it’s because I love finishing projects in my work, but at home projects are never done. The house is never clean, because as fast as I can clean, the kids destroy.

    Great post!

    • Gosh, thanks for your encouragement. yes, it is very validating that other moms are going through the same things! That is probably my favorite thing about blogging is the support and camaraderie I’ve found here. Be well!

  5. Every individual has unique preferences.
    I can imagine what you are going through.
    For two to work together, there would always be some sort of opportunity cost.
    You’ve creatively made your point in this lovely post.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  7. “I can say my need for clean is one of my quirks”

    It isn’t one of your quirks – it is you. It’s okay. Just be with it, watch it, and see what happens…

    Be well, Charlotte~

  8. I have a pretty high threshold for mess, as long as the mess-clean ratio hasn’t tipped too far in the mess direction. But living with a child (and a dog who chews things up) grates on my nerves like no other. Ideally I would have everything spotless, but have never had the energy to keep it up to that level. It’s so overwhelming, and one of the reasons that I think having another kid would tip me into the full blown insane category 😉

    • I don’t mind the “mess and clutter” so much as the straight up “filth.” With a second child, I can definitely say our quarters are tighter and we have a shit ton more stuff around, but I think that mentally I have just been beat into submission, so it isn’t that much harder in that regard… I have fantasies about getting a dog based on a dog that I had for 16 years who never chewed anything or messed in the house until she was elderly. But I know that in “reality” dogs are pretty messy and chewy and having one of those four legged kids would prob tip me over the edge! xo.

      • Pros of having a dog: he eats the crumbs and licks the highchair clean.

        Cons: he eats all the toys. I shop at Value Village because of this. My kid will never have nice things because I don’t want to pay $30 for legos that are going to get chewed!

        Pros: Potamus thinks the dog is hilarious.

        Cons: the dog is really annoying, barks, pees and poops inside when he’s angry and is like having another child.

        Pros: He’s cute.

        Cons: he’s the spawn of satan.

      • Damn I love you. What kind of a dog is he? I had a lab-mix who was literally a person in a fur suit, so I don’t really have a good ‘taste’ of what owning a real dog is all about. But she did do the cleaning up the crumbs thing, which was awe-sum!

      • He’s a shih tzu/bichon mix (I like to call him a bitchin’ shit) and looks like an ewok. I’m actually convinced he’s a devilish midget in a dog suit. He does things that are very person-like and seem well thought out…or spiteful. Like the time we were watching football and he wanted to pee but we were ignoring him (for the last 30 seconds of the game) and he dragged his toy box into the middle of the living room, hopped in it, and peed while looking at us. Spawn of Satan anyone?

  9. Girl. I totally relate! And can we please start a Hoarders Anonymous for our husbands!? I spend my life organising things into baskets. I have so many of them! Maybe I need a Wicker Baskets Anonymous!

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