Home, Messy Home
by Tina Blue
September 3, 2001
"Americans' homes are a lot less tidy than they used to be."
I read it in the newspaper, as a quotation from someone who analyzes social trends. As I look around my own cluttered apartment, I know he's right.
He says it's because most families rely on two incomes now, so there is no stay-at-home wife to keep things in order. Instead, the woman has as little time and energy as her husband when she gets home from work, and the systems maintenance chores we lump under the heading of housework get crammed unto a few hours on week nights or on weekends, rather than being taken care of as needed over the course of each day. Many jobs just don't get done at all, or get postponed until they loom as potential catastrophes:
"Honey, I have no clean underwear!"
"Turn the pair you're wearing inside out and leave me alone!"
For those of us who live alone or who are single parents, the problem is essentially the same. No one is minding the home, and there's still no clean underwear.
Part of the problem, too, has to be that we keep accumulating stuff. Even great stuff becomes clutter when you don't have time to stack it, shelve it, dust it, or even finish putting it together.
When was the last time the end of your kitchen counter (or any part of the surface of your desk) was visible? When you "clean house," do you actually put anything away, or do you just stack it more neatly and square the corners? Don't bother lying--we already know the answer.
In order to put anything away, you'd have to make room by getting rid of some of the old stuff you've got in the closets and drawers, on the shelves, and stacked behind the easy chair in the corner of the bedroom.
But you can't just toss that stuff out--some of it is still good, some has sentimental significance, and some doesn't even belong to you, though you probably can't remember who left it after a visit one weekend, or who lent it to you sometime during the eighties. Chances are they can't recall, either, and they never will--unless, of course, you try to reduce your clutter by disposing of it.
Then you are bound to get an urgent phonecall: "Do you still have that _____ I left at your house _____ years ago? I really need to get that back now!"
It doesn't matter anyway. None of that stuff can be gotten rid of until you have time to sort through it. But take my word for it--you are never going to find that much time. Never, never, never.
The same social analyst also points out that people entertain less nowadays. "It's not that it's too hard to put together a dinner or a party," he says. "It's just that no one wants to face the hassle of cleaning the house for company."
That gives me an idea, though.
Remember those old-fashioned barn-raising parties that people used to have, where a whole community would come together to put up a barn for a neighbor? All the men would cut and saw and nail, while the women fixed enormous quantities of food. When the work was done, the eating, dancing, and socializing began.
Well, why can't we throw house-cleaning parties? A whole bunch of friends could get together at one another's homes on successive Saturdays to straighten up, sort out, and scrub down one person's house or apartment, a different one each week.
Then when the place was clean, they could have a party. Make it potluck, with the main course provided by the person whose house was being cleaned. Maybe if we all got together on this we'd have more time for each other, instead of hunkering down alone or in small family groups within the isolation of our messy, decidedly un-homey homes.
But then, you're thinking, each house would only get cleaned once every several weeks.
I don't know about you, but for me that would be way more often than usual.