There is a concept which I absolutely adore since I became a mother of two and it is called "accepting a clean enough house." I first read about it over a year ago in another blog. The basic idea of this concept is to become comfortable with a less-than-spotless house by lowering your housekeeping standards. Now that your family has grown, those standards may no longer be realistic. Shedding your ideal is a very difficult thing to do for most women, though, especially if you grew up in a very strictly clean household like I did and feel there is an expectation for you to maintain a home of the same sparkle. Or, if you were just always a neat-freak and the increased messiness is now so intolerable (yet unmanageable). The pressure to have a perfect home is even more devastating if, like me, you can't afford professional cleaning help or worse, if the aforementioned expectation of you includes doing everything yourself as a matter of principle. If any of this sounds like a predicament familiar to you then I strongly suggest you try and adopt the "clean enough" attitude. I actually credit it in large part for maintaining my sanity and even making me a happier and more relaxed person. I have even developed my own version of it which I like to call "Clemmy Clean" after my grandmother, Clem, who was perhaps one of the pioneers of the clean enough mentality.
I speak with Grandma Clem often. Though she is in her late 80s she seems to remember everything that has ever happened during her lifetime and in great detail. She can probably recall the price of macaroni from the year 1961 not to mention the specifics of raising her five children. Lately Clem has been getting a little forgetful in the short term but who cares? It's that valuable tried-and-true motherly experience that I need her to remember for me. When Husband and I were first home with Pixie Pie three years ago, I would lament to her my annoyance over the ubiquitous piles of dishes and laundry. It seemed that they were always on my mind, making it difficult to be present, emotionally, with my newborn daughter. During our long breastfeeding sessions in the very beginning, I would be almost squirming in my rocking chair over the thought of having to put Pixie down to sleep in her bassinet and then run, immediately, downstairs to scrub the toilet and add the fabric softener. On days when I was just too tired from having been up all night, I would try to nap while she napped, which is common sense for the new mother, but I just found it too difficult to fall asleep when the rug was just calling out for me to vacuum.
Clem's sage advice to me was to just let everything pile up during the day and clean at night, after the kids go to bed. Was she serious!? Could it really be that simple? And if so, could I live with that pile--would it work? I couldn't believe that Clemmy had employed such a tactic in her day. Certainly, such a routine could not have been acceptable to the 1950s housewife. What if a Francine-from-Mad Men like character had stopped by during the day for coffee with her severely judgmental and negative personality and her almost clinical eye for home perfection? Well, I didn't ask what the protocol would be for such a situation but deduced that if Clem could pull it off back then there was no reason I couldn't do the same. Haven't women relaxed their standards for each other even if the internal pressure remains? Perhaps it's just that self-conscious voice inside your head that needs to be silenced. But then, what about Husband? Would he be turned off by the state of things when he returned from work in the evening? Would it make him anxious or even worried about me? Nah, I told myself, he just don't notice the state of the house with as discerning an eye as I do. Nor does he really care as much. Even Don Draper once told Betty to just leave the dirty dishes in the sink overnight. So one day, I just started little by little doing just what Clem had advised and I have been working on it ever since. It was not easy at first. Sometimes, I literally had to sit on my hands or even just avoid certain areas of the house. It helped to meditate on the big-picture by reciting a mantra such as "sanity over sanitary, sanity over sanitary...." Eventually I could feel my standards beginning to compromise. The degree to which external disorder made me internally crazy began to lessen. It was replaced with the feeling of being fulfilled on a much deeper level since I could now be more tuned in to my daughter.
Now that I have two children ages 3 years and 10 months, I have hit my stride in terms of Clemmy Cleaning. During the day, I do the minimum amount of work required to maintain a clean enough house. This just means that the house is in such a state where it is okay to be messy with chores on deck but does not cross the line into being disgusting or hazardous. So, for example, the trash needs to be taken out but it is not spilling over and stinking up the kitchen. I'll just take it out back after they go to bed. Like a high school janitor. No need to forgo a nap or interrupt an exciting game of Legos. Another thing that Clemmy was famous for was the art of spot-cleaning. No need to wash that pasta collander, just rinse and let dry. That serrated knife you only used to slice bread? Just brush off the crumbs and file it back in the wooden block. This type of thing is the essence of Clemmy cleaning. Not living in fear of Francine's scrutiny is a secondary benefit. She may or may not nit pick when she comes to visit my Clemmy Clean home but at least I don't have to let it get to me. I will be too relaxed from the long baby nap I took during the day and the dramatic game of hide-and-seek I played with my daughter to care. And I will not, under any circumstances, apologize. Because when you are an mother at home with small children, whether it's 4 or 24 hours a day, your time is precious. Before you know it, it will be gone. So when you are rocking your child to sleep while the furniture around you begs to be polished you can tell yourself not to worry. I'll enjoy this precious moment because there will be plenty of time later for having a perfect and beautiful home. In the meantime, I'll just Clemmy Clean it.