When the girls get home from school, they frequently arrive with their entourage, three or four (or sometimes five) friends, who live in the neighborhood and end up at our house when the school day is over. Every now and then there is a new girl in the mix. Recently, when they arrived home with a girl, I saw her look around the open living room/dining room/kitchen area and exclaim, “Wow! Your house is so clean.”
At first I took this to be sarcasm. Our house rarely seems clean to me. It’s not that it seems messy, just lived in by two busy adults and three kids ranging from five-to-teenager. The couch is often covered with blankets under which can be found crumbs, empty plates, missing remote controls, books, a left sock, a hair brush. One or more Lego pieces can be found on the floor. Tricycles and other conveyances are shoved into corners here and there. The dining room table frequently contains scraps of artwork remains, homework assignments-in-progress, various to-do lists that Kelly makes throughout the day. Even my office gets chaotic. I’ve explained how the coverage of the surface of my desk is a good measure of how busy I am.
So when this friend announced how clean our house was, I smiled, appreciating the sarcasm. But as I listened to her describe her own house, I realized that she wasn’t being sarcastic–she legitimately thought our house was clean.
For some reason, it seems to me that other people’s houses are always cleaner than ours, just as it seems that other people’s houses are better decorated than ours. I don’t know why this is. Maybe I’m just used to seeing our house, used to reminding the kids to pickup things, put things away, or turn off the lights.
I was thinking about this today because when the girls arrived home from school (there were four of them in addition to our two), the house really was clean. It’s a Tuesday (as I write this) and we have cleaners come in every other Tuesday to give the house a good scrubbing. I look forward to those Tuesdays because when the cleaners finish, the house looks clean, feels clean, and smells clean. Usually they come early in the day, just after the kids have gone off to school, but today they didn’t arrive until almost 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The girls arrived home shortly after the clearners left.
I didn’t hear any stray comments about how clean our house was today, even though it was about as clean as it ever gets. I did remind our kids that the cleaners were just here and that they should avoid tearing the house apart before we’ve had some time to enjoy the clean.
The two week period between professional house cleanings is an object lesson in entropy. Without seeming like we are taking any positive action toward disrupting the clean, it steadily falls apart. The couch, which looks pristine when the cleaners leave, doesn’t look quite as pristine the next morning when the kids sit bleary-eyed on its cushions, watching TV. The kitchen counters, which gleam when the cleaners walk out the door have lost their shine a day or two later. The freshly vacuumed carpets downstairs look wan after a week.
Do we have a clean house? We do right now, but it won’t last for long. Ask me again in a week. Or better yet, ask one of the girls’ friends who come over after school–they are more likely to tell you that it is still clean.
Written on May 10, 2022.
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