I live in a house that is booby-trapped with stickiness. And I’m a neat freak at heart. When my house is clean I feel a crisp sense of well-being. Which means I’m truly peaceful for maybe 30 seconds twice a year.
Still, I long for the clarity, for the joy, when everything is in its proper place.
I spent my childhood in a series of rentals, and as a grown-up, lived in at least two of the worst apartments in existence. One was like a boarding house where I shared a bathroom with a male punk rocker who lived across the hall. My space was slightly larger than a thimble and had a view of rooftops and despair. Once the rental agent came by and her mouth dropped when I opened the door. She stepped in and looked around.
“I’ve never seen it look so nice in here.”
I had put up a vintage mirror with a turquoise frame, tossed a few silk scarves over this and that, and made the most of my hand-me-down furniture. An antique desk and a quaint love seat. I rolled my futon up each night. It was bleak, but clean and organized. I graduated from college six months after moving in.
Much later, I spent 17 exasperating months in another gloomy apartment. This one had been falsely advertised as a two bedroom. It did in fact include a total of two rooms, the larger of which had a kind of “alcove” that I slept in. My 3 year old son was given the official bedroom and his toddler bed fit nicely.
The apartment was on the top floor of a narrow brick building that sat next to a hot dog “shoppe.” Its smell was aggressive and I never deigned to enter the place despite my son always begging. We were stationed across the street from a hospital and when the medi-copters flew in, hailing their emergencies, all of my framed pictures would clatter against the walls.
The bathtub was so small that I had to choose which half of my body to immerse at one time, torso or legs, never both at once.
One thing about tiny apartments: it’s easy to keep them clean.
When I finally bought my own home, a real house, a manse actually, it seemed to take me into its arms, enclosing me in wonder and comfort. My house has rooms as large and wide as afternoons. We have five bedrooms, over 4000 square feet and an obscene, but cherished, number of closets.
One summer, I cleaned room by room. Drawer by drawer. Cranny by cranny. I created a schedule, bought baskets and containers, imposed deadlines. Gave attention to every surface. The project took six weeks. Everything glistened.
One of my favorite things about my house is the space we call the “rotunda,” a roundish room at the bottom of the stairs. It’s the heart of the home with aortal passages leading to other rooms and hallways, exits and entrances. When I come down the stairs in the morning and the space is clean, I almost float.
The space is almost never clean. Somehow, the rotunda turned into a giant junk drawer. It’s the haven for the packing and unpacking of backpacks which creates a trail of handouts and lost homework. It’s a pajama dump, a shoe repository, a good place to set mail and bags that never get spied in or unloaded.
And this is only Station 1 of the junk. There are others. The dining room table.
The giant ottoman and its tray in the living room. Perfect reservoirs for armies of mail. Tape. Every pair of scissors. Pieces to toy sets. Single crayons. Discarded wrappers. Whatever you like.
I really am living in my dream home. And I really can’t keep it clean. The mail is my all my fault. I blame myself for the alarming level of clutter, but there are other types of disasters lurking . . . levels of grime and madness that are beyond my doing.
There is a rule in our house, loosely enforced, coopted from Wayne Dyer. The rule is “No Blaming.”
Well, I’m about to blame my youngest two children. The oldest escapes only because he’s away at college. I don’t have any overt proof that they made the messes my list, just an extreme hunch.
Here are some examples of recent bedlam I have stumbled upon in my dream home that I love:
1) Jelly smeared on top of my tea canister, and a matching smear on my sugar bowl.
2)An empty soap dispenser, fancy and purchased two days prior, found “glued” via soap scuzz onto the sink edge in the guest bath.
3)The tub surround, made of wood, disconnected from itself at the corner seam, nails exposed.
4)The moulding beneath a built-in shelf. Detached from wall.
5)The wrought iron banister near the bottom of the steps—wrenched loose. (Likely cause: Tarzan-style “swinging.”)
6)A plastic container of marinara sauce. I recognized it from a to-go order, accompanying bread sticks, delivered 10 days prior. I found it tucked into a storage cabinet in my 7 year old’s bedroom.
7)All of the salt in the salt shaker poured on top of the pepper shaker, spilling out in a trail across the kitchen table.
8)A general moratorium on flushing—for unknown reasons.
9)Handprints. Every possible place. Mirrors. Walls. Tiles. Windows. Cabinet doors. On lovely things made of glass.
10)Copious puddles. Caused by the “run-off” from hand-washing. And the aiming of shower nozzles out of the shower.
11)Last night, I entered a bathroom, the tub faucet was left running so I shut it. I exited the room with dripping wet socks. Dripping. Just from walking across the floor.
12)Then there was that mysterious glop of what appeared to be the fruited innards of a breakfast bar ground into the living room carpet. Despite the fact that food is not allowed in the living room. For obvious reasons.
13)The bountiful contents of a large cardboard box were discovered emptied onto a closet floor. The box was needed to fashion a rocket.
14)The individual pieces of breakfast cereal, numbered in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, nestled between cushions, wedged in the spot where the dishwasher meets the floor. Tousled about the kitchen as if fluffy, fake snow at Christmas. Then squished into crumbs. Millions of crumbs.
15)A strange, wide, streak of black sticky matter “pasted” against the slat of my son’s bunk bed. He has no idea what it is or where it came from. I have a theory that it is the remains of a gel window sticker that melted. But that doesn’t make any sense, does it?
The best known solution for most of these issues is Clorox wipes. Use beach towels and your feet to dry the puddles. Add in heavy doses of forgiveness and then spritz with gratitude. I’ll take this messy big home that’s mine over those spit-scrubbed apartments any day. Though those were the spaces that taught me how to love a home.