House Proud

My house is so charming and clean--from a distance.

My house is so charming and clean–from a distance.

My house is a mess. I mean that in so many ways.

For starters, we have a lot of clutter. People in the household don’t always put their things away after immediate use. I’m as guilty as anyone else, but to be fair to us all, we live in an older home and so we don’t have many closets or cabinets. Some things are just out because even after living here for six years, certain objects haven’t found a home. For example, my vacuum cleaner is parked in a dark corner in the living room.

The clutter problem has only been made worse by our efforts to clean out my mother-in-law’s home. Currently, plastic containers packed with an assortment of old books and office supplies occupy a not-so-dark corner of our living room.

Then, there is the dirt. I’ve often heard other people say, “My house is cluttered, but not dirty.” Well, how is that possible? I spend so much of my time trying to pick up the clutter that I never get around to cleaning. So, other people are vacuuming around that pile of paperwork on the bedroom floor? That makes no sense.

So, I’ll admit it. My house is dirty. Floors need mopping, furniture needs dusting, and windows need washing. Visit me and you will see dust-bunnies. I promise they don’t bite.

Contributing to the appearance of mess is a decision that pre-dates our residency. A previous owner removed some of the interior walls. The open floor plan means all that clutter and grime are visible from the moment you walk in the front-door. There’s no hiding it.

Finally, there is the structure itself. My house is old. I love that it has all that character and charm that attracts people to old buildings and makes us want to preserve them, but the reality is old houses are a mess. Something always needs fixing.

One project leads to another. My wonderful cousin replaced my bathroom floor and did an excellent job. Until she arrived with her sledge hammer, saw and shovel, we had our own little in-door mushroom farm growing between the layers. So, thanks to her, the floor now looks great–and my bathtub is no longer in danger of landing on my dining room table–but I was supposed to finish the bathroom by sanding down the walls and painting them. I haven’t gotten around to it.

The exterior of the house really needs painting, too. One of the porch columns needs replacing. Scratch that. The entire front porch needs replacing. Some of the windows aren’t operable. The floors could stand refinishing. The kitchen could use remodeling. And I’m constantly looking at cracks and asking myself, “Was that there before the earthquake? I honestly don’t know.” Yeah, the physical structure itself needs a butt-load of work.

Even the décor is a mess. I’ve never had a beautifully furnished home, but I had a couple of nice pieces mixed with the cheap Ikea stuff and it was suitable for an active family with young children. Then, we moved a lot of my mother-in-law’s furniture into our house. She has lovely things that belong in a more regal setting than our little farmhouse. So, we have a real hodge-podge that is beyond eclectic. I’d describe our style as tacky, for now. Eventually, I will get around to placing things a little better, repainting the walls, and perhaps even recovering some furniture, but like renovating a home, decorating it will take both time and money.

Eventually has become my favorite word.

In the meantime, I’m challenging myself in another way. I’m trying to get over feeling self-conscious about my home. Occasionally, I feel very judged by everyone who see my messy, messy house.

I’m sure it has something to do with how I was raised. When I was growing up, we cleaned up a lot—no doubt we made a lot of messes, too, but cleaning was always put into hyper-drive whenever company was coming. A messy house would lead people to believe we were “lazy”—or worse. It might make people think we were “poor, white trash.”

If you aren’t from the American South, you may not be familiar with that term. However, if you are a southerner—and white—there’s a good chance you either embrace it like that family on the Honey Boo-Boo show or you distance yourself from it by wearing pearls and joining the Junior League or your local historical society. Interestingly, true economic status doesn’t play into it as much as the word “poor” implies.

In my family, there was a fear that people would think we were poor, white trash if the house wasn’t clean. Now, as an adult, living 500+ miles north of “home”—but arguably still in the South, I look at my messy, messy house and under my breath in my most defeated, deflated voice, I say, “Lord. We live like poor, white trash.” And I have days in which I don’t even want the mail carrier coming to the front door for fear that she will silently agree with my sad assessment.

On a happier note, more and more, I have days in which I really do not care if anyone looks upon my mess. I know that most people are way too busy dealing with their own mess to care one way or the other about mine. It’s a little self-centered to think others are even going to take the time to pass judgment. And if they do judge me based on the clutter or the dust-bunnies or my chipped paint, what’s it to me? Do I really care? Really? No.

Two years ago, my daughter’s pre-school organized a class picnic to commemorate the end of the school year. One of her classmates lived on a real farm with horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. His parents were hosting.

The farm turned out to be a very large estate that had been in their family for generations, and in addition to all the usual farm-buildings and fields, there were several houses of various time periods and in various state of disrepair.

Our host family lived in a two-story, center-gabled late Victorian-era farmhouse (I’d guess circa 1890). The father of the classmate told me that his great-great grandfather had built it and that is great-grandfather and grandfather had been born in it. When he inherited it, no one had lived there since the 1970s, but he had always loved it and was now restoring it, “little-by-little, from the inside out, first floor first.” And the two rooms I saw on the first floor were lovely—a kitchen with a brick floor and a wood-burning stove and a small parlor with a handsomely carved mantel.

The exterior, however, needed more than just a coat of paint. Some of the wooden siding was spongy with decay, the chimney needed repointing, the bottom step leading to the front porch was just missing and had been replaced with a cinderblock, and rusty nails protruded from an exterior wall where I guessed some sort of trim must have rotted away. As someone accustomed to the perils of older homes, I thought of the liability of hosting a children’s picnic on the front lawn, but I really admired the home owners for not thinking, “We can’t do that! Our house isn’t ready for other people to see!”

My admiration increased when I took my daughter inside to use the bathroom. A line was forming for the only toilet on the first floor and our hostess instructed us to go up a rickety flight of stairs to the first door on the left. We did. I knocked and then swung the door open to find a pile of wet towels on the floor, bath toys piled in the sink and in the bath tub, a ripped shower curtain, toothbrushes scattered on the toothpaste-smeared countertop. The mirror was water-spotted and the toilet bowl was rust-stained.

In that moment, I wanted to run down the stairs, hug our hostess, and proclaim her my new best friend. I wanted her to tell me her secret. I wanted to know how she became so comfortable with having strangers see her mess. A mess that looked a lot like my own.

Then, I stopped myself. I didn’t want her to suddenly feel judged. What would I say? “Your house is a mess and I love that you are having a party here anyway?” So, I kept my admiration to myself, but thanked the host family profusely.



3 thoughts on “House Proud

  1. Julie

    I think presenting our dirty houses to the world is another way of being honest. Or eliminating imaginary pressure. No, most of us don’t want a messy or dirty environment, but sometimes life calls for it. Thanks for your honesty and acceptance!

  2. Lisa

    One of my dearest friends has a great saying. “If you want to see my house, make an appointment. If you want to see me, come on over.” I love it! I love, love, love that I have a handful of friends who are welcome any time and they open their houses the same way. i’ve seen so many messes in other people’s homes and they’ve noticed quite a few in mine. And no, none of us is “trash”. Busy? Absolutely! If you have young children, your house is not going to be picture perfect. It’s not going to be picture perfect if you have a live-in elderly parent, or if you’re home all day homeschooling, or working from home, or if you work outside the home, or if you have pets, or if you are an empty nester with no pets who can no longer afford a housekeeper (<- My mil's house is huge, brand new, has tons of storage (a basement the size of my house!!) with no small children or pets and I've seen it messy plenty. Plenty!). One of our funny family stories is this: when my mil was a SAHM with 2 small children and living in the big city, she returned home one day and noticed her front door was ajar. She immediately called the police from a neighbor's house. The police reported to her that no one was in the house, and that there were no signs of forced entry, but she needed to see what was missing because the house had been ransacked. The funny part? The house was just as she'd left it! I think picture perfect houses only appear on tv, in magazines, and on facebook!


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