Why is it suddenly such a bad thing to have a clean house?
It’s just a little bit ironic that I’m writing this post from a house that’s currently so messy from last week’s flood that it’s almost unrecognisable from the one pictured at the top of this page.
(It’s also ironic that I’m illustrating this post with a photo I took without bothering to tidy up the kitchen first, so I can see tons of annoying details that make me want to reach through the screen and clean it. It’s gone way downhill since this was taken, though – again, thanks to The Flood – so it’ll have to do…)
My house isn’t always this messy, though. In fact, it’s normally pretty tidy – and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve really come to realise how very ODD some people find that.
A few weeks ago, for instance, I was chatting to one of the medical professionals involved in my ante-natal care (I’m not being deliberately vague here, by the way, I genuinely can’t remember who it was now!), who was telling me all about the health visitor who’ll be visiting us at home once the baby arrives.
“You don’t have to worry about tidying up for her, though,” this person told me. “In fact, if your house is too clean, that’ll set alarm bells ringing!”
This was just a throwaway comment, but it stuck in my mind, because it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this: that the health visitor will possibly be concerned if she visits us at home in the weeks after the baby’s birth, and feels that the house looks too clean or tidy. Apparently this can be a cause for concern, purely because it’s seen as NOT NORMAL, and it can make the health visitor worry that the new parents must be depressed, and turning to obsessive cleaning as a way to cope.
Now, this post isn’t about health visitors, or about how clean my house will or won’t be after I have the baby. Honestly, I have NO IDEA how I’m going to feel when the baby is here, and I’m not naive enough to be That Person who’s all, “Oh no, absolutely NOTHING will change for me: my house will be as spotless as ever.” I mean, that would be me just BEGGING for more of those smug, “Just you wait!” comments that have followed me throughout this pregnancy, no?
(Just for the record, no, I don’t expect to be able to keep the house immaculately clean and tidy when I have a newborn. I do find it quite odd to see how gleeful some people are about this, though, almost as if they’re desperate to see me fail, just to teach me a lesson or something, and it’s quite frankly bizarre to know that I must be seen to be struggling in order to prove that I’m not, in fact, struggling. So, I must struggle… but not too much, because that would be bad, too, obviously. I guess the trick is to find exactly the right degree of “struggling”, then – when I find out what it is, I’ll let you know…)
“It’s quite frankly bizarre to know that I must be seen to be struggling in order to prove that I’m not, in fact, struggling. So, I must struggle… but not too much, because that would be bad, too, obviously.”
It did make me worry a bit, though, because what if my house IS still clean when the baby is here? I mean, I may not have the energy to do it myself, but I DO have a mother who lives less than a mile away, and if you think my mum would come to visit without cleaning something (if it needed it, obviously), then you do NOT know my mother, seriously. So… if that happens, will I have to deliberately mess it up again, just so the health visitor thinks I’m “normal”? And why is a tidy house considered so ABnormal these days, anyway?
Because, the thing is, it really IS, isn’t it? Even taking the whole health visitor/new baby thing completely out of the picture, there have been countless occasions when I’ve been made to feel like a bit of a freak, really, for having a tidy house. It’s normally the first thing people comment on when they visit, and sometimes they’ll make such a big deal about how OMGTIDY the place is that it’ll start to make me feel uncomfortable, and like I’ve done something really strange or wrong for not living in a complete mess. In fact, I realised recently that I often find myself almost apologising for it, or even outright lying, by saying something like, “Oh, it’s not normally like this, trust me!” when the fact is, it actually IS normally “like this”.
“Now show us what it REALLY looks like!” someone once commented on an Instagram photo of my desk. “I bet it’s not always that tidy!” I didn’t like to say it, because the person obviously wouldn’t have believed me anyway, but actually, yeah: it might not ALWAYS be that tidy, but it ALMOST always is, because I like things neat – always have, probably always will. I just can’t concentrate at a messy desk, and nor can I sit down and relax in a filthy room – so I do my best to keep the place clean and tidy… and, more and more often, I feel like I’m being judged for that, with people deciding that I’m either a liar or a freak, because it’s just not NORMAL to be tidy, is it?
But… WHY, though, I wonder?
The fact is, Terry and I were both raised in tidy houses. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were never fanatical about it, and neither was Terry’s mum: I’m just talking about things like being encouraged to put toys away at the end of the day, or seeing my parents tidy the place up when they were expecting visitors. That seemed totally normal to me, and it does to Terry, too: he’s not naturally a tidy person (Far from it, actually…), but he will do some cleaning if we’re expecting guests – and then we’ll both be really taken aback when the guests arrive, and are absolutely astonished to find the house looking clean.
Online, meanwhile, there seems to be a general idea that people with clean houses, (Or – shock horror – IRONED CLOTHES ) must have “no life”. I see this kind of thing circulating on Facebook fairly often, for instance:
Now, obviously this is supposed to be a joke – I do get that. There are, however, plenty of people who subscribe to this view: “I have BETTER things to do than clean my house/iron my clothes! I have a LIFE!” they’ll smugly say – which obviously implies that those of us who DO own an iron, or who don’t mind tidying up, must have no life at all, doesn’t it?
Just for the record, then, NO, I do not spend all my time cleaning, and I DO have a life, thanks very much. Yes, I try to keep the house tidy, but it’s not like it’s my hobby: I still manage to do other things too, amazingly enough. There are only two of us living here (for now) after all, and while I’m totally willing to accept that things might be different when we have a baby to look after, for now at least, it really doesn’t take THAT much time to clean up after ourselves – which makes me really resent the implication that I must be badly in need of a hobby just because I have a clean bathroom. Er, most of the time, anyway.
Most of all, it bothers me because I would never try to make someone else feel bad for being messy. I don’t think that being a so-called “neat freak” makes me better than anyone else – but I don’t think it makes me WORSE than anyone else, either, and I’m honestly tired of feeling like I should apologise (Or having people imply that I’m a liar, who has staged photos or something…) for something that’s just a personal preference, and a part of who I am.
Why do people do this, I wonder? Why do they feel this need to insist that THEIR way is the ONLY way, and that anyone who’s not like them must be straight-up crazy, or have no life? I honestly couldn’t care less how tidy or otherwise someone else’s home is – but I increasingly feel like I have to defend my own from people who feel that I’m somehow letting the side down by tidying up, and that’s just a little bit strange, to me. It seems that this is the kind of society we have now, though: one where, unless we’re seen to be struggling, we’re deemed to be somehow abnormal, and not to be trusted – which is a shame, really, isn’t it?