Before my son was born, a few people who knew my clean-freak tendencies warned me that I would soon have to ease up and embrace the mess that comes with kids. For me, a clean house is non-negotiable, so this advice kind of annoyed me. I knew having a baby would mean a LOT of changes and sacrifices, but the one thing I wasn’t willing to sacrifice was a clean, clutter-free house.
Still, I worried…what if they were right? What if a clean house and a baby were mutually exclusive, and by the time he was 6 months old my home looked like an episode of Hoarders? In my mind, there was no in between.
You see, I have always been a neat freak. I remember carefully dusting my vast collection of snowglobes in my childhood bedroom. In elementary school, I organized and wiped down the inside of my desk almost daily. In college I would run around my shared apartment with a Dustbuster, trying in vain to get the gross tile floors clean. My husband used to live in fear of my rage cleaning episodes, but after 10 years together he’s learned that there’s no stopping me when I’m in that mode.
Now that we have a 15-month-old terrorizing exploring our house every day, it has gotten 1,000 times harder to maintain my cleanliness standards. I put away clean socks, and he promptly pulls them all out. I mop the floors, and the next morning he throws his breakfast everywhere. Today he spilled an entire canister of oats, and I raced to sweep the piles into the dustpan before he could bulldoze them. (I did not succeed.) It’s truly a joy to watch his curiosity and adventurousness blossom, but the clean freak in me can’t help but be exasperated sometimes.
I used to enjoy cleaning more in my pre-baby life. Back then, I could blast my music and work my way around the house for a few hours on a Sunday and still have time to go to brunch, work out and binge watch a show on Netflix. Now I squeeze cleaning into nap time and the post-bedtime hours, in between all the other to-do’s that must be done, eating up the little relaxation time that remains.
So why do I persist? Because it’s who I am. When I became a mom and decided to stay home with my son, it was a huge identity shift. In a lot of ways, I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Having a clean, organized house was one thing I could do to still feel like myself.
The other big reason is that while cleaning stresses me out sometimes, a dirty, cluttered house stresses me out even more. If I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, cleaning out my closet or vacuuming the rug helps keep those feelings at bay. I relish the time in the evening when, after the toys and high chair are put away, I can light a candle and enjoy a couple hours of clutter-free calm. My husband doesn’t understand why I do all that, only to have it be destroyed the next morning. For me, it’s worth it.
By this point, you probably think I’m kind of crazy and super judgmental about other people’s homes, but I’m not at all, I promise. (Well, crazy maybe, but definitely not judgey.) I’m always worried guests are going to notice dust and fingerprints in my own house, but I never notice any of that in others’ homes. And despite all the time I spend cleaning, my house is still far from perfect, so I’m in no place to judge anyone else’s.
I wish I could let go a little and embrace the mess more. It would make life easier. Time is at a premium these days, and I should spend less of it cleaning and more of it on projects that feed my soul. Or just, you know, sleeping.
But against all odds, I’m still a neat freak, even with a toddler. My son has a lot of fun making huge messes, and I have fun watching him do it. But I’m always there cleaning it up when he’s done. I’m sure if we have another baby it will be a different story, but I’ll hold on to my clean freak-ness as much as I can. Or who knows, you might see me on Hoarders after all.