Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cleanliness Anxiety

At what point in the last ten years did I turn into one of those women who can't function unless the house is clean? It's been a slow transformation, from a relaxed studenty attitude to dirt, through the easy solo living days to my current anxiety-filled quest to maintain cleanliness in the face of a rampaging crumb-scattering baby. I'm not stupid about cleaning: a quick vac once a week, cleaning the bathroom when it smells or gets spattered with toothpaste, a bit of dusting once a month and a daily wipe of the kitchen surfaces is quite enough for me. But I just can't stand it if things get out of hand and the place becomes dirty.

Last week I was stressed out, all week. And I am ashamed to say it was all because I felt like I was drowning under a weight of housework. We had been away for a long weekend, meaning that the previous week had been mostly about preparing for the trip, so very little washing or cleaning had been done. That meant this week I had to do several loads of laundry, clean the kitchen and vac the house as well as the usual daily washing up. I know this doesn't sound much to a normal person but to a sleep deprived mother with a trying-to-walk baby clinging to her legs, it feels like climbing a mountain.

Every day I put the washing out on the line, only for it to rain again and soak it through. My dad came and did some DIY which coated our entire bathroom and landing in dust. Then he threw a cup of coffee down the stairs. And of course Cave Baby was going through one of her "difficult" weeks which meant she refused to eat her normal meals and preferred to throw food all over the place instead. Three times a day. Ahhhh.

The fact that this all gets me so stressed out is probably related to my SAHM inferiority complex. I think that if I'm at home, the least I should be able to do is welcome Cave Father into a clean house at the end of the day (Feminism? Never heard of it). When I worked full time I didn't really care about dirt because (a) I was only at home when it was dark, so I didn't see it; and (b) I had much more important things to worry about. But now I spend many daylight hours here in my house I have far too much time to look at the state of my carpets and stress about how on earth I am going to find time to clean them when I have to go shopping and take Cave Baby to this or that baby group and meet my mum and make a cake and check my emails and blah blah blah blah. I wish I could have Lisa from Edenwild's healthier attitude towards cleanliness.

Thank god for my mother who came on Thursday and did all those niggly little jobs that Cave Baby just won't tolerate me doing. That helped a lot. But what shocked me the most was that on Friday, when I did manage to vac the house, I instantly felt a hundred times more relaxed. Now isn't that so sad? My anxiety genuinely was caused by my need to clean. I really am turning into one of those women who have to have a clean house. And that's not who I want to be!

Let's just set a few pledges out right now. I am not going to be one of those people who wipes my baby's face or washes her hands in the middle of a meal. I am not going to worry about her picking up soil. I am not going to ask anyone to take their shoes off at the door. And I am going to try not to ever let staying clean get in the way of having fun. I shall have be mindful about reigning my cleaning urges in. Wish me luck!


Lisa - edenwild said...

Your last paragraph sounds like a very healthy attitude toward cleanliness. You know, I don't think it's the cleaning itself that bothers me, but the time it takes to do it. So I try to prevent messes. Well, I used to anyway. I, too, want my child to play in the dirt and have fun with his food. It's good for him. And no way should cleaning get in the way of having fun. sure is nice to have a clean house, isn't it?? I guess it's all about moderation, you know?

Liz said...

What you need to do is be the person in the house with the highest threshold tolerance to mess and dirt. In my house, my husband is much more sensitive to it than me, hence he is the one who ends up doing most of the cleaning type housework! Result.
Plus, you are a SAHM not a 'housewife' therefore your job is lookig after Cave Baby, not looking after the house. It's your job to ensure that Cave Father comes home to a happy and well-looked-after child, full stop - the rest of the jobs around the house are still to be split. After all, as you and I both know, looking after a baby is a full time job in itself most of the time.
It's not feminism, it's merely logical negotiation between you and your partner about who does what, what is reasonable, who enjoys what, etc..., so that you both feel fine with it at the end of the day. If either of you is stressed, resentful, too busy, then that's a sign it needs re-negotiating.
A lot of mothers take onto themselves the whole care of the household tasks when they stop work with a new baby, but what they should do is just to take on the care of the baby and everything else to be split 50/50. Then as the baby starts needing daddy as well as mummy, the housework and the working for money can start to be re-negotiated and split in different proportions.

Earthenwitch said...

I really, really sympathise. I too have unearthed the inner clean freak since the tiny daughter has been more mobile, and more dirt-aware herself. It's a tricky balance, isn't it, between keeping things sanitary enough that your brain isn't constantly suspecting some sort of deadly germs lurking in the skirting board and remembering that soil-eating never killed anyone (I hope). And I definitely second what Liz said about being a SAHM rather than a housewife - if Cave Baby is your focus rather than the dust or the washing or whatever, then you're doing your job, and doing it well. Housework is a bonus, not a duty.

(And yes! emphatically! to the mountain-climbing nature of extra tasks like washing when the babe is having a clingy day or something.)

carol b said...

Liz says it so well; when I was first home as a SAHM I felt that our daughter should be the best looked after baby in the world, that our garden (an acre for goodness sake) should be perfect all the time, and that the house should be immaculate all the time. It was all my job.
These were only ever MY expectations.
Once I learned to accept a bit of dust and a few weeds, it all became so much easier...

docwitch said...

hehehe...yes. I too somehow morphed from being the Artsy-fartsy student who was a walking red wine stain, to a vacuum wielding Fury who Does Dishes with a vengeance. Well, almost. I have become alarmingly tidy since The Moon came along.
And yeah - Liz said it so well, (about the Not Housewife status).

Sometimes for me, it can be a case of being able to exert some order amidst what is generally the chaos of childhood. But I will always let my girl dig in the dirt, and wear chocolate across her chops, and jump in muddy puddles without intervention or following her around with a dustpan and mop.

Jessica said...

I'm the same way re: cleaning. Unlike @Liz, though, my husband has a very high threshold tolerance to dirt and mess so I'm always the one cleaning. Having said that, though, I used to stress about it a lot (and wrote about it a lot, too).

What I eventually did was make a schedule for myself. It's not set in stone, or anything, but it makes me feel better over all and my house stays tidy, too. When H was small and crawling everywhere I cleaned twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays - never on the weekend, because, like my husband, my work-week was over and no one likes working on the weekends). As he's gotten bigger, I only clean on Fridays (to get the house clean for us to all relax together).

I think of it as my office and I want my office clean. I spend SO much time there! And you're also right about the light of day, too.

It's freaky how similar we are on things. I also figured that since I was at home the house was my job. I think of it as a part of my SAHM gig, but not the whole thing. I manage the business of our lives, after all, and that means the house stuff. I think it really helps if you have the weekends "off," too.

Mon said...

What Liz up there said.

Those last statements sound just the thing. print them out, paste them on the fridge. :)

I personally find there's about 127 much more amazing things tempting me, so that I don't have time to suffer cleaniness anxiety. ;)

Cave Mother said...

Yep, great comments. I will print them out and paste to the fridge, Mon :)

Amanda said...

I am so right there with you. I'm completely confounded as to how I could be home all day every day and have a house that looks like it's teetering on the edge of hurricane-land. And I, too, experience that amazing "cloud lifting" feeling when things do manage to get neat and clean. I was shocked and not a little dismayed to realize some of my writers block last week was due to kitchen construction (which, of course, managed to infect the entire house!). Sigh. We do what we can and sweep the rest under the carpet until we have more energy :)

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