I recognize in myself the sort of strange "freak out and get it clean now!" tendencies. I know that a lot of women feel this way, and I'm not sure where it all comes from but I do think it is cultural. That is, whenever our house was messy, and a woman from my mother's generation came over, there was always some comment that I was deficient as a woman/person because my house wasn't "perfectly clean."
Of course, I also had a lot of internalized shame about the status of my house, which I'll explain.
I will say that my experience has four distinct phases.
First, my childhood -- my mother alternated between WOHM and SAHM depending upon our circumstance. Nevertheless, she was big into having a clean and uncluttered house. She had her stuff, her collections, but she is very organized. Friends would call our house "the museum" because there were rooms where my parents entertained (1-2 times per week). The rest of the house was more lived in, but we always tidied away at the end of the evening, before bed time. I was encouraged and lead through the process of cleaning my room and helping around the house as a small child. I was "cleaning" my own room around age 3-4, and then we had to clean it up weekly from there. We were allowed to keep toys out, play, etc. in an on-going way in our rooms, so it was ok to leave the doll's house organized or whatever.
When I went to university, I liked to keep my half of the dorm room clean and organized, but sometime around age 19 or so, I rather started to experiment with a bit more mess, and then I got my boyfriend (now husband). This enters the second distinct phase of messiness.
The messiness stemmed from living with someone and having the expectation that he would help out. In fact, I had a rather strong perspective of "i'm not anyone's maid or mother!" And what I quickly learned is that any division of labor quickly disintegrated into either A. I was doing 100% of the labor or B. No labor was getting done because he wasn't doing any, and then I refused to because it "wasn't fair" that i was doing all of the labor.
I would say, therefore, that for many years, I lived in what I would now term squalor. And clutter. DH had proclivities for clutter, and not cleaning (except laundry and when he felt "forced" to do dishes because he'd used all of them eating his 6 meals a day -- yes, 6 full place settings every day -- and they somehow weren't magically cleaned at the end of the day! I wonder why they weren't! Oh right, I wasn't cleaning them.
I got to the point where I was just cleaning my main areas -- around my bed, where I liked to eat, my dishes, my laundry. The rest of the 1300 sq ft place was basically "his" and essentially a disaster. Add to that a free-roaming rabbit (and yes, I did clean up after the rabbit), and it was quite a mess indeed.
And this was the time when many women of my mother's generation would cluck at me about being somehow deficient, but never ever lodged that claim toward my husband, who -- after being with him for nearly 13 years -- has not cleaned the bathroom in all that time. You can imagine, therefore, how well he manages the rest of a household. I am, and was then, completely frustrated by the very *notion* that I am deficient for not cleaning up after a grown man!
So, before anyone would come over, I woudl stress out and clean up MONTHS of mess and clutter and scrub and work myself to the bone and get it as nice as I possibly could over several days or a week and then get chastised about how it wasn't good enough. And i was terrified of people coming over; i felt ashamed of our place because I just felt like I had no control.
Then, we enter the third phase, wherein I started doing all of the chores.
I actually got the idea from Dr Phil. I'm no big fan of the guy, but there was some episode about some nonsense and something just clicked for me. I think it was about this husband who would chastise the wife about how she folded the towels, and he said "she has pride, she's not going to let the house fall into disrepair, and if your'e going to leave her in charge of managing the house, then let her do it her way. And when you have a chore, you do it your way. Or, you do the chores, and live exactly the ay you want!" Or some such.
And it just clicked. I'd been allowing my husband's mess to dictate my life, and to dictate my value to myself and socially too. He wouldn't clean it up -- no matter how much I pushed -- and he didn't seem to care. After all, *his* value wasn't under question when the house was a mess, but mine was. And, it was affecting me. I would get very emotional about the house.
See, I wasn't happy with the status of the home. I wasn't happy with living in clutter and mess. And I didn't like it. And I often stayed well away from home because, guess what? it wasn't comfortable to be there. I was living in my husband's mess!
So, I got started. I decluttered my house. I had to force my husband to do it, but I decluttered, I reorganized, and I cleaned. We did some home renovations (paint and floors), and the house looked really nice for the first time in many years. I got into the habit of doing chores each day, tidying throughout the day, and basically "keeping house." This coincided with me working less and with the birth of my child.
Since then, I've done most of the chores. Yes, DH does help -- but he doesn't do the deep cleaning. He will tidy, dishes, trash, etc -- anything I ask him to do that takes 10 or 15 minutes tops. But, he still hasn't scrubbed the fridge, or cleaned the toilet, in a long time . . . or, well, ever in our time together.
During this time, I felt much better about the way that I lived. I was more comfortable and less stressed in my home. I stayed home fairly frequently, instead of going out all the time to stay away/get away from the mess. And I started to honor the part of myself that is a minimalist.
Then we decided to move to NZ.
This leads into the forth phase of my way of keeping house -- which is about being clean and tidy, minimalist/simple, and also about really honoring who I am and how I want to live.
My mother, father, and sister all have very opulent design senses. They create beautiful homes, to be honest, just like out of a magazine. Well, lets be clear. I can and do that too, but it's just a different magazine. My sister tends towards the architectural digest. My mother does really well with Home and Garden or some similar, high-end sort of design. Really, very lovely. But it's also *very decorated*.
What I began to discover is that "very decorated" also translates to me as "clutter." I'd been long drawn to japanese/zen styled design, as well as simple, clean scandinavian design. I loved things minimalist! But for whatever reason, I kept trying keep up with my family's design aesthetics, rather than really focusing on my own and developing that.
Moving to NZ was an opportunity to release many objects from my life. I minimized everything down to what I would consider "the essentials" and brought them with me. We have a lot in storage (the books, kitchen supplies, and so on), and I plan on going through them before having them shipped here to see what else I can release.
Since we've been here, we've been clear in our process of purchasing. We buy what we feel we need, but only if it's an object that we *love*. We live in a small house. We are working on it to paint it all white, and do it up in the scandinavian way that we really love.
It's a thrill, really, to finally live and keep house as I want. I don't know why I waited so long.