Me + Mom, 1974

Growing up, I vowed I would never be like my mother. True, she was loyal, loving, and put us before everything, but she also spent her days agonizing over messes. The house was always clean, not because we had company over–she was too shy and nervous to enjoy hostessing–but because a cluttered room really and truly sent her over the edge. As did stains, wrinkles, children dressed like orphans, drinking, and broccoli. The woman hated broccoli.

I speak of her as is she has passed or, better yet, changed in the slightest. She’s still here and exactly the same, down to the unreasonable loathing for cruciferous vegetables.

It’s me who has changed. For a very long time, I was the mess that drove her crazy. I couldn’t put my clothes away. My toys were everywhere. I spilled drinks, left stains, and fought bath time with the strength of a thousand Pig Pens. As a teenager, I was a bit cleaner, more organized, but really only to avoid a battle, one where she yelled about a cluttered room and I yelled back about mountains and molehills.

Ironically, or maybe not, with my friends and colleagues I developed a reputation for order, structure, and cleanliness. I had pens for certain tasks, a complex color-coded highlighting system while studying, and a fully packed and prepared pencil case. One day I was studying in the law library when I heard a fellow student a few rows back notice with a laugh that the pockets in her winter coat were functional. All she needed was a pair of scissors to snip the threads, but where would she find scissors? The male voice next to her said, without skipping a beat, “Go find Jules. I guarantee she has a pair.” I did, right next to my hole puncher and retractable ruler.

But outside of work, and maybe my writing style, I am still a bit of a mess. No one finds this more disappointing than me because, sadly, I’ve developed my mom’s intolerance for clutter. I see a pile, and I hate the pile. It’s getting myself to do something about the pile that I find challenging. Unlike my mom, who wouldn’t stop until every last dust mote disappeared, I see even a suggestion of disarray and become thoroughly overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin, when to take a break, or how to make it all disappear. And I get very, very crabby.

Some things I can handle. The kitchen is almost always clean, unless I’ve been baking. Even then I tidy it up quickly because I just can’t stand dishes in the sink. I sweep and vacuum at least once a week, but we have dogs and allergies and floors that highlight pet hair. You can only walk by a dust bunny so many times before you’re compelled to sweep it up. I make the beds every morning unless I am sick or extremely busy. I find that a made bed makes the rooms look 75% cleaner, even if the foot of a made bed is a bit of a mess.

The toy room/den, on the other hand, kills me. I have a pile of school paperwork and recently referenced books on my desk. A pile of homework supplies sits on Mikey’s table. A pile of frames now sits on the built-in, next to the fish tank we bought last month. The frames were usurped by the tank and I haven’t quite figured out where to put them. The floor of the room isn’t piled with toys, it’s strewn with toys. Mark my words, this room is turning me into my mother.

For years, we had a woman who came to clean the house. With The Mister’s change in jobs, that ended. Over the last year I have learned the best way to mop a floor, dust baseboards, and which tool allows you to extract dust bunnies without having to move the furniture. Sometimes I love it, especially when the house looks great thanks to my hard work. Other times, like this past month since Mikey’s been back in school, I hate it. I look around the house and feel short of breath thinking about everything I have to do. I clean every day, and yet it is never enough. There is always something that needs to be done.

And for someone like me, who is almost like her mom, it’s stressful. That sounds silly, especially when there are so many more important issues I could devote myself to, but it’s true. And that’s part of what makes it so stressful. I know it’s stupid to fret over piles when I have so much to be grateful for and, yet, that’s exactly what I do.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    I can totally relate. The truth is I am one who piles. Everywhere. Laundry piles. Paperwork piles. Shoe piles. Dish piles. You name it and I do hate it. I recently visited my grandmother who is a clean freak. Her house is spotless, not a speck of dust and nothing out of place. I dream of having a house like that. But this is what I know…her children to this day say they wished she spent less time cleaning and spent more time with them. So, leave the piles and spend time with family. You can always clean, but not get back the time you missed. I find having spurts of energy keep my house tidy, if not spick and span, but I have learned to be happy.

  2. says

    I feel your pain. Thank God I have a husband that reminds me it’s okay if the laundry is a little wrinkly from sitting in the basket for too long, and the dust bunnies won’t engulf our house over night. He truly prevents me from obsessing over the unimportant details of our life.

  3. Jeen-Marie says

    Oh girlfriend! You are not alone!
    My mother is coming to visit tomorrow and our spare bedroom is the junk room. The piles and piles of stuff. Ugh!
    At least- darling husband is off today to help with the madness.
    All I can tell you, is want I repeat to myself constantly- when I’m gone do I want people to remeber me by my clean house or the fun we had together…

  4. says

    Oh my! Did you just write a post that reminds me of me? “So many times you can walk by a dust bunny…” — other than my personal identification, this is a really great post. I loved reading it. Now, will you please share some of your cleaning secrets? Pretty please?!

    • says

      I wish I had some! Unfortunately, I have found that nothing works better than good ol’ fashioned elbow grease. A mop and bucket is loads better than a swiffer. Scrubbing tiles works better than the spray and rinse stuff. Vinegar works wonders. It’s all depressing, really. :)

  5. says

    Even though the cheese on the site I’m referencing almost puts me over the edge, I think you need a dose of Flylady. Your perfectionist self is beating the crap out of your rational self. And your rational self needs to fight back! I can relate a bit, but not totally because I lack the children. But I become easily overwhelmed.

    Kick the ass of the perfectionist! She’s ruining your groove!

      • says

        Better than Flylady (which is just too overwhelming for me, since my 3 kids are under 5 and thus there is no such concept as “zones” at our house, more just the sense of cleaning up after a tidal wave every day) is the chore checklist at A list of daily chores that are easy enough for kids to help with and a short list of other things for that day, includign stuff like “clip children’s nails” and “clean out purse and wallet”. My house really stays clean with that list. Or rather, not just clean but picked up and without piles at the edges of everything. Her PDF is only $8 for the year and half off now, I think (or less). Totally worth it, especially around the holidays.

  6. says

    Oh, me too. Growing up, we cleaned the house top to bottom every single Saturday morning. No one was allowed to leave until it was all done (wood floors scrubbed by hand, brass polished, bathrooms sprayed and scrubbed – everything). I hated it, but now I feel the same urge. And on the plus side, I am a pretty efficient cleaner, when I set my mind to it. All those years of training clearly helped.

    At a minimum, I keep the kitchen clean. No dishes in the sink, ever, counters wiped down. Otherwise everything feels chaotic.

      • says

        Ha! I guess “by hand” makes it sound unusual. We didn’t ever use a mop, because my mom hated mops.

        Fill a bucket with very hot water and add some ammonia. Grab a clean rag and put on some gloves and start crawling around the house, on hands and knees, scrubbing the floor with the rag as you go, frequently soaking it in the ammonia water and wringing it out. Swap rags partway through if the one gets too dirty, ditto with the wash water.

        It’s very effective but kind of tough on your hands and knees. And once I got lazy and didn’t wear the gloves and I had chapped hands for a week. I still go home and do the wood floors this way for my mom at least occasionally, but she settles for the Bona floor cleaner (like a fancy Swiffer) the rest of the time because the scrubbing is too hard on her now.

        • says

          Oh, I knew what you meant by doing it by hand. My back hurt just thinking about it! I was only wondering what you later disclosed–rag, ammonia/water, etc. My dad used to do something similar, but he did some sort of wax something or other and, same thing, completely burned his hands when he didn’t wear gloves one time.

          Unfortunately, I’m going to have to try this technique because while a mop works better than a swiffer, there are certain areas where it just doesn’t cut it.

  7. says

    I was thinking this exact same thing today (we have company coming friday) and I am just sooo tired of cleaning the same spots over and over again it’s overwelming and stressful because it just can’t stay clean for some weird reason. It’s a constant everyday battle.

  8. Tiffany says

    Please, you and your mom are junior varsity. Try living with Susan. I had no idea how many applications a toothbrush has. The woman is the Macgyver of cleaning.

  9. Erin says

    Hoo boy, can I relate. The state of my house has been one of constant disarray (punctuated by the odd binge cleaning) ever since school started. It’s driving me crazy, but I don’t have the energy to do anything but be overwhelmed. Sigh.

  10. says

    I definitely am not like my mother, her house is cluttered almost to the point of being dangerous. But sometimes I feel like all I can think about is how messy my own house is. The kids say, “What should we do today?” and all I can think is “Clean/Organize the play room.” I need to talk myself down sometimes… it will get clean eventually, it’s not the most important thing!

  11. MichelleGB says

    I have a white cat and a white dog that have resulted in the need to have whitesque furniture and a 3 year old boy (birthday just 2 weeks away). We are also in reno-hell so the dust in this place must be epidemic.

    I am pregnant with my second and obsessed with nesting because it’s probably time, you know.

    I have been frantic about several things but one of which is the repeating of mess. I have been heard many times this last month saying ‘if I have to clean the counter one more time today I will scream, not saying you have to clean it… but if you hear me screaming you’ll know what it’s about’.

    When I read this post I laughed and almost cried and then laughed again (prego-loco) and it’s because of the cleaning lady thing. We have also entered into a world of ‘financial difficulty’ which I’m sure most people relate to. I want nothing more than to work for 200.00 a week so I can afford to pay some one to clean my house once a week and splurge on take-away. The fact that even if I could make this money (mat leave) it would just go to bills kills me…. kills me more as I am trying to find the time to gut and clean my fridge before my mother-in-law comes to visit the new baby and judge the hell out of me. It’s nice to hear that the repetitive picking up of things, daily grind of doing chores and blahness of the ‘duty’ in home resonates with other people. Maybe it’s a creative type thing? I would so much rather be in a studio somewhere smearing paint than wiping down the floor.

  12. says

    You are not alone. I fret over the piles too. I think it’s because the piles tell me something isn’t under control – and I HATE it when things aren’t under control. We recently moved a lot of things (boxes and boxes of “things”) from my in-laws house to ours. For a while, every surface in our house was covered with “things.” I told my husband I literally felt like the house was closing in on me. It was a really unsettling feeling. So, if picking up the piles makes you feel better, go for it. And when you’re done, could you come over and get the pillows of dog hair out of the corners of my kitchen? xoxox

  13. says

    I was born in ’74. And my hair was curly. Still is unfortunately. And unfortunately, my mom is the same about tidiness. If the house does not look like it is ready for that never-coming magazine spread then she is a tyrant. So I do piles.
    And then every three months I go nuts and clean blinds, floor boards, door frames, you name it and donate to Goodwill. And then I wait two days for that magazine spread that never comes.

    Of course, I often wonder what it would be like to share photos of my house as you do on your blog. But I am not sharing those dust bunnies.

  14. says

    *pounds fist* Here here! Why CAN’T it stay clean? Oh yes, because of life. When I was first married I would spend ALL day every Saturday cleaning…only to have to do it again the next week. Three years (and a smaller apartment) later I’ve definitely learned the less stuff and space you have, the easier it is to keep clean! Downside is that its easier to make it look cluttered, too.

  15. says

    I can completely relate – I have a burning desire to be tidy but as it’s come after years of leaving everything a mess, the clear up never seems to end. I’m slowly getting there though – one pile at a time – and just hope I can keep at it once everything is tidy.

  16. says

    Am just discovering you, and have to say that I love your blog’s name and subtitle. Makes me smile every time I read it.

    I have just, very recently come to realize that I am a bit like you without the excuse of a mother who set me on the straight and narrow. I grew up in a very messy family and have been perpetually helter skelter my whole life and am only just in the last five-ten years really starting to learn to be organized, controlled, cleanly…etc. That said, now that order exists….I’ve started to notice the way it makes my head throb and the panic rise in my chest when the toys are all thrown from one wall to the other and everyone is playing human ping pong in the stairwell. I NEED peace and sanity and um…neatness. Don’t tell my easygoing mom, okay?

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