No Apologies

Some years ago now, I wrote a series of posts on a housekeeping routine I developed. Then I wrote a post called Overwhelmed by Housework? which is to date my most popular post ever, and in my latest iteration of the blog it sits right at the bottom of every post and has been annoying me for weeks. One day I will work out how to get rid of that particular feature.

Anyway, it has been annoying me because I have more or less given up on doing housework, and now my past is coming back to haunt me. For a few months, maybe a couple of years way back then I was convinced that I could nail this housework thing, with dedication and amazing will power. Turns out I was wrong. I have no more interest in housework now than I ever did, which is next to none. I have the same huge capacity to tolerate mess and downright dirt that I have had forever. And I have made a decision - this is a fight that I am done with.

For so many years I have somehow conflated the state of my house with some kind of moral standard. You know, good people have clean houses. That sort of thing. And good women especially,  have clean houses. I have decided now, that actually, no, the sign of a really morally developed woman is to not be swayed by the arbitrary cultural expectations of other people, or her own self. No apology, is my new motto, whether I feel like keeping the house as clean as a whistle (unlikely), or in that state where it hasn't seen a mop and bucket since the Christmas before last. Also, although I have always been able to tolerate huge messes, I have always run around like a mad woman cleaning up before company comes, and causing enormous anxiety to those around me by insisting they do the same, you know, like washing the windows in the twenty five minutes before guests are due for lunch. Last week I found some two year old unopened mail in a pile I must have stashed at the back of a cupboard before guests came over.. in 2017. Crazy days.

So this is my new plan. Clean up if I want to (sometimes I do, especially if I am procrastinating). Live in a huge mess if I want to, and never apologise for the mess. It is what it is. I am who I am. This all works particularly well for me because I live with two untidy children. Partner Paul comes over sometimes and vacuums, because he likes vacuuming, and also he is very tall and his head gets caught in the cobwebs... then he looks at my kitchen sink and shakes his head and asks how three people can possibly make so many dishes?? But I don't mind because he is not a judgemental person and anyway, he doesn't do my dishes. I have no idea how this would pan out if I were actually living with Paul, but thankfully that is not a contingency I have to deal with right now.

My house is not real clean currently because I am busy, busy writing my novel. It may never be published but it has a theme that I am weaving through my life which is.. It doesn't really matter..

I believe this applies to many things, but especially to housework.


Anonymous said…
I am pretty good about doing dishes and putting things away, mainly because it helps my spirit. But, I absolutely HATE to dust furniture. I mean if dust were good soil, I could literally grow plants on the furniture. Yesterday, I was thinking "I am going to give the house a good spring cleaning, and polish the damn furniture." Today..." I am going to watch the dust as I knit." :)
Have a great writing day, Jo. The dishes can wait! :)
Patricia fl/USA
Jo said…
Patricia, watching dust is probably as interesting as watching TV:) I have a theory about housework (one of many). There are some things that eventually need doing, dishes, laundry, because it keeps piling up, but there are other things that seem to plateau, like dust. I mean, I don't know how it works, but somehow, after a while you seem to get peak dust. Maybe the top layer blows away?? One of life's mysteries..
Beznarf27 said…
I have to admit that your UBER clean house terrified me when I visited (when you were living in the big house on the hill). I see myself as a country mouse with all of the country mouse accoutrements including dust, dog hair and cobwebs. I sweep the floor once a day and retrieve a small dogs worth of hair and spend the rest of the day hoping that no-one decides to visit because as much as I love the sight of an immaculate house, it aint me baby! The further out in the sticks you live, the harder it is to keep your house clean (in my honest opinion) and this goes double when you are constantly picking up lovely heart shaped stones from the beach, taking cuttings from fences that you walk the dog past and stuffing them into numerous old jars and bottles of ever decreasing water levels on the window sill, cutting the ends off sweet potatoes and allowing them to grow to ridiculous heights on the same window sill (that on the other side has cubes of cheese for the wrens to eat) and that's just the windowsill...

I like the new Jo or is it the old Jo laying down the law? I seceded from polite society years ago and adore my semi dust clad hermitage. I have an inbuilt thermostat for when it gets too bad but when you are surrounded by a husband and 2 dogs who could care less and who actively encourage dust and mess into the house you have to make some decisions about renegotiating your standards for the sake of your sanity. Consider me wilfully renegotiated.

I actually think its a sign of having a seriously active mental life, to not be too concerned about your physical surrounds. I am betting that most of the great masters lived in squalor when they were painting and that all great opus are written without a second thought to ever increasing piles of washing and dishes on the sink. Here's to your novel. I am currently reading a novel by a woman who lives in Karoula called "A story of seven summers" and when your novel comes out, I would like to buy a signed copy please. Thank you for your always entertaining and often enlightening posts Jo. I can't wait to read your book :)
simplelife said…
Oh Jo, this post makes my heart happy. You are standing up to your inner mean girl and being true to you.
I'm quite a neat and tidy person, but I live with 2 messies now and it used to be 4 of them, we live out of town (as was pointed out above, increases the degree of difficulty) I've had to lower my standards or suffer a complete breakdown.
I read somewhere once that dust stops increasing after 3 years or something like that, I think it's true, the other great piece of advice I read was that dust protects furniture, my furniture is very well protected. My floors get an annual wash, because lazy.
I think life would be much happier, more creative and just a lot kinder all round if we could all just accept what is right for us and stop thinking we "need" to have our homes looking a certain way.

Looking forward to seeing where your writing takes you.
lovely to see you back in this space too.
cheers Kate
Jo said…
Fran, totally agree with you, as per usual. It's ironic, isn't it, the whole running around cleaning up for guests, when mostly people feel far more comfortable visiting in a certain level of untidyness. I do. It makes me feel right at home:) Apologies for scaring you with my tidy house. Come back and visit me in my messy cottage:)
Seven Summers, that must be Hilary's book. I met her at her going away party recently as she heads back to the UK for a bit. She is one of Paul's friends. In the book, the Paul she meets at the salsa party, who reveals the location of the secret beach he called Deepest Darkest Africa? That is my Paul:)

Kate, you know, that inner mean girl was more of an inner worried person, always worry, worry, worry about other people's expectations. And worry tends to make one snappy and irritable..
I am so glad to hear we all have well-protected furniture. Not dusting is actually a frugal practice then, as the furniture lasts longer? Perfect.
Miss Maudy said…
I used to live in a tiny little house with my dog and two cats. I've always loathed housework, and I used to wait until I reached Critical Mess and deal with it then. I only had four of everything, and it was mostly just me, so the dishes got done when my (tiny) sink was full or I ran out. Worked for me - I'd clean properly every three or four weeks, and do the dishes every few days.

Now, I don't know why Reg was so surprised when we moved in to our house that I didn't suddenly start doing housework to his mum's standard. He knew what he was getting into, because he lived with me at mine for almost a year before we bought our house, and really the only difference between me living alone and with him was that I bought more plates.

But surprised he was. I think 98% of our fights for the first five or so years we have been together were about my lack of housekeeping skills/attention. I thought that if he cared so much about it, he should get on it, he thought I should just do it because stay at home (Or working part time) and all that.

Fast forward several years, including a stretch of him being at home when he discovered exactly how much work was involved in maintaining a house, the house is tidyish and cleanish (I have a cleaner - house gets tidied the night before she comes, and then she cleans it) and I let him buy a Dyson so he can storm around cleaning up all the dog hair and telling me how *disgusting* it all is; and I can do all the fun housekeeping stuff like cooking all the things!
Anonymous said…
I actually do like a clean and tidy house.

Unfortunately (for the house) the weather has turned,spring and warm weather has descended in cold Camada and it's gardening season and I really need to get out there in the greenery. So my lovely tidy house will have to wait till a rainy day.

GretchenJoanna said…
I was just thinking about those old housework posts of yours this week, because another blogger, who lives alone by the way, posted a lovely article about keeping order, and I got inspired again...

But as I commented on her post, I really have not adjusted to the fact that I myself am the only one I can delegate, to do any housework. There have been no children on the team for fifteen years, and not even a husband for four years. I just forget about housework, my mind is filled with so many other things, and I don't have a routine that includes it. That type of thing I do the most is clean my bathroom sink, because it really does stare at me so frequently.

As to apologizing, I read once that even if we are feeling apologetic about the disorder or dirt of our houses, we should not apologize to guests, because that is sort of insulting to them, implying as it does that they are such small souls as to actually notice or care.

I think you've got it down now, Jo!

Anonymous said…
I absolutely LOVE this post! As someone who has always been untidy, growing up especially, I am REALLY proud of how tidy we do keep things these days - but my husband and I have been living together for 6 years and only now am I feeling like we are on top of the main things like washing etc. however, I’m still not perfect and I always feel like I need to rush around before people come over, much to his dismay. We recently moved house, and obviously at the old place couldn’t clean up the clutter of moving boxes and things that had fallen under the couch that we only found once we moved the couch (which wasn’t mess at all, but my brain still saw it like mess) and I felt really awkward when our friends came to help us move and the house was in such disarray - but most of them assured me not to be silly and I was moving of course there was stuff everywhere! Until one “friend”, who arrived much later than the others and hadn’t seen how much we had done, made so many remarks about how messy it was. At first I ignored it, assuming she’d had a bad day, but every time she’s come over since, she’s commented about boxes still unpacked, glass in a picture frame that was broken in the move I’m yet to fix, and the mess in my car I haven’t brought into the house yet because none of it has a place. This post has reassured me that’s HER internal issue - it’s not a reflection on me. There is nothing wrong with me and on the most part I have a beautiful home filled with warmth and love.

So thank you for being the reassurance on my bits of mess, because at the end of the day, like you said, I am me and the bits and pieces around my house don’t change who I am as a person.
Mary said…
Nice post. I don't like housework but I like a somewhat clean and tidy house. Something about too much visual clutter annoys me. Anyway we live in a 150 year old farmhouse in a very rural area with dogs and cats and two people who neither one like to clean house. We'd rather be watching the birds in the back yard or walking the dog in the woods or teasing the cats or reading. So if Paul ever wants to come to the USA (Georgia) and vacuum for the fun of it, he's welcome here anytime(you come,too).
Treaders said…
I have to admit I do like my house pretty tidy. Too much mess stresses me out but I'm not too keen on dusting, I have to admit. Since I "inherited" all my ex' stuff when he just abandoned his house 3 years ago I am only now slowly getting round to emptying his stuff out the basement and every bag that goes out makes me breath just that little bit easier. There's still a long way to go though. And talking of "peak dust", many years ago a friend went out with a physicist from CERN (the European nuclear research place here in Geneva where they have the Hadron Collider (sp?). Anyway, he set up wires running all round their house and at the designated time sent electrical charges through it - the idea being it would attract all the dust to it and they wouldn't need to clean. Well, it burned serious holes into their furniture without moving a speck of dust. Thankfully he has nothing to do with the Hadron Collider!
Jo said…
Miss Maudy, oh, negotiating housework, gah! Why is it so hard? I think there are so many subconscious psychological messages at play, not the least being 'cleanliness is next to godliness' and as you say, some mother issues.. congratulations on working it out in the end xx

Marieann, I appreciate a clean and tidy house as much as anyone. It is like a lovely work of art. I just don't do it:) Enjoy spring gardening fever while you can. The dishes will always be there, but spring is fleeting..

Gretchen Joanna, I think that maybe we all have a particular thing - yours is the bathroom sink, mine is making the bed. I absolutely cannot leave the bed unmade. I love your thoughts about apologising to guests, and I will always think of them now. Yes, of course, it is so much more gracious not to apologise. Of course, all my guests have great souls, above the petty concerns of tidiness..

Anon, I'm so glad this resonated. One of the things I hope for my young adult children is that they will be able to settle in themselves and be content with who they are, changing themselves only from internal promptings and not from external pressures.. they are doing pretty well with this, and I am finally learning, too:)

Mary, all your hobbies sound perfectly splendid to me, and more fun than cleaning house. Will be arranging the Paul World Vacuuming Tour soon, will pop you on the list.. btw I can understand the difference between clutter and clean - I often have a tidy house but it's not often actually clean..

Anna, that is a fabulous story! I can just imagine all the effort that went into that project, so much more effort than occasional dusting would be. Brilliant! I totally support your need for clean and tidy. We all need to find our own level, don't we, and live with that and not worry about what everyone else is doing.. recipe for peace and goodwill..
Hazel said…
I've just read a link on another blog where Marie Kondo was vilified for- horror- suggesting people get rid of books they don't want anymore. Apart from the racist undertone to a lot of the criticism there is a definite anti-tidying intellectual snobbery. I'm not sure whether these well-educated women (and the examples cited were all women which is interesting in itself. Men generally didn't seem to feel the need to comment? Or didn't care?) felt they were too busy reading to notice dust or were just shocked by the thought that there may be some books that actually you just don't want to read again. There is also the 'if you've got time to tidy then you're a bit sad' view which I think the intellectuals also buy into.
I agree we should all do whatever makes us happy and not what we think is expected of us, whether it's blowing dust off the books as we read them or scrubbing the front step every Saturday.
My whole family is fairly untidy. My husband thinks he isn't but is as incapable as putting things away as the rest of them. And that's our trouble- things get left out because they may be needed tomorrow or we'll do it in a minute. I keep decluttering as the stuff 'out' all the time approach makes even a cursory clean difficult, but unless I get them down to a Little House on the Prairie level of possessions it's going to remain a struggle.
What I would like to get to is a point where I don't feel the need to rush around just before visitors are expected but I still do. Apart from anything else I don't like the suggestion that the double glazing man is worthy of more cleaning effort than those of us that live here or that the way we live is somehow less than acceptable to the world at large (see all above comments about living in the country with pets, garden, seeds on windowsills...) It's a work in progress...
Anonymous said…
"You are dust, and you will return to dust....
That's why I don't dust, it could be someone I know!"
A quote I found somewhere. I only dust when it annoys me so much it motivates me to do it. Or yeh, visitors are coming during the day time. Or there's the one about "Only Dull women have immaculate houses".
Love your musings, regards Sandra.
Anonymous said…
I like clean. I just couldn’t be bothered doing it regularly. I mean, I have proven I can do it so why keep practising? I do like the dust may be someone I know. Will have to share that with my mother.

I’m so glad we have a dishwasher. It means there isn’t a build up on the sink.

Mr S doesn’t see mess or dirt. So I’m on my own when it comes to cleaning. I think I’m like Miss Mandy. I wait until critical mess levels. Then I am a maniac.

Lucinda. - Blogger and Wordpress are at war again. I have to post anonymously or give google my phone number. Not doing that.
Jo said…
Hazel, it's interesting that this topic raises a lot of hackles on all sides (except here where the community of commenters are all thoughtful and lovely..). We live in a society where there is a right way to live, and it changes frequently, and depends which group we are in, so how are we supposed to keep up? I would like to see us all calm down and live how we want, and maybe choose our battles, save our energy for more important things.

Sandra, that is certainly something to think about:) There seems to be quite a bias against dusting here.. I do know interesting women with immaculate houses, though. I think that saying was invented by a jealous messy..

Lucinda, what? Your phone number? This wordpress/blogger rivalry is insane. It's time to write a letter..
I tend to wait until critical mess as well, which can be pretty uncomfortable, then I vow to do better, but generally don't. Which is why i am just letting up on the self-critical blaming and seeing what happens when i go with the flow..
It sounds like you are in a comfortable place with the housekeeping which is so good.

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