Sometimes it makes me feel a little embarrassed--like it's possible that I spend too much time cleaning when I should be doing more important things.
But I have ALWAYS been a neatnik, even as a little girl. (Even as a teenager!) From the time I was about eight, I always had my own bedroom. In our family, there was an older brother, then me, then a younger brother, and finally two younger sisters close in age. So it just happened to work out that the boys shared a room, the "little" girls shared a room, and I had my own--at least until I left for college. This was probably the best arrangement I could have asked for, because I craved order, and my two little sisters most certainly did not. It was natural for me to keep my clothes folded and put away in drawers, or hung up in the closet, rather than strewn about the floor. My bed was usually made, and the books and knickknacks on my built-in shelves were carefully arranged. I thought of my bedroom as my own little "apartment," where I could escape to read or listen to 45's on my portable record player in peace. (It was an introvert's paradise!) My parents used to use me as an example for my brothers and sisters, much to my dismay--"Why can't you make your beds, like Laura does?"--but the truth is that I didn't do it to earn any brownie points with them; I did it because I loved having a neat and orderly hideaway of my own.
So as you can see, I was a regular Suzy Homemaker by nature. (Does anyone even get that reference anymore?)
Aside from being a wife and mommy (the only jobs I ever really wanted), I dreamed of having a home of my own to take care of one day. I couldn't wait to fix up and decorate my own little house, to bake in its kitchen, even to clean it. (Yes, that's my shameful secret: I actually like to clean!)
Of course, when I had four boys in four years (followed by a fifth son who came along five years after son #4), I had to relax my standards or I would have lost my mind. My house was not as clean and tidy back in those days that my boys were morphing into men, to say the least! I learned to deal with cluttered tables (with half-full drinking cups and crumpled wrappers left behind on every available surface), clothes left on the floor, jock straps and smelly socks discarded in the most unfitting places, unsightly splatters around the toilets...well, you get the idea! I often went to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, knowing I'd have more energy to deal with them in the morning. My cleaning philosophy could be described as "crisis management": whichever thing needed tending to most at the moment got done; but that meant that the house was seldom clean everywhere at the same time. I never had a cleaning lady (because as I explained, I don't mind cleaning at all, and I wasn't going to pay someone else to do it). "Best at hiding dirt" was my criteria for picking carpet and flooring in our house, so it could look clean even when it wasn't. If I didn't have time to deep-scrub a bathroom that needed it, a quick wipe-down with baby wipes or Clorox wipes made things look presentable. And here's my guilty little secret: I LOVE to vacuum (my husband likes to call me the "mad vacker"). I guess I'm just hard-wired to enjoy the most mundane of household chores.
But there is so much less to do now, housework-wise, than there was when our boys were living with us. Here are some panoramic pictures my sister took of the first floor of our VA house, when she was here for a short visit in March.
As you can see, this is a house where, unless the grandkids are visiting, there's a place for everything and everything is in its place. It helps that we have so much less stuff now than we did after we'd been living in our old NH house for more than a quarter of a century. I'm hardly a minimalist, but my husband and I are definitely living more simply in our new VA digs.
I never had a hall linen closet as neat and orderly and filled with soft, pretty sheets and towels as I do now. (Marie Kondo would even approve, methinks!)
I wish I'd taken a photo of our old linen closet in NH before we moved. It was overfull and disorganized, and most of the towels in it were threadbare and dingy. I gave up on colored towels when my boys became teenagers; their Clearasil would leave bleached-out spots on them, so I switched to off-white for all of our family's towels...and by the time we finally sold that house in NH, none of those crusty old things were worth hanging onto. To stage our house for selling, we got fluffy new towels--pretty ones! And then when we moved into our new house, we bought some more, so that when we ever do have guests we have nice towels to offer them. So here's what my linen closet looks like these days. (Like something out of Good Housekeeping, practically!)
It really is kind of fun, after all the years of child-rearing and cleaning up after a passel of messy boys, to have a neat house most of the time. I can't deny it. It is very bittersweet to have your kids grow up and leave you; but the sweet part is that there isn't as much housework to do, because there aren't as many messes. I'm actually enjoying living in a house that I can keep as neat and orderly as my heart desires. It is one of the best benefits of having an empty nest (aside from the much smaller grocery bills and laundry piles!).
It would be sad if my husband and I were alone in our neat little house all the time, though; luckily, 14 young children are often here, with their precious sticky hands, running around like whirling dervishes and leaving trails of animal crackers in their wake. They're keeping it real for Grammy, reminding her that a house is for living, and living can be very messy!
So girls, sweet daughters-in-law of mine, don't think this is what my house always looked like! Believe it or not, I once lived in a house with toys and clothes all over the floor, overflowing laundry baskets, piles of junk mail and dinosaur drawings on every counter, dirty diapers spilling out of the garbage can, etc. I didn't always live like I do now! You, too, will be amazed at how much easier it is to take care of a home that only has two grown-up people living in it.
But you will miss the chaos sometimes, as I do. So thanks for bringing your wee ones over frequently to remind me of how wonderful that season of life truly is!