|Does your home ALWAYS look like this?
Image source: mnmal
Last weekend I had to leave town for a wedding, and like a good little cat owner, I had a friend come in and take care of her. Before leaving I sent her this message:
"I'm on my way! I didn't have time to clean up before leaving, but I just read this article, so having you in my messy home is basically a spiritual practice of friendship."
To nobody's surprise, she responded later with the claim that my home didn't even qualify as messy. (Not because my home is so clean, but because that's what friends do.)
Then later, when I went to her place to pick up my keys, we had the same exchange in reverse:
Friend: "Your home wasn't dirty at all, I mean, look at mine!" (She gestures towards a clean home with a few shopping bags in the middle of the room.)
Me: "No way, my floors and counters were all dirty and there was clutter all over my place, yours is fine!"
So here is the question:
What on EARTH is our problem? The only thing wrong with either of our homes is that they were not showrooms. They were actual homes that human people live in. We were both driven to apologize profusely for the egregious notion that it's okay for your home to look inhabited.
Then I remembered: I haven't always been this way.
In high school, I was confused by people who insisted on full-blown cleaning before friends came over. "They're FRIENDS!" I would insist, out loud and to myself, "the whole point of friends is that you don't have to be fancy with them."
Time-jump: these days I clean my bathroom and floors, vacuum cat hair off furniture, put away dishes, and generally tidy and spruce every single time someone comes over. It's kind of exhausting.
How did I get here?
First came university, and with it, lessons in basic hygiene. I would crash at friends' places, and sometimes the bathroom sink was so gross I didn't want to get close enough to wash my face. That's when it clicked for me that cleaning is, at least in part, done to make sure other people feel comfortable in your home. To make sure they can grab a plate from the cupboard and not find it's greasy or wash their face in your bathroom sink without worrying about what might jump out of the grime and infect them.
Then came independence. I moved from multi-roommate basement suites to my very own home. Lifestyle blogs became a thing and Instagram flooded my consciousness. I ate up all the cool, clean, and creative homes I saw online. I wanted so desperately for my home to reflect my inner self - or, more accurately, my aspirational inner self. The quirky, intelligent, creative, got-it-together person I hoped to be.
So basically, my transformation from understanding that friends are supposed to want to hang out with you even if your room is kind of messy, to needing my home to be a perfectly clean and curated space was all thanks to the evil brain-worm of comparison and image projection (and a little hygiene).
What now? I still want a home that is the perfect representation of the person I wish I was, AND I want to "live authentically" and "let friends into my mess", because of honesty and vulnerability and real community and all that crap.
Sure, okay. I can convince myself that I don't need to go into a frenzied rush of cleaning every time someone steps into my apartment. That's fine. But it's also not that easy. In between the extremes of making people wait outside while you arrange the snack bowls by colour (too perfect) and making them to walk through a sea of cat litter that covers the floor in your entry hall (too gross), there is a middle ground. I DON'T KNOW WHERE THAT MIDDLE GROUND IS. The venn diagram of hygiene and obsessive image curation has a LOT of overlap.
What is living authentically, and what is being a slob? What is being considerate of your guests and what is false image projection?
Ugh. I don't know. I just don't want to be Ross' messy girlfriend.
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