I am told there are people who clean to relieve their stress. I am not one of them. Cleaning stresses me the heck out. Vacuuming? Dusting? Organizing? Excuse me for a moment, my pulse just sped up, and not in a good way.
All my life, I have been one of those people who cleans from necessity. People are coming over? Stress stress clean clean. I can draw pictures in the dust on the side table? Ugh, get the rags out.
It’s not all aspects of cleaning that I avoid. Laundry I mostly handle in a mature fashion. The dishes tend to get washed at least once every thirty-six hours, or just after the point when I realize they will not all fit in the drainer if I don’t do them before another can be added to the pile. I also diligently straighten the pillows on the couch at least once a day. Or every two days. Something.
The point is, I do clean. As Roomba does its daily little routine, I pick up the Wii controllers it scatters across the carpet and wipe the coffee droplets off the hot water maker. But I don’t, you know, clean clean that much.
It’s not that I’m incapable of it. I have at many points in the last several months been in possession of an apartment that, if not spotless, is at least quite tidy. On many occasions I have voluntarily fluffed the bathroom rug. Once a week I wield the toilet wand with deadly precision (because un-precise toilet-wand wielding is disgusting and un-hygienic). See? I can do it!
But I don’t like it.
Back when I was single and living in Japan, my apartment had no furniture. Well, almost none. It had a random cabinet, a coffee table, a really ugly sofa, and a kitchen table with chairs. But that was it! Literally. No dusting needed, just a quick vacuum now and then to keep the tatami smooth. No need to wash the kitchen floor, because it was vinyl and so disgustingly, horribly stained that I couldn’t get it to look clean anyway, so why worry? Just no three-second rule, that’s all. I scrubbed the bathroom while I showered (because it was all water-proof with a drain in the floor) and that was it. Cleaning was a breeze.
This apartment is not a breeze, because there was one key word in that last paragraph: I was single. I’m not anymore.
The first time I visited my husband’s apartment, it was pristine. I naively believed this was because he was a creature of cleanliness and organization, and merrily went about my subsequent visits with the happy feeling that I’d found a guy who loves to clean, to compliment my hatred of it. You’re laughing right now, but every other guy’s apartment I’d seen had been a sty. Clearly this was a man who enjoyed tidiness. I don’t think I’d yet heard the phrase that no one cleans faster than a man who…you get the picture.
I honestly believe that that first visit, four years ago, was the last time my husband cleaned a toilet, I really do.
These days, our place gets messy fast, really fast. I clean it up but next thing I know, there’s stuff everywhere! So fast!
I couldn’t find an explanation for it, until I realized last week that I haven’t been cleaning up after myself—I’ve been doing it for both of us. Husband has not been doing his share.
Husband has not been doing any share.
And that is why, right now, Husband and I are playing a game. It’s called: how messy can the apartment get before Husband starts to clean?
It began last week when he flooded my desk with laptop parts, left a pile of foam packing blocks next to the sofa, and abandoned his socks in a pile by the front door. As I went to tidy them away that I realized that he’s never once dusted since we’d moved in, even though we both work full time.
That was the point when I decided I wasn’t going to tidy anymore. Not my stuff, not his. See how he likes it.
It’s amazing how quickly mess accumulates. From the cardboard leftover from our recent Ikea purchases to the slew of laptop parts, the surfaces of our lives are quickly disappearing under a rubble of stuff that hasn’t been put away.
It took a few days for Husband to notice the new game. His awakening began when he rhetorically asked where the tape measurer was and I, instead of complaining that it was in the same place I always put it, smiled brightly and said, “Haven’t seen it!”
The next inkling dawned when he didn’t put his keys away and they were quickly submerged in a drift of potholders, leaving him scrambling at eight in the morning.
Then all the hairbands went missing, because instead of collecting them throughout the week and returning them to the bathroom, I allowed them to remain in their obscure resting places, which could no longer be found once they were covered in a drift of packing material.
“Where are they?” he cried.
I, from my computer, tossed my head back and laughed. “Not a clue, darling!”
This is not a game for the faint of heart. My sofa is a mess of pillows, the coffee table has little usable space, and my desk might be in the corner where I left it, but I’m not sure. There are three loads of laundry piled up, and I don’t know why the flip-flops are out, but they are. An entire kitchen cabinet is blocked by cardboard. My new reading chair remains homeless three days after being assembled, alone and adrift on top of a crushed cardboard box, blocking the coat closet. I might be going slightly mad from the lack of organization, and we are out of clean spoons.
But this is not a game you play for fun; it’s a game you play to win, and from husband’s panicked face as he realized he had no idea where the scissors were, or the tape, or his shoes, I think a turning point is coming. Because while I intend to win this game, the reward will be what we both desire: an apartment that stays tidy.
Or heaven help me, we’ll do it all over again. Because I am a bloody sore loser, that’s why.