My Relationship with Cleaning

liked reading the Vice article ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ is Inadvertently About Women’s Indivisible Labor and The Guardian comic within the article. They’re part of a conversation I hadn’t heard before and I think it’s an important one.

I have a mental catalog of where every object is in our house, just as this article discusses. It’s nice to hear that it takes energy to keep that catalog. It helps me to honor my reality, that sometimes I’m doing more than I give myself credit for.

I remember living with my sketch comedy group, a house of guys, after college and being so surprised that they couldn’t see the cobwebs and giant dust-bunnies in the stairwell. I remember, once, picking up the pubes off my roommate’s toilet while he, knowing I was cleaning his bathroom, leaned back on the sofa in the other room and sighed, saying loudly, “Ohhhhh, I’m sooooo boooorrrrred.” I remember family coming to visit and saying, “Ruth, this house is so dirty. Don’t you feel ashamed? You’re the only girl! Can’t you do something?” One roomie said, “I wish I could have a girlfriend so I wouldn’t have to clean.” Another’s sister let us know that his mother would teach her to clean, but follow him around picking up his socks. People would say things like, “Ruth, you’re Wendy, taking care of the Lost Boys!”

I knew to let these ideas hit an invisible wall in front of me and fall with a thud, abandoned on the ground.

But it still seemed so strange and confusing to me. I wasn’t Wendy. I wasn’t taking care of them. We weren’t on an island and they weren’t orphaned ageless animal-onesie-wearing children. (Well, we did all wear animal-onesies in sketches at some point. But…) We all worked. We all didn’t have kids. We all pursued the same comedy dream. Why did I need to be the live-in maid?

Cleaning was hours of work that the guys could spend writing at a diner. I opted to go with them.

But I also always wondered why, not only did people have this expectation of me, but why did I notice the dust, the dirt, the tiny spider-egg sacs on the table cloths, but the guys didn’t?

I was ignoring the dirtiness. They seemed, honestly, to not see it.

This article talks about how this is what we’re both taught. And, later in life, women don’t feel comfortable asking for it to change. Or they don’t know how to ask. I think both sexes unknowingly perpetuate the ideas by living within these roles and then teaching our kids to repeat the cycle.

It’s years later now and those guys and I are all still friends. I love them a lot.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I spoke my truth during those years about 1% of the time. I wasn’t being honest about anything that bothered me or what I wanted.

I was terrified, to the bone, to be considered “a nag.” I unknowingly picked up the idea that women were hated by men, that they were a “ball and chain,” that men thought women were trying to seduce them and then make them have babies and pay for the babies’ college, that women were manipulative and vain and annoying, or even worse- that word again- nags.

I picked up that being liked was equivalent to being safe, like in a wolf-pack kind of sense. So I really wanted men, and everyone, to like me.

I picked up that men were what was valued by society. I also picked up that being sexual was very bad. So instead of choosing to have value by my side, I chose to be like a man as my way “in.” I wanted to prove I could be like them. But although they were valued, they seemed to be given an ultimatum. They receive value, in trade for their vulnerability. It’s not a fair or healthy trade. But I didn’t know. And my perception now is that they didn’t either. Because that’s what just seemed to come with the territory of being valued, I accepted the lack of vulnerability. So to never nag, or really, to never have wants or needs, to play it cool, to entertain with humor and prove my commitment, those became my goals, and I met them.

But I carried a loss of self, and part of that was the joy of home. I wanted to live somewhere clean, healthy, comfortable, and inviting. I hated that I wanted that. I thought it was “nesting” and “female” and I tried to swallow it down.

Now I see how much I was hurting myself in so many ways. But at the time, I didn’t know any other options. I like that this article says Marie Kondo’s show gives more options. I like that I’ve already learned more options too.

I finally have empathy and understanding for my roommates. They came from households where there were worlds of reasons for them to have the behaviors that they did. Same for me. We were all doing the best we could with what we knew. No one was trying to hurt anyone. We were all just walking responses to upbringings that were also not trying to hurt us. And then we tried to live together.

In the present day, things are different. Lots of growing. I think we’re closer to our true hearts. I don’t know my all of my old roomie’s new living habits, but I do know two of them…

Thank you to my partner for helping cook delicious meals and clean dishes consistently and do laundry, out of a love for your home and yourself. I’m grateful to live in a house where we don’t keep tabs on each other, where we can say, “Look, I did this chore!” and the other will say “Thank you,” where we have done enough therapy to mostly know how to ask for our wants and needs, to know gratitude doesn’t take away our worth, to feel safe and valued so we can be vulnerable, to mostly know when to trust the other person, to mostly accept them for them, and to mostly still speak up for ourselves too. And to understand that “mostly” is realistic and great.

I think it’s fun that we get to live with each other. I’m grateful for you, baby.

I’m also excited to watch this show. I wrote all of this and haven’t even watched the show yet.


‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ is Inadvertently About Women’s Indivisible Labor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s