Sunday, September 5, 2010

In Between Extremes

Housework is something you do that nobody notices until you don't do it.
~Author Unknown

I fear have not done well in minimizing my earthly possessions. I am not sure I have taught my daughter well on this subject either. You see, my daughter is a collector...of everything, so it seems...perhaps with some hoarding tendencies? Hoarding runs in my family...actually there are extremes in my family: hoarders and obsessive cleaners.

I have to say that I leaned heavily on the side of the obsessive cleaning type when I was a younger person. I had little in possessions then, but my house always looked nearly white-glove clean. Though, I would not say I ever cleaned liked my aunt did at the same age. Now there was a woman who could make coffee nervous for being in the cup too long!

It is a joke, although with a large measure of truth, that my aunt washed the paint off the kitchen woodwork the first year they owned their house. She often told me of how she would empty an ash tray several times while the person was still smoking the same cigarette, probably making them want to smoke another just to see how may times she would get up to empty the tray for each cigarette. (Remember this was in the late fifties when it was in vogue to smoke.) She just could not stand for anything to be out of place and everything...ev-er-y-thing...had a very particular, hand-picked, fits perfectly place in my aunt's house! The folding of towels and bedsheets had to be done in a particular way to fit in the hall closet so all was in neatly stacked columns using the entire shelf so that there was not even the teeniest space left anywhere on it. She was quite proud of these accomplishments and did not allow things to to be done any other way.

In my aunt's defense, she lived with a hoarding mother. My grandmother, perhaps because she was a child in the Depression era, kept everything in boxes with stacks of boxes everywhere and who could possibly remember where anything was without going through several boxes to find it? My great aunt, Grandma's sister, was even worse with just stacks of newspapers as high as any side table taking up space in the living room--well, to be honest, every room--in several piles. I remember how dirty everything looked with the kitchen table only clear enough to set down two dishes for herself and her husband to eat. Spaces they did not need to use just to get around their house were filled with stacks of stuff. Going through their house was like a dark crazy maze. My grandma, however, kept the living room free of such debris; nearly every other room could be a cluttered mess, but one could entertain comfortably in the living room.

My aunt grew up in a large house that used to be the aristocratic part of the city when her parents were children, but the house needed some superficial work done that my grandfather, working long hours as a railroad engineer with ponies for which to care, just never had the time or energy or money to do. Outside the house always looked well maintained with paint and trimmed hedges and gardens. Inside, though, the plaster walls were bare without paint or wallpaper for all the time my aunt lived there.

I believe this is why my aunt was extremely the opposite to her mother. (Perhaps this is also why my youngest sister is as well because our mother certainly did not find housekeeping as important.) I lived with my aunt's family for two years as a teenager and, at one time, I was largely responsible for cleaning my aunt's entire house because she was taking college courses and did not have the time. As you might imagine, this was no small task with my aunt's very high standards on housecleaning and she often had very specific instructions as to how she wanted it done, quite different from my mother's home. I cleaned several rooms each day after school and homework was always secondary to the work that one was to do at home. Usually the entire house was cleaned each week. Nearly every week, cushions were removed and all furniture was vacuumed so there was no lint anywhere, not even in those crevices and, yes, she would check. Nearly every week, I removed every single shoe out of my aunt's and uncle's closet to sweep it out, because my aunt did not like dust bunnies that seemed to collect around her shoes when this was not done...and let me tell you, that woman really liked shoes and had quite a few of them!

I remember dusting furniture where I could not see any dust unless I looked at the flat top of the furniture at a nearly ninety degree angle! If you took a bath, you were expected to wipe the tub down before you left the bathroom, or else...and I really never wanted to know what "or else" was. I remember one night being woke up and called to my aunt's room. She was certain I had not cleaned her bedroom. I said I had and asked if she could see any dust. She said no but that she also did not see how I could have cleaned everything properly because she had a collection of figurines filling a shelf that had obviously not been moved. Ah! But I had a secret. Knowing how meticulous my aunt was, I would carefully remove every single one dusting each and place them on the floor exactly where she had them, angle and all. After thoroughly dusting the shelf, I would put them all back the same way. I told her that I knew that if she put them on the shelf that way that is the way she wanted them. Her eyes sparkled as she said when her own girls would dust they moved everything so she would had not thought that I would be so careful to keep them as they were. (I remember it was then my turn to be shocked that her daughters took such liberties!)

I actually liked how my aunt's house had a place for everything and everything was in its place. I have often described her house as one that you could take a photo shoot for a magazine at anytime...although my aunt would probably disagree unless every light fixture had been thoroughly cleaned and the walls had just been washed and the paneling oiled and every book had been in her library had been taken off the shelf for thorough dusting and airing as we would do twice a year at spring and holiday cleaning. I began my housekeeping in the same manner.

However, a series of events in my life caused me to have a change of heart about housekeeping. I will spare the details but they ranged from a debilitating depression to having nothing while living with my grandmother in Florida for a time to having severe back problems soon after I married. The back problems really altered my ideas of what was important...I could not do many house cleaning tasks for weeks at a time and so I had to change some of those lofty ideas about not ever seeing a little dust now and then.

Then I kind of began my venture on the other side of the spectrum. I began collecting things, mostly things deeply discounted that I might use in creating art and craft kind of things. Because I still could not stand for things to be sitting around in stacks of boxes, I would limit myself only by the amount that I could store in a semi-organized way, but being creative, I found I could come up with many creative ideas in storing things also. I still have some things that I bought nearly twenty years ago unused, but I am hopeful I will use them...someday...for something. However, having these things also gives me a strange sense of pleasure and when I go through a well organized drawer, I still find little treasures I had forgotten and it reminds me of such treasure hunts in my grandmother's house.

I have in recent years have found that I have stacks of boxes piling up, which is driving me crazy now. One of the reasons I am craving simplicity so much right now. These are things I would like to sell in a yard sale, but yard sales do so poorly where we live. We hoped to haul them down to Florida to my in-laws where yards sales do very well in the coolness of the fall when people come from the north to stay for the winter and people buy much to re-sell at flea markets.

Being that I have both extremes in my family and, apparently, within myself, I try to find a median that allows me to be comfortable. I do not like collecting things that need dusting--I will qualify that with this--unless I really, really find those things adorable. After all, I am going to be dusting them nearly every week for as long as I have them. Yeah, I pretty much weigh the worth of something as to how much work it will take to maintain it. Things that have a practical use or can be used to create something that could be practical or even impractical but adorable have far more worth to me.

I wish my daughter could learn this because she keeps EVERYTHING and not everything has a practical place. I find numerous rocks, feathers, and tiny snips of paper with a little color on each dotting a shelf in front of her books so I have to pick each one up to dust...thankfully, she is dusting her room now so she can understand why I think they should not be placed there. However, we must NOT throw them away because she hand picked those rocks or found those feathers or they are her artwork! I have given her collection boxes and three places to stack her artwork and those stacks would be as tall as I am if I did not go through them once in a while...but I confess that I, too, have a difficult time tossing out anything that is her artwork, even if she has nearly the same picture done twenty different ways. She also collects horses and just any little knick-knack that strikes her fancy. One day, she may realize it is just one more thing to dust and ask herself if she likes it so much as to dust it every single week. I wonder when she will get to that place or if she will, but I am hopeful she will find a place in between these extremes.

~ My Lord, I am thankful that I have my family and a home. I am thankful that I have things that are pleasing to me, but, my Lord, if any of these things take more time to maintain than they are worth, if they are taking time away that I should use in serving You, then give me the heart to let them go. Also, help me to teach my daughter what is You want her to see as most important and guide her, my Lord, to make wise decisions about what to keep. ~


  1. Seeking: I think my really crappy housekeeping is a reaction to my mother's obssessiveness. You never really felt you could *live* in her house because she always had it so immaculate. How can you do craft & art without making a mess? Anyway....I am at a point where I just want to be done with all the stuff. It's gotta go. I am working on it but I just feel so overwhemled it's almost easier to let it overwhelm me. ☺ Rambling...I am really fluey & the ol' brain is in hyperdrive.

  2. I don't have either obsessive hoarders or obsessive housecleaners in my family. My mother's house is extremely clean, but she hires it done and is actually pretty easy going about it. Within myself though, I can see both extremes warring with each other. On the hoarders show, so many of those poor folk can pinpoint some traumatic event that started their downward spiral into their horrific hoarding problems. I wonder if some awful event could set me off like that? I hope not.. I pray not. I like to think that the grace of God would keep me on this side of sanity... but hey, you never know, right?

  3. Diane, I have watched, I think, just two episodes and that was enough for me. I have seen it in the flesh, so to speak. If I lean in either direction, I would say it is mostly away from hoarding. That would be why too much stuff with no place to be or out of place begins to bother me so much I think.


Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.