I cannot keep my house tidy, and I think it’s time to stop apologising for it.
I live in a messy house. It’s not just messy, it’s full. There’s three children with three different interests and they’re all young enough that they still play with toys. A LOT of toys. They go through quantities of clothes because of their frequent proximity to chocolate, and mud, and their version of cleaning up is to throw whatever it is they’re playing with into the corner of the room and hope for the best.
Downstairs is owned by children’s toys, laundry that’s in a constant rotation of washing and drying, a large dog, a guinea-pig, and a corner of the world where we have our computers. And even the desk space we share is over run by children’s toys and art supplies and drawings they’ve lovingly presented to us and toys they’ve broken that we’ve promised to repair then set aside and forgotten about because it’s been buried under yet more lovingly created art.
To some people, working from home should mean we are able to manage our housework more effectively. Keep on top of making sure all the toys go back into the right places, supervise the children at all times whilst they attempt to cause havoc that we manage with our expert parenting skills. We should be able to keep our house organised because we never go anywhere. But we never go anywhere because we’re always working.
We start working when we get up, usually about 530 in the morning, and we work until bed. We could be completely on top of the housework, but then we’d not be on top of our real work. And if we don’t do our real work, nobody will do it for us. We cannot earn money unless we work, and if we can’t earn money we can’t afford to feed the ravening hoards of children that dominate our lives. Writing isn’t the kind of job where you check in at 9, work until 5, and then you go home and don’t have to think about it again. Writing is all consuming, and making a living at it is a challenge at the best of times.
So we make a choice. There is only so much time and coffee in the world. Our children are clean, they’re fed healthy food that’s cooked for them each day, and they’re dressed in clean clothes. They’re nurtured and loved. We read to them each night, cuddle them each day. We put time and energy into raising them to be good people. But they live in a house of chaos.
We had to prioritise our work over our house because the kids matter more than both of those things, and something’s got to give.
In honesty, I hate it. I hate that I can’t keep on top of it. I wish I lived in one of those beautiful clean homes I see on Instagram. Big and spacious, with wall space not decorated in taped up My Little Pony pictures drawn in felt pen that resemble drunk cows. With shelf space with neatly placed vases of fresh flowers, not stacked high with doll houses, boxes of bricks, and yet more drawings. I would like a work space that allows my creativity to flow because all I’m surrounded by is smooth surfaces and perhaps a framed photo and some books. But I don’t have it. And the only way I could get it is if I stopped working all together and then I wouldn’t need the clean work space anyway.
I know there will be people who read this and have a clean, tidy home, a full time job, and children. I know they’ll be thinking that if they can do it, anyone can do it, and I’m just being lazy. But I don’t think I’m lazy. I think those people are witches.
Our house being a mess is a subject we’re often teased about or criticised for. And I am always apologising for it. Always getting upset and stressed if someone’s coming round, always panicking about how I can possibly mask the chaos. The piles of toys in the corners, the drying rack full of clothes, the art shelves where everything’s falling off. Toy boxes against every wall, piles of coats and school bags and shoes in the hall. I have cried, I have screamed. I have desperately tried to keep on top of it and failed. I have broken my heart because I feel like I am such a failure, such a terrible mother, and such an awful person.
No matter how much I vacuum and tidy round, no matter how much of my day I give up, how much of my book or blog I don’t write, no matter how much of my podcast I don’t record, my work I don’t promote, how many emails or messages I don’t answer, I cannot mask the complete chaos of this house. But I can lose hours of work I won’t get back.
One day, I hope, we’ll be earning enough money that we can move to a bigger house so we can have some more space, so not everything has to be crammed into one main room. I’d like to earn enough money that I can pay a cleaner to come and keep on top of some of this for us so I can work as hard as I do but without the guilt that I should be cleaning, knowing that if I’m cleaning I’m carrying guilt that I’m not working.
Last night I was feeling stressed and grumpy. The toddler had, in the space of 7 seconds, tipped an entire box of wooden jigsaws across the floor, thrown all the pieces around, and then done a war dance on the remnants whilst whacking anyone who came near her with a magic wand. I tweeted my frustration.
And the responses made me realise I’m not alone. We’re ALL struggling. Keeping a home clean and tidy and Instagram ready is a bloody challenge.
Some of us struggle to keep up with cleaning because of work, some of us with mobility issues, some of us with health issues, some of us because of children. Some of us because we are simply so worn out at the end of the day that we just cannot face spending our evening cleaning up the chaos when we know it’ll be exactly the same tomorrow anyway, that we pour a glass of wine and binge watch Netflix shows instead.
I cannot keep my house tidy without giving up time with my children or my job. And I already feel those things don’t get enough of me, without adding yet more distraction to take me away from the things that matter most. And cleaning doesn’t pay the bills.
So I’m going to try and stop apologising for my house. I’m going to try and shrug off the mocking, ignore the criticism. Because I’m doing my best. And I’m struggling and I’m tired and it’s hard, and sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by it all that I scream into a pillow because I just can’t cope anymore. But I want to stop wasting my tears on it because other things matter more.
My children are loved and clean and well fed. My job is progressing and I’m good at it. I just don’t do it in a show home. My home is like a dog eared book, loved but scruffy, not for everybody, but fine for me. And I don’t want to cry anymore.