In Praise of Dirtier Houses
posted by Amy

Elizabeth at Half-Changed World has a post up about her own a-ha! moment regarding the ways women are held (and hold themselves) more responsible for the general cleanliness of their houses. I'd add, too, that our cars' cleanliness, our kids' general cleanliness and dress, and our own personal grooming and dress are also held to higher standards than is true for most men.

Elizabeth writes:

It's important to remember that one of the main "weapons" in the drive to push women out of paid employment following World War II was rising domestic standards.  All those wonderful labor-saving devices wound up saving much less labor, because expectations for cleanliness rose.  When you had to boil water and wash clothes by hand, people got a clean pair of pants every Sunday. With the invention of automatic washers, people started expecting to have clean pants every day.

I think unreasonably high standards contribute to social isolation.  I know an awful lot of people who never have anyone over, because they don't think they can do so without cleaning their house until it looks like something out of Home Beautiful. 

I have to agree; I've had my own hellish times of thinking that no one would really like me if they realized how infrequently we vacuum around here. Never mind that the houses where I feel most comfortable tend to be of the cluttered variety, with lots of books, CDs, toys, and miscellaneous artwork, school notices, etc. lying around. Those are the places where we all settle in to talk and connect while the kids run around creating a little more chaos but having a ball.

At a child's birthday party a year or two ago, I was sitting with some of the other parents talking while the kids all played. Another mama wondered how the hosts kept their fairly large house so incredibly clean and started berating herself for not being able to maintain such high standards of cleanliness. So, of course, I told her about the note to the housekeeper I'd happened to see while standing in the kitchen (I swear I wasn't snooping! Really! It just happened to be there, right at my eye level.).

There are a whole lotta complex factors that inform our standards of cleanliness and our own personal guilt meters. TV has something to do with it, I believe, and Martha's got some answering to do, too. This culture that celebrates perfection and still expects women to be the ones to arrange that perfection in their kids, their homes, their cooking, their decorating, and, of course, their scrapbooks seems like a throwback to the 50s. Rather than going back there, I say we just start inviting people into our messy houses, bite our tongues when we start to apologize for the disorder, and realize that lowering our standards just a bit might make another mama's life a whole lot easier.