Diary of a Lousy Housewife

Hmm, So There is Something to This Clean Thing

Posted on: October 24, 2009

Right now, my house is the least cluttered and messy it has been in a long, long time. This is not to say that it’s CLEAN, but it’s straightened. And, while I hate to admit it, it really does make life better. Last night, Mr. Lousy was working late, so by the time he left his office, I had already put the girls to bed. But in the 1/2hr or so it took him to get home, I was able to put in a load of dishes AND straighten up the family room. When he walked in the door, I didn’t feel like I had to jump up and meet him at the door so he wouldn’t see the mess. Definitely made for a more relaxing evening.

Now that things aren’t frighteningly messy, it’s time to move into phase two: maintenance and decluttering. The rooms that have been straightened up need to now be cleaned and kept up and throughout the house I need to purge a LOT of stuff.

I was raised by a lifelong shopoholic, who has become a hoarder over 18 years of living alone and numerous medical issues. When I go to my mother’s house, I get VERY upset. For a woman who can look like a million bucks when she gets dressed up, her house looks like a complete dump. There are piles of crap–paper, random purchases, and clothes, clothes, clothes–all over the place, making clear passage difficult. The last time I was there, she needed to have her spare bedroom cleaned up because the homeowners’ association needed to inspect some water damage. I spent five hours doing nothing but folding clothes (many with prices tags still attached–some with tags from stores no longer in business) and putting them into some sort of order. That was for ONE room in her townhouse and even after all that, there still wasn’t a lot of space in the room. The inspector said that more had to be cleared out, but so far she hasn’t gotten to it.

The time before that, I went up for two weeks to help her after foot surgery. The first night after the surgery, I needed to spend the night to make sure she was okay. This was the first time in at least a decade that I had stayed overnight. Because my mother sleeps on her couch in the living room, she put me on the other part of the sectional. The side that was about 4 1/2 feet long. Now, I’m short, but I’m not that short. And sleeping with my feet hanging off the end of the couch was torturous. (I know, I’m a drama queen.) So, after an hour or so of tossing and turning, I went upstairs to the bedroom.

The bed was piled about 3ft deep with papers. Not important papers. Not even interesting papers. Random circulars and magazines dating back to before Katie had even met Tom. I spent the next 3-4hr going through the papers and tossing them into garbage bags. (Yes, I know I should have recycled them, but it was FAR more important to just get them out.) Eventually, around 3am or so, I had cleaned up enough that I had a space to sleep.

I’m getting depressed just remembering and I try and keep in mind that for my mother living there is a self-imposed prison. She created this mess, but she cannot see where to start to make it better. And whenever I try, she becomes so controlling (because, that’s what hoarding is, a way on controlling your environment) that I get pissed off and leave. I hope and pray that someday she’ll get it cleaned up, but I don’t hold out much hope. Instead one of two things will happen: she will die relatively young (she’s 68 now) and I’ll have to clean out her townhouse after she’s gone or her health will get to a point where she can’t live alone and after moving her into a home, I’ll be cleaning it out then. In either case, the only way it will get cleaned out is when she’s no longer standing in the way.

A couple of years ago, my brothers and I talked about having her go down and visit with one in Philly while I went in and cleaned up her place. I was willing to put in whatever time needed–and thankfully my MIL was willing to watch my girls–so I could recreate my mother’s home. But once she got wind of our plans, my mother refused to go. After much arguing and persuading, I got her to agree to go to my aunt’s house (in town) for a couple of days. However, once I got into town, she refused to even do that. I think that trip I managed to pry 4-5 garbage bags of paper out of the house and got all the clothes in her living room folded (again, a 3-4hr job). By the end, I was exhausted. Not so much from the work I had done, but from the will I had to assert just to get a three-year old dental brochure from her.

I worry about becoming my mother. The older I get the more I see her in myself–the mannerisms, the speech patterns, the nasty way I have of fighting with Mr. Lousy (resulting in three divorces in my mother’s case). I also love to shop and while this sounds odd, I’m good at it. I can find bargains and put together fabulous combinations. Shopping (alone) calms me. Being dragged around from store to store to store when I was a kid makes it all soothing as an adult. Target is my happy place.

This has, not surprisingly, led to a lot of money down the drain. Over the past year, we’ve had some major financial upheavals, and so I’ve been really curbing my shopping habit. For a few months, I wouldn’t go into stores because I knew I would spend. I’ve gotten better, but it’s still a challenge. I go into a bit of a fugue state and come out of the store with purchases I never intended to make. I fight this pretty much daily because I know that I don’t want my house to end up looking like my mother’s.

But realistically, I know that it won’t happen for one big reason: Mr. Lousy. He wouldn’t be able to stand it at my mom’s–and he hasn’t been there in at least a decade. I think that if my mother had someone in her life, her place would look a lot better. Her clutter is both a reason to avoid relationships and an effective deterrent. Thankfully, my relationship is a reason to avoid clutter and mess.

So when I talk about feeling more relaxed in my house now that most of it is at least straightened, it’s with the knowledge that I’m only one step away from being my mother but at least I’ve stepped back from the edge of that cliff.

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