The house was clean on Thursday (Part 1)

The house was clean on Thursday. Sorry you missed it.

The Living Room - being LIVED in

“Sorry about the mess… we’re just …uhmmm… in the middle of some projects,” I always catch myself saying when people drop in unexpectedly. (OR: “It’s holiday and there are six kids running around here” OR: “It’s been one of those days.”)

Who am I kidding?! It’s always like this. I should just say, “It’s been one of those decades.”

Mostly, I just chat to people at the gate. That way I don’t have to lie, apologise or feel totally embarrassed.

Once a little friend came to our house to play, and asked me quite candidly, “Tannie, skaam jy jou nie vir jou huis nie?”* Oh man. Is it really that bad, or is this kid just from a home where people don’t live??

I grew up in a “relaxed” home. We always had a small herd of neighbourhood kids stampeding in and out, so much so that one of the elderly neighbours once asked my mother, “So how many children do you actually have?”

We mostly played in the living room and often used the furniture to build houses/ox wagons/spaceships. Games sometimes went on for several consecutive days, and my parents were happy to leave things that way until we got bored with it and started another game. I guess they found somewhere else to sit. My mum was probably only too glad to see us entertaining ourselves for hours on end, leaving her to do her own stuff – having your living room turned upside down is the price you pay for some peace and quiet. Tidying up and having a spotless house were never very high on the agenda (not from our point of view anyway). We had a domestic helper once or twice a week and I was blessed to have a stay-at-home mum, so I guess between the two of them, the house remained pretty much under control. It was just never that big an issue.

I remember sometimes visiting friends and feeling very awkward and tense because their homes were so different – so un-lived in, so clinical, so “grand”. Our house was made for living. It was obvious that some quiet grown-ups, several noisy children and a variety of pets lived there.

I was a fairly typical teenager, and my room fully reflected my inner turmoil. Clothes everywhere. Everything everywhere. My siblings had similar situations in their rooms. My parents let us be – they didn’t nag us to tidy up, but we had to deal with the consequences of our messiness: if you wanted to wear something and it was dirty, under the bed, tough luck. Find something that is clean. My mum didn’t bother going through our rooms looking for the dirty bits among the clean bits (which inevitably got mixed up as soon as the clean pile arrived for processing). At least, if she did, I wasn’t aware of it. Somehow I survived this period of chaos relatively unscathed.

By the time I was 16, I had managed to get my room and my mind a bit more under control. For the next six years, things were not too bad at all in the tidiness department.

Then, wide-eyed, naive, romantic and a full 22 years old, I married a professional chaos generator and hoarder. Let’s just call him the PCG.

 Things went downhill fast. And, to add to the general entropy, we had a baby. And another. Then we moved. Several times. Our junk always managed to follow us. I don’t know how.

I got my husband a sign for his “office”:

This isn’t a desk – it’s a landfill.

 One day, his desk (a door balancing on two dodgy stands) collapsed. He simply tipped it back up, leaving everything under the table, commented, “Well, now it’s tidy,” and went on with his life. Two years later, looking for some policy documents, I found myself sitting under that make-shift desk, holding unopened mail from years ago in my hands. I was weeping.

When this “office” was filled to the brim, the PCG moved into another room, which was used as a sort of laundry. Within a few short weeks, if I wanted to use my washing machine, I had to climb over boxes, appliances of all descriptions and piles and crates of “stuff”. I often sat crying on a pile of rubbish, especially on days that I couldn’t open the door of the washing machine.

One day I went into a recycling frenzy and gathered mountains of paper together, including a pile of damp and mouldy newspapers that had been sitting in one spot for more than two years. When the PCG came home and found it missing, he was livid. He had been planning to cut out some articles to keep for the children. He didn’t speak to me for a week.

Things got even worse once we had another child. The youngest was often compared to a mini-tornado, and we called her Thing 3, after the characters in Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat In The Hat” book.

Just add one more...

Remember them? Remember what the house looked like when these two had finished their “harmless fun”? Well, that’s my house after the arrival of another Thing. With the PCG, Thing 1 and 2, it was barely manageable. With the PCG, THREE Things, some dogs, cats and other small animals, it was just a lost case. I felt as helpless as the fish in the bowl, wagging its fin at the cat.

To be continued…

* “Aren’t you ashamed of your house?”

Erica Neser (c) 2011


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