My good friend and neighbor (I’ll call her “Suzanne” to protect her anonymity) invited me over yesterday to catch up over coffee. Our kids are school aged so we manage to do this every few weeks, at one of our houses or at our favorite coffee hangout in town.
I walked through her front after shoving the kids off to school and she immediately said, as she hugged me, “I am so sorry about the state of my house. Please just ignore it and pretend you don’t see it.”
I walked through her foyer and saw kids’ boots piled by the front door and two pairs of snowpants hanging over the adjacent dining room chairs to dry. As I entered her kitchen I saw on her island a few scattered piles: a six-inch stack of mail and catalogs, a few kids’ books, her dog’s leash and a few poop bags. Also a box of goldfish crackers and two cereal boxes from the morning’s activities. There were juice glasses and a few bowls next to the sink from breakfast.
My eyes moved next to the collection of papers on Suzanne’s kitchen table – remnants of one of her kids’ art projects, with some scissors, a roll of tape and scraps of colored construction paper. A box of magic markers was next to that pile, with a bottle of glue.
From where I sat at the kitchen table, I could see the family room looked,… well… like the Tasmanian devil had torn through it. There was a carnival-prize sized stuffed elephant on the coffee table, a “Star Wars” blanket thrown in a pile on the sofa, a “Frozen” sleeping bag and a pillow on the other sofa, and a half assembled Lego set on the floor in front of the television.
This clutter is one of the many reasons I adore this woman. Although she always apologizes profusely about the state of her household when I walk in her front door, she regularly invites me in ANYWAY.
Who do we think we’re kidding when we make our homes a semblance of perfection before we let our friends walk in the door?
At my house, I’m running around like a lunatic 30 minutes before friends arrive. I’m stuffing papers into random desk drawers, stashing the kids’ school planners and homework binders into the mudroom closet, and carrying 15 pairs of shoes and boots from the foyer to an upstairs bedroom. I’ve been known to put dirty cereal bowls and mugs into a dishwasher full of unemptied clean dishes just to hide the evidence.
My house is clean, mind you (I have an OCD tendency that causes me to run out of toilet bowl cleaner more often than is reasonable, even by Merry Maids standards), but many of my home’s surfaces are cluttered with “life” byproducts. Sometimes it’s hard to see the floors of my kids’ rooms. My solution is to just close their doors.
Why do most women I know insist on hiding that we’re real people leading real, messy, busy lives? Why do we fear the judgment of people we consider our friends when we invite them into our homes and cars? The “perfect household” illusion perpetuates status competition among women who should be letting that stuff go and supporting each other in every way possible.
I love the fact that Suzanne won’t let her fear of judgment hold her back from welcoming me and her other friends into her space. She’s decided to be real and to not care who sees it. If I’m the kind of person who judges her based on superficial and esoteric criteria, maybe I then self-select myself right out of her friendship circle. Because why would she want a friend like that? Why would ANYONE want a friend like that?
Being in Suzanne’s home, with all of its evidences of a busy and thriving family life, makes me feel happier about my own reality. My house looks just like hers does almost every single day (unless I’m having dinner guests – I can’t help myself; I clean and de-clutter like a madwoman). Many days, I look at the plane crash disaster that is my kitchen and feel woefully inadequate. How can I be a full time stay-at-home parent and not have time to keep my house looking “orderly”? And when I go to a friend’s house and it almost looks as if her home's been staged for a real estate showing, I feel oh so much worse.
Suzanne’s house makes me feel less anxious and more confident that I’m focusing on the right things in my life and in my family household. I’d rather spend time working on my writing, helping my kids organize their homework, further their artistic experimentation, and encourage them to pick up that book again and read it by having it constantly within eyeshot.
This illusion of household maintenance perfection is one we are too often compelled to admire and perpetuate. Suzanne decided not to play the game. I admire her for it. She’s a great inspiration to me.
I’m still working on my own compulsions and fear of judgment, and I have a long way to go. But just this morning, inspired by my time with Suzanne yesterday, I left the Time magazine I was reading last night out on the kitchen table and my used coffee mug out on the counter.
It’s a start.