In an age when messes are touted as holy and clutter is extolled as the sign of productive genius, I find myself embarrassed by my organized closets and clean countertops. Who but a self-conceited nelly would bother folding dish towels before putting them in the drawer? Only a petty dolt would routinely organize her pantry, right? And what kind of cold-hearted woman asks her children to make their beds before breakfast?
Keeping a clean, orderly home was once the hallmark of happy domesticity, but now, messiness is next to godliness. A littered living room floor is certain proof of family fealty on Facebook, and every good blogging mother knows that laughing and playing with her children is more important than wiping down the bathroom sink. It seems that Mr. Banks and his kite are trending in the park, while Mary Poppins and her nursery-tidying games are swiftly blowing away with last season’s ideals. Dancing through life is in, and dusting the furniture is out.
Still, I continue to scrub my toilets regularly. It’s not that I believe plungers are more important than people, but I do think keeping a clean house best serves the mortals—big and small—that I love. Here are a few reasons why.
1. I Was Born This Way
Actually, I wasn’t, but I was born into this way. Every Saturday morning, my sisters and I woke to find a handwritten list of house chores waiting for us on the kitchen table. My mother expected us to pencil our initials next to the tasks we would complete, and we had until lunchtime to do them.
As it turns out, 18 years of habitual cleaning makes a lasting impression on a lazy, sedentary child such as me. Now, if more than a week goes by without the surfaces in my own home being wiped down, I feel compelled to write my initials in the layer of dust covering them.
2. Having a Swept Floor Honors My Grandmother
Whenever I see a meme or blog post explaining that good mothers have messy floors because they are choosing to spend time with their children instead of a broom, I feel a need to defend the reputations of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Cynthia, Loraine, and Flora are (and were, in sainted Flora’s case) the most attentive of mothers, and they kept their floors swept in service to their children, not at the expense of them. They also never treated cleaning as a solitary sport. If they were cleaning, so were we.
3. A Family that Cleans Together Stays Together
Keeping a house picked up is a family affair. Young children are closest to the ground and perfectly suited for hunting down renegade Legos and holding the dust pan. Schoolboys have always excelled at swinging wooden sticks and connecting them with contrary objects. What does it matter if the stick has straw at the end of it? Teenagers have long arms perfect for reaching the tops of shelves and penetrating the depths of closets. Who better to fold and put away the laundry? Cleaning, as far as I see it, is quality time for the family.
4. Sweeping Is Paying It Forward
The only thing worse than a dirty floor is two dirty floors. Whenever I sweep the crumbs up from under or around the table, I am doing so to prevent socks from tracking them into the living room. I am paying it forward to myself, because I’d really rather not have to drag out the vacuum, as well. Remember, I may be clean, but I am also lazy.
5. Dusting Helps My Husband Breathe
Allergy medicine can take the human respiratory system only so far. The next best way to keep my husband from sniffing and sneezing is to wipe, dust, sweep, mop, and vacuum those pesky allergens right out of our home.
6. Vacuuming Up Rabbit Hair Shows Respect for My Guests
I am convinced that one of the reasons our guests adore our pet rabbit is that I don’t make them serve as human lint rollers for our furniture. They can lean into our couches and pillows without fear of growing fur themselves, and when the dinner bell rings, they can raise their forks to their mouths unafraid of finding any hair (or hare) in their food.
7. My Kitchen Sink Is an Effective Barometer for Life
If I have time to eat but not time to clean up my dishes, I know that I have made my schedule too busy for actual living. My sink never fails to tell me when I need to say “No” more to the unnecessary things in life.
8. A Clean Home Fosters Relaxation
I remember one day when my husband came home bearing the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. He fell onto our couch, put up his feet, and sighed, “Thank you for keeping our house so clean. I deal with a thousand messes at work every day. It helps me not to have to deal with any here.”
After beaming brighter than the North Star, I immediately headed straight to the kitchen to do what any self-respecting wife would do. I made a giant mess. Thankfully, the mess resulted in a homemade pizza for dinner, so my dear, hardworking man didn’t seem to mind.
9. An Organized Space Helps Me Write
I’ve written in coffee shops and libraries and schools and airports and hotels and convention centers and on park benches and under trees, but my favorite place to write remains my home. That being said, my home is also the place where I sleep and eat and teach and work and play and offer hospitality and relax, and it can be difficult to settle my mind into proper writing-mode when there is a mess on my desk.
It’s not that I can’t write beside a mess—I’ve churned out entire chapters while seated next to someone’s spilled beverage and overturned French fries at the airport—but I can’t write next to my mess. I’m responsible for it, and it pesters me until I take care of it.
10. Cleaning Benefits Children
As much as I loathed work of any kind as a child, dusting, vacuuming, washing windows, scrubbing toilets, and mopping floors gave me occupation long before I legally could be employed, and cleaning was a job that paid me richly in self-confidence and self-satisfaction. Childhood is when we practice at being adults, and I am thankful my mother gave me ample opportunity to practice caring for a home before I had one of my own.
I am also grateful that she raised me to be responsible for the messes I make in life, because applying that lesson to my vocations in adulthood has made me a better daughter, wife, friend, hostess, caregiver, employee, and writer. Don’t get me wrong. I still make time for laughing and playing and dancing with my family and friends. I just usually save such delights for after the dishes are done.