My mom and my aunt giggle remembering the Ritter family in their 1950’s neighborhood. Apparently, whenever my family would pass by their house the curtains were unflatteringly askew. It came to be a thing they looked for and snickered about and, eventually, named “rittered curtains.” As in, “Fix those curtains. Look at how they’re rittered.”
My mom also remembers her mother ironing handkerchiefs.
My parents tell another story about the house I grew up in. At one point my mom took down the curtains in their bedroom to wash them. Many weeks later when my dad noticed them missing he asked about it. They were in a washed but wrinkled pile in the laundry room, waiting for my mom to iron them so she could put them back up on the windows. Once she’d filled him in on the proceedings, my dad said, matter-of-factly, with no judgment, “I guess we’d better buy new curtains.”
My mom hates ironing.
I love the satisfaction of an ordered, clutter-free, no-rings-around-the-tub house. I feel like I can relax and enjoy being in it when it’s clean and tidy. I am definitely the kind of person who cleans for company – I even clean when I invite students over for dinner. Company is company. But we haven’t had anyone over in a long, long time. Until this week – because my parents are coming – I’m pretty sure we hadn’t cleaned the entire house since New Year’s Eve.
I know where my iron is but can’t say the last time I used it.
I fantasize about hiring someone to clean our house twice a month. I have it all worked out, how the cleaners would arrive on Monday mornings after my lovely but magically-crumb-producing stepson leaves from the weekend. I hesitate for many reasons: I come from a family who invented “rittered curtains” as a category; I come from a family who’s always done our own cleaning; and, it’s not in the budget right now.
I also hesitate because there’s a part of me that thinks If you’re too busy to clean your house, you’re too busy. It’s a strange life when the things that sustain us –preparing food, cleaning our homes, sleeping, moving our bodies about outside, relaxing – are considered things for which we are “too busy.” I don’t need enough time on my hands to take up ironing sheets (and undershirts and handkerchiefs, if men still wore these) but I would love to feel like we have enough time to keep up with the basics. I would like to be on a cleaning schedule that’s more frequent than quarterly.
You can see from this tale how each generation of my family has relaxed the standard of the previous generation. But I still want to invite someone over to a comfortable and clean house. I can’t completely give that one up. So we’ve had very little company or dinner guests lately. Here we are at Easter weekend with our first company since New Year’s Eve.
It’s Holy Week and I have been sick with the crud since Sunday night: these two facts alone should be enough to cut myself some slack. Nope. I knocked myself out (and my husband, too) to get the house clean by Good Friday.
This isn’t simply about busy-ness or family lineage. It’s about perfectionism.
Brené Brown tells a story about friends stopping by her house unexpectedly when the place was a mess. Brown’s daughter came to find her with a worried expression on her face – worried in advance about the stress the surprise visit would generate in her mom. But Brown, who was at that very moment working on her book (The Gifts of Imperfection), simply changed her clothes and said to her daughter, “I’m so glad they’re here. What a nice surprise! Who cares about the house!” She walked bravely to the door with a smile on her face and welcomed her friends in for a visit in her completely imperfect house. She says she did so while putting herself “in a Serenity Prayer trance” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 58).
Maybe someday Brené Brown will be the matron saint of vulnerability and glorious imperfection. Maybe I’ll have a little statue I can shoot a glance at when the doorbell rings or a text chimes with the opportunity to entertain a guest. I need the encouragement because I am not there yet on my own. Clearly.
How about you? How do you save your sanity while not living in swill? How do you cut yourself some slack? What family traditions have you let go of in order to make more room for life? How’s your life becoming more gracious these days?
photo credit: Public domain. Originally produced for the Works Progress Administration, circa 1939.