My sister-in-law, CC, and I have been hanging out a lot lately. We were commiserating over the challenges that each of us has been facing and we struck a funny deal that will help both of us out. She’s going to watch my kid so I can get some work done (I’m really behind on some freelance jobs) and I’m going to help her clean her house! And we’re both happy with this arrangement! Imagine that!
CC has been fighting depression, financial issues compounded by an out-of-work husband, two crazy kids and a house that has become hopelessly overrun by clutter and chaos. Of course, chaos and clutter are nothing new in my family. It’s sort of a secret that I’ve let slip out a bit here and there. We deal with it.
Sometimes I feel like I’m pulled between two worlds in my life: one a clean calm beach life surrounded by snobbery and beauty, and the other deeply rooted in mobile homes, fast food, government aid and Walmart. I don’t really belong in either. But this is not about me.
It’s about CC. Even though she’s okay with chaos and clutter it does wear her down. It’s hard to keep up with chores when there is no end in sight ever ever ever. Sometimes it’s just easier to crank up the air conditioner, stay in bed and ignore the world for days—which is not healthy for her or her family.
Anyway, we were talking about how much I love to borrow her camera all the time and how I wish I could pay her rent on it and pay her for the babysitting she does for me but how broke I am, etc. And then she suggested that maybe I could come help her do her dishes in exchange. I’ve helped her clean her house before but it was sort of awkward and embarrassing for her. I totally understand that.
But I love to clean. I love to organize. I love a good makeover project.
So we struck a bargain, and as we worked together cleaning up her house, we started talking about the mental issues that go along with this kind of mess. I’m not trying to say that she’s a crazy loon (though sometimes I think she is, and I say that affectionately). Lots of people live in houses like this. Probably more than you think. I did.
I don’t know how I became the neatnik I am now. I just sort of broke the cycle (Toby would probably disagree). I can’t really judge CC because her home is bursting with love and acceptance while mine is rigid and stressful. It’s just fascinating to me, the complexities that make up our home life. The way some people are perfectionists but can’t keep anything neat because they are paralyzed by indecision or the fact that they cannot put things away in the perfect spot.
For example CC has all of her DVDs alphabetized and she has a spreadsheet cataloging them by genre and a bunch of other categories! Who does that?!!! Crazy lovable people who don’t do their dishes, that’s who. But if you went to my house, where the dishes are always done and the floor is clutter-free, you could open any drawer and have it explode out onto you with unfolded clothes or utensils that don’t have a home, or toys that are not sorted. I do not sort. I just stuff things in bins or drawers or closets and they are out of sight. I’m organized. I’m just not a perfectionist about it.
Amazingly, CC is letting me write about this here. She is the most open-hearted person I know. Yes, she is embarrassed that she has fallen so far behind in her chores but I think she knows that me helping her is something bigger. Just the companionship of us both being there together dealing with it was a huge mood lifter for both of us. Sometimes you can’t do things on your own. You fall down a rabbit hole and it’s impossible to climb out. And this is my life too. It’s something that fascinates me, maybe because of the way I grew up. I don’t know. I just know that I love helping people with their out-of-control homes. Someday I want to write a book about it.
Anyway, it was fun to work together on this. CC was on fire and by the end of eight hours we found the floor!
We even put together a home-cooked meal and made ourselves congratulatory drinks. We don’t need no stinkin’ Taco Bell or McDonald’s, we are women who get things done. Hear us roar!
We’re not going to be able to conquer the entire mess in three days, which is how long I’m out here. But I’m thinking I can come out and help once a month. Me helping won’t solve everything. I won’t be showing any magazine-style spreads of her home anytime soon but it’s fun, inspiring and I get free babysitting!