If I Stopped Cleaning Up After My Kid, I Would Have a Garbage House

Jessica Stilwell, the mom who went on a cleaning strike, is a brave woman. I could never do that.

Oct 12, 2012 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

By now, you may have heard about Jessica Stilwell, the mom who went on a cleaning strike and documented the deterioration of her home. Stilwell, the mother of three daughters, ages 10 to 13, was so fed up with cleaning up after her kids that she decided to stop doing it and see what happened.

The results aren’t pretty, you guys! Piles of dishes with food stuck on them, explosions of shed clothing and socks in the hall, and other unsavory, rotty things. In one blog post, Stillwell mentions that one of her daughters cleaned the hair out of the dog brush and just left the resulting clump of hair on the sofa. GAH! Stilwell just sat back and watched while she self-medicated with wine.

If I were to go on strike for even a day, my house would reach a level of mess that I could not handle. Stillwell’s experiment lasted a total of six days, after which her kids decided they couldn’t stand the mess anymore. I’m pretty sure this qualifies her for sainthood.

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I've reached my mess threshold with this stack of papers on my desk. My project today is to file/shred/toss them.

Brava, Jessica Stilwell, seriously. As the mom of a boy who leaves his wet bath towel on the bathroom floor (Every. Damn. Time.), I understand how she could have snapped and just said, “Enough!” I mean, I only have the one. Three? Forget it.

Years ago, I tried going on a doing-the-dishes strike with my ex, but it didn’t work. I lasted two days before I could take no more and finally just broke down and did the damn dishes. Seth and I had different mess thresholds. Mine is decidedly shorter.

But I have a confession to make: I’m actually kind of a slob. As a kid, my room was an ankle-deep cacophony of clothes, toys and books. Once, my mom came into my room with a trash bag and announced that she was just going to throw away all my stuff since I was treating it like garbage anyway. It worked -- I cleaned my room. Doesn’t mean I kept it clean, though.

As a teenager, my room was ridiculously messy. Every once in a while, I would decide I couldn’t stand it anymore, and spend an entire day cleaning it. Rinse, repeat, right into adulthood. I was a shitty roommate; I acknowledge this. I contained my mess to my room, but I hardly ever did the dishes. If I could go back and slap this younger version of myself, I would. 

When I began cohabitating with Seth in my early 20s, what I discovered was that he was way messier than me. Living with someone whose cleaning habits were worse than mine forced me to become a much neater person. I knew that the point at which I would clean would come much earlier than the point at which Seth would clean. It taught me to keep my stuff straightened up, for the most part.

But when Oliver entered the picture, it changed our cleaning habits. I had to let go of the dream of a neat, dust-free home, in the interest of spending more time with my son. I learned to relax my mess threshold and allow dishes to sit in the sink for a day.

However, now I live with someone who is -- how should I put it? OCD? A neat freak? Meticulous? For example, it once took Jeff an hour to make guacamole. Guacamole! Avocado, tomato, garlic, shallot, jalapeno, lime juice, salt: chop up, mash together, you’re done. But no, Jeff had to dice each thing very precisely and carefully, while I looked on, eating tortilla chips and asking every 30 seconds if he needed any help. 

My method of cooking is similar to my method of parenting: totally winging it. I have very little patience for actual recipes, often just throwing a bunch of stuff in a pan and hoping it turns into something edible (it usually does; I’m a pretty good cook). I roughly chop things and make kind of a mess. 

So we’ve reached an agreement: I do the cooking, and Jeff cleans up after. I’m better and faster at cooking, and he’s better and more thorough with cleaning. It’s a good balance. We divide the other housecleaning, and I try to involve Oliver when he is at our house. He earns marbles for dusting, for example. But Oliver is only seven. I’m still working on teaching him to take his got-damn cereal bowl to the kitchen when he’s done with it. And I still have to remind him to pick up his towel from the bathroom floor. 

And I cannot get this kid to clean his room. Finally, in a fit of frustration, I cleaned it a couple of weeks ago when Oliver was at Seth’s for the week. I tossed out the million little scraps of paper he insists on keeping, plus gum wrappers and those junk toys from birthday party favor bags that he never plays with. I know I should have made him do it, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. I have a point at which I can no longer tolerate a mess, and Oliver does not. He is totally fine with a pigsty of a room. 

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Oliver's room, three days after I cleaned it. This is his idea of "keeping it clean."

His room is one thing. The rest of the house is another. All I know is, if I ever decided to stop reminding Oliver to pick up after himself in the common areas, or clear his dishes from the table, I would have a garbage house.  And that is something that even a self-identifying slob like me cannot let happen. 

Would you ever “go on strike”? Are you constantly cleaning up after your kids or your significant other? Or are you the messiest person in your house?