December 20, 2008

I wish those damned elves would stop making toys and come clean my house

My desire to have a sparkling clean house for our Christmas company creates some tension between me and my sons who have — how shall I say this? Different standards than I do. The holiday music in the house is often accompanied by me yelling at my kids to help clean RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.

"Why do you care what people think?" Boy in Black will argue as I am preparing to morph into Psycho Mom mode. I usually respond with a glare. "That's not it. At all. Having a clean house at Christmas is important to ME."

Yes, I do like a clean house at Christmas. I blame this on the holiday television specials from my childhood. These specials usually featured Some Semi-Famous Guy Who Sings, some of his family members (or at least a cast who pretended to be his family), and a whole bunch of holiday songs. The show always took place in some big old farmhouse or ski lodge with snow and pine trees and some kind of Christmas service that involved people walking through the dark with candles. The house would be decorated with pine boughs and red ribbons and a big Christmas tree. The show didn't create any tension or any suspense; it was reassuring and predictable, filled with corny conversations that were totally scripted. It always ended with Semi-Famous Guy singing a holiday song, staring at the camera with a sappy, sincere look on his face.

The problem is that these holiday specials still play in my head.

Most of the year, I don't mind the messiness of living in a house where about a dozen teenagers come and go constantly. But as soon as we bring in a tree and decorate it for Christmas, suddenly I remember the old farmhouse in that holiday special. Then I look around and think, "Wait! This isn't right! Andy Williams never had half-filled glasses of juice on his windowsills or pages of calculus homework strewn on the carpet or textbooks piled at the hearth!"

Then I turn into Psycho Mom and make all the kids clean.

One thing that makes our house look messy is the sheer amount of books, papers, and notebooks piled in odd spots. We all spend most of our time in the living room by the fire, and the piles tend to accumulate over the semester. As a result, the downstairs of the house looks the way my sixth grade classroom looked at the end of the year the teacher made us dump out our desks.

The other night, I had a brilliant idea. I put our names on six index cards which I spread across the living room floor. Then I took the stacks — the mail on the kitchen table, the schoolpapers on the counter, the pages of sheet music, the sketchpads and artwork, the books on the floor by the couch — and just sorted them into piles. The sorting went very quickly, and soon each person in the family had a pile of stuff that he or she could be responsible for putting away.

"Come take your pile!" I yelled.

I glanced over at the table. How much nicer it looked with nothing on the surface. "This worked really well," I said smugly to my daughter.

She nudged me. "Watch With-a-Why."

My youngest son obediently picked up his pile, an unwieldy mix of books and artwork and schoolpapers. He looked at it in kind of a puzzled way and then carried it over to the corner between the couch and the fireplace — which is where most of it had come from in the first place — and set it back down on the floor.


In his defense, With-a-Why doesn't have his own desk, or his own chest of drawers. He shares a room with two brothers, and there really isn't any place for him to keep his stuff. So I can see why he might consider a corner of the living room the place for his artwork and comic books and schoolpapers. But mostly, I blame the fact that that he's never seen one of those corny Christmas specials.


YourFireAnt said...

For Ch'mas gifts, I think a good idea would be to give $ to a charity of your choice in your name, PLUS 6 items from my house given to a poor family.



YourFireAnt said...

And I never saw the Ch'mas specials, but I like my house clean too. I figure the above method of gift giving will empty the house enough that cleaning'll be a snap.

kathy a. said...

i'd like to have a clean house more of the time, but cannot ever get people to help me, and cannot work up the steam until holiday company is coming -- at which point, i become psycho mom.

this is usually the moment when my husband decides to help by changing the oil in the car. he sincerely believes that his mother, who has several lifetime achievement awards for perfect housekeeping, will not notice year-old cobwebs or major bathroom scum deposits. my MIL came this morning. i loaded all the piles on counters into a box, spent a couple hours scrubbing and swiping, and decided to call it done.

Anonymous said...

My mother used to try to get us to throw all our junk in a laundry basket, and then take it to our rooms and put it all away.
Never worked. To this day, laundry baskets make me think my mom must be in a bad mood.

My dad's method was much more effective. He'd just throw our stuff into our rooms. While we slept. Nothing like a sneaker whizzing by your head to wake you up. While it was dramatic (we'd whip out of bed and run to the living room and kitchen to gather all of our crap before the next shoe sailed), it wasn't really preventative.

reverendmother said...

If you haven't seen the Colbert Christmas special, you should. It's a great sendup of those holiday shows.

BrightBoy said...

Oh, my gosh, they share a room?

My brothers and I are almost the exact same ages as your sons (I'm twenty, Powell's nineteen, and Thomas is thirteen), and if we had to share a room it would be pure hell.

I honestly don't know how they live.

You must have three very tolerant sons who get along very well.

Brigindo said...

You have so hit the nail on the head. I've always felt the need for a clean house at Christmas but never seemed to manage it. It is the fault of those Christmas specials.

I have to say, even without a entire household full of teenagers, I've had the urge beaten out of me over the years. I clean once before the tree comes in and what happens after happens.

I also tried the personal pile method (I've also tried personal bins) but it never works.

Liz Miller said...

It's the 15 tile game, but our house only has 14 slots.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Our old house was a 15 tiles/14 slots house, but this new one is a 15 tile/16 slots house. Long may it last.

It's my husband who feels the need for a clean house -- not just a Christmas time, but anytime we have guests (including service people, like the guy who cleans the carpet once a year). Which means we're pretty much always cleaning.

Silver Creek Mom said...

I hear ya... I Always want it clean too, but this year I have promised not to go Nutty trying to get it clean... HONESTLY all I want is the floors washed and some of the dog hair gone...Grant you having the pillows back on the couch and not built into a fort in the middle of the living would be a great start.

nimiecat said...

THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME!!! I've been absolutely freaking out about the clutter in our house since the tree went up at T-Giving. I had no IDEA was suffering from 70's Family Christmas Special disease! ;)

Anonymous said...

I thought you don't let your kids watch tv (or there's no tv in your house), so even if there is a Christmas special, they wouldn't have seen it.

Rana said...

I remember reading some comic somewhere about how the problem in the protagonist's messy room wasn't that she had too much stuff, but that her room wasn't large enough. That describes my house all too well!

The main clean-up times I experienced as a child (and still do as an adult) were when Someone was coming over. If the Someone was my grandparents, we kicked into high gear, because Grandma would clean anything dirty and Mom would be chagrined. (We still talk about the Australian nurse who scrubbed one of our bathtubs.)

I've inherited this tendency - I want the house clean for guests and when I travel (I hate coming home to the mess) - but the daily clean is harder. Part of it is clutter-management incompatibility - both D. and I clutter, but while I grew up making tidy stacks (my parents' house is filled with structurally sound stacks of all sorts of things), D. and his family make piles and drifts. You can walk around stacks, and find things in them, and they can look not unattractive if done carefully. Piles... piles are health hazards that take up waaaaaay too much space.

EcoGirl said...

A dirty house hides the beauty behind xmas decorations. I become sort of a clean freak that time of year too. Then you learn to let it go