My sons and their partners are wonderful people. They are all intelligent, hard-working, creative, socially active, politically aware, engaging conversationalists, and just fun to be around. At the same time, they don’t pick up after themselves.
When my sons were children I tried to coach them in the right direction. I really did. We all had weekly household chores to do, and I was constantly after them to tidy their rooms. I asked, I repeatedly asked, I insisted, I nagged, I joked, I tried making it a game, I made it a competition, I made lists, I gave rewards, I praised, I shamed, I tried everything I could think of. Still, they rarely picked up their stuff. When they did, it was on their own schedule, never mine.
Now that they are adults, it seems nothing has changed. When I am in their homes, I can’t stop seeing the clutter. It drives me a little bit nuts. I want to tidy up before I do anything else; even before sitting down to chat. So, clearly this is my problem, not theirs.
I don’t know when I became so keen on neatness, but it has evolved over time. As a teenager, I wasn’t particularly tidy. I remember that every Saturday in my family home we all had to do some household chore or other. In particular, I remember using Brasso to polish the brass fixtures on the windows until they shone. There was something satisfying about that.
After I was married, I quickly realized that my husband was a bit of a neat freak. He liked things to be orderly, so he would put papers into piles on the coffee table, meticulously straighten crooked pictures, and he even planted flowers in straight rows in the garden. No curves or groupings for this guy. Rows, always.
I did my best to accommodate his need for order because I knew how creative he was when his mind was at ease. He was a designer and visual artist, and that seemed to me to be a priority. We both did our share of cooking, cleaning, and household maintenance, but somehow our children didn’t inherit that gene. When it was time to do chores, they were either absent or as slow as molasses in January.
Now that I think about it, maybe the pressure to be neat and tidy was overwhelming to the point that they didn’t even want to try. Or, maybe they just resented being under orders. Or, maybe they knew that if they held out long enough I would do it myself. Yes, that’s probably it.
I know they aren’t lazy people, so that isn’t the problem. It’s a particularized inertia. They just don’t seem to see the point of being tidy. They have lives full of work, friendships, interests, and family activities, and their homes are not unclean—just cluttered.
Oh, wait. Now I get it. They know it drives me crazy! That’s why they do it. They want to watch me try to contain my need to tidy up. Maybe they deliberately toss things around before I come to visit just to watch me try to avert my gaze. OK, you guys. Ha ha. Very funny. I just have to keep repeating to myself “This is not important. This is not important,” and I’ll be fine.
As family members and members of society my sons and their partners are the cream of the crop, so when I win the lottery I know exactly what I’m going to do first. I’m going to buy them lifetime maid service. Problem solved.
After that, I might go on a long cruise on a floating hotel. I think I deserve a maid, too.