I grew up in a house full of stuff; mostly print material that morphed into sturdy stacks positioned conveniently (or inconveniently, depending on your perspective) between chair and recliner, couch and stereo. The living room had a reddish, burnt orange colored carpeting with a peculiar pattern that made for bumpy vacuuming. I was accustomed to dust. As a family we had a fairly high dust threshold.
My mother was not particularly pressed about household appearances. We had friends and family over after church all the time. If folks had to move a stack of newspapers from couch to floor, it was no biggie. When we did clear things out a bit, the term used was “straighten up,” not “clean.” That distinction was never lost on me.
My father was a carpenter and had fashioned the cabinets and the round table in the kitchen with his own hands, I found out later. He built the structures; my mother filled and covered them. That seemed to be the agreement. Neither of them ever seemed particularly concerned about creating a particular impression with our household. My mother often joked about how “lived in” our house was. The kitchen table was usually covered with stuff – mail, dishes, cereal and other boxes – and yet I remember that we often ate there as a family of four. We moved junk from the table onto the extra chair, said grace and ate before “Hogan’s Heroes” came on at 7:30, my dad’s favorite show.
All this to say that I did not come from a family of ardent housekeepers. No, I hail from homeowners whose aim was to live comfortably on their own terms. We did not have specific rituals of cleaning or clearing; merely impulses – sometimes holiday-driven or special-guest related – which drove us to sweep more thoroughly, to wipe down the stairs a second time, to run the vacuum all the way back into that hard-to-reach corner. I have seen and visited remarkably well appointed homes that fit the description ‘spic-and-span’. I have marveled at these temples of cleanliness both as a child and as an adult, knowing that these were not realities that I would ever think to pursue for myself. I’m often weak just imagining the time commitment!
At any rate, here I am in middle age fully cognizant that my dust tolerance has hardly shifted since childhood. I am not the pack rat my mother was but I am her child when it comes to keeping house in that loose and open-ended way. Perhaps to the chagrin of my partner. But I’d rather be writing, reading, creating, thinking. Which is what I do while the dust congregates in the corners.