A clean house does not a clean mind make

Our refrigerator, when we reoccupied our house after a year away

When we bought this house I planned to take care of it. It was bigger than any place we ever lived, and the guy we bought it from looked frazzled when he was showing us how you do everything, and a small part of me thought one day, I’m going to look like that too.

They were ex-military ops, he and his wife. The wife was one of those air marshals who flies in plain clothes and then kicks ass on the plane if something goes wrong.

We went to look at the house the first day it came on the market. I was so sick of looking at houses; I’d just gotten a new job at Starbucks but it got overshadowed by this, another house to see. It had a pencil sharpener bolted onto the cabinetry in the laundry room and I made a snide comment, look! It has a pencil sharpener, I’m in!

In our offer letter, Dawn managed to work in the fact that her dad had just died and would have been happy to see us in a house like this. Specifically, this house. I guess it brought tears to the eyes of the air marshal, and we got it. We also specified we wanted the chickens.

The chickens were allowed out free range style, but only during daylight hours. And because there’s no fence, the chickens would go across the gravel road to the neighbors, kicking up garden beds and shitting and doing god knows what else. And the guy across the street (Keith) had a new hunting dog that was fast as lightning, like a brown streak in a bell, and I was pretty sure that dog would get one of our chickens and I’d have to explain to the kids, and that would set off some testosterone thing between Keith and me.

Instead I think a hawk got one, and the other one we gave away.

Gathering the chickens for the coop required following them around the yard pretending not to follow, and then going in quickly to grab one. The one that got killed was especially cunning though, and more than once I tried catching it after I’d been drinking and slipped on the grass, and it probably looked like a scene from Benny Hill.

The chicken coop is now jammed full of crap, a good place for spiders.

Not long after we moved in, I bought a John Deere tractor and the first time out, had a can of beer so I could put something in the cup holder while I was riding it looking cool, thinking man, I’ve really arrived.

And then I was out cutting the grass every week for many months, a part of it that’s kind of a hill so it’s unsafe to ride on a tractor, and requires a push mower…and then all the edging, the emptying of the clippings, the maintenance of the tractor, and so on. And we asked Keith across the street if he’d recommend his guys, and then we hired them to come do ours twice a month.

For years I tried to keep the house sorted, the carpet clean from kids and animals, the pictures on the walls straight, the lighting dim to hide the details. And I didn’t have to go on medication for it, but one day I just stopped caring. I remembered my mom and John’s artist friend Barry Blend who lives in France, and what a sty his place was, but how much he painted, and the fact his house just looked like an artist lived there, like anything was possible, anything, except for cleaning.

So maybe that’s where it starts, the art: it starts with outsourcing the lawn work and accepting imprecision…the crooked pictures on the walls, the odd stains on the carpet, the dust, the animal hair.

The former owner’s name was Scott Young and for a while, the trash and recycling bins we wheeled up the road still had their name written on it in capitals, YOUNG, and I thought that meant something more for me than just the name.

It reminds me of the end of the film, The Shining, where the camera zeroes in on an old black and white photo, of guests at the lodge from many years ago, before Jack Nicholson’s character took his family there and tried to kill them, and you realize, Jack Nicholson’s character was always there, like some spirit that just changes forms. And I had to pause at times in the mirror and regard myself, and remember Scott Young, and tell myself to slow down. And to avoid further comparisons between me and that caretaker role from The Shining, especially in wintertime.


Categories: Memoir

Tags: , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. Ah, new houses start with such fresh, new promise, don’t they? And then… Yeah, some people are better at fixing them up than I am. I can really relate to the line about anything being possible, anything but cleaning. For a while, I had people over on a regular basis, so I had to at least keep the “front rooms” in decent shape. Now I’m in a cleaning death spiral, where something new breaks or falls apart or gets stained, and that’s one more thing that should really be fixed before people come over…

    I’m reminded of this advice I heard long ago, that I admit to using when I was working at home: leave the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room so that if anyone stops by unexpectedly, you can say, “Oh, I was just about to do some cleaning.” Expert tip: be sure to dust the vacuum cleaner every week or so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Darkly, I’ve gotten into vacuuming. I have, because we use a little Shark model where you can see the scum that gets sucked into the canister and how satisfying it is, to empty it with a thrust in the trash and just marvel at how much got pulled out of the fibers, and then haul it off. Our dog is in her spring-shedding cycle and rather than take the 20 minutes it would take to buy her a proper brush to get it out, we (I) vacuum every day now, for weeks. Smart, huh? I like your approach though, and the division of ‘front rooms’ etc. That begins a fun mind-play. Heck, we’ve been in this house, our mid-life house, for 7 years now, hopefully a bit longer, and wanting to just freaking enjoy ourselves while we can, right? Why not?! Why vacuum, it sucks!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I can really relate to this. We moved into this house two years ago and have been religious about keeping it pristine, except that the prior owner apparently kept in better-than-pristine shape so we’re already dropping the ball. There are always a few more things that need to be done than can be done in the allotted time. Still, it feels good to do the things we can do in the allotted time, then sit back with a beverage and admire our work.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. i only clean when in know someone is staying – otherwise, it’s a hit or miss, though i do love washing dishes for some reason, but not drying them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. And here I thought my house was the only messy one, blaming the state of the floors on our Newfoundland dog. You never know what lurks behind closed doors. My vacuum is the bag type, which means a dissection job if small valuables are inhaled (I admit to dusting dressers and such with the vacuum instead of dusters or Swiffers).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I often think about the correlation between art and organization. I’ve become extremely organized, but creative? I don’t know. I’m hoping it’s not an either-or kind of deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I liked this for the funny parts i.e. how to catch a chicken (hope I never have to) and benny hill moment, and appreciated what you wrote about the garbage can message and trying to keep up with everything. Either way, I guess we wind up hunched over.

    Liked by 1 person

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