Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Housekeeping Anorexia

Does this picture make you wonder if I'm having company over or does it make you think "I would never want a picture of my couch that messy on the internet!" If your reaction is the first one and you're a parent, then you may be more normal than you think. If you're a parent and your reaction is the second one, you may just have HDD, or House Dysmorphic Disorder.

A new friend and I were talking the other day. We were both really happy to find a friend who we could invite over without worrying that the other person was silently judging our housekeeping. As she put it, if we waited until our houses were perfect to invite people over, we'd never see anyone. We were perfectly comfortable in each other's less than pristine houses, and we'd only known each other a short time. We both have little kids, we both have moved recently, and we both know that life is messy. And sometimes other priorities come before picking up; and that's okay!

As we talked about it we found we had both come across people whoes houses we had visited that were spic and span spotless and clean except for a few toys that had been gotten out before we arrived and the lady of the house actually apologized "for the mess." Excuse me? What is that about? If you call a few toys on the sofa or the floor in an otherwise real estate show worthy house a "mess" what would you call my house? But I'm never going to find out because if you're going to apologize for that then there is no way my house will ever be clean enough that I would be comfortable inviting you over.

Can we stop this already? What a way to isolate mothers who really need a visit from friends. I admit that I have contributed to this; I bet most mothers have. I clean frantically when I know I'm going to have guests. Heaven forbid my house be less than near perfect; can't have people seeing how I really live. Because then they would think I'm not a good mother, not a good housekeeper, not a good enough person. So I project a false self, a clean house, and then collapse after they leave and do nothing for the rest of the day because I'm wiped out. But I don't apologize if I don't reach perfection before the doorbell rings.

My friend mused that perhaps it's like anorexia, but with housework instead of food. Where people don't see their houses as they really are, how other people see them. They only see that it's not good enough. I think she described more like body dysmorphic disorder, so I'm calling this House Dysmorphic Disorder. (Not a real doctor, and I don't even play one on tv.)

Now, I'm not talking about the people who need a very clean house to relax. I recognize that it takes all kinds to make the world. My oldest sister is one of those people, bless her, and she keeps on top of things and seems to enjoy cleaning. I'm not talking about very organized people who know that if they miss a day things can go down hill too quickly so they have their schedule for keeping it clean and keep to it. I have nothing but respect for those people; sometimes I wish I could be like that. No, I'm talking about the people who are apologizing for the smallest out of order thing like the entire house is covered with garbage.

I don't think people with HDD realize how insulting it is to do that. It assumes that everyone's house is more perfect than their house (highly improbably) and makes those of us with much "more live in" houses feel bad about ours in comparison. I think the only way to help those with this mindset is to stop the illusion that our houses are always clean. Yes, make your house comfortable for guests, but to stop trying to hide the fact that you have kids who live in the house. I'd love to remove the stigma of all SAHMs/Homeschooling Moms needing to have a perfect house, because "well, they're home all day, why wouldn't it be clean?" Because we are home all day; or not. Because the way we chose to prioritize our time is different than you do. It doesn't make one way better than the other; this is just what is better for us. As my friend said, "If you want to visit my house: make an appointment. If you want to visit me: stop by any time."

And to help destigmatize a, gasp, SAHM with an actually messy house, here's the original picture showing the background.

(No offense is intended to those who have struggled with body dysmorphic disorder, which is a very real and serious thing.)


  1. This is so great! I wish I could post a picture of what my house looks like right now. We are in the midst of construction and it is out of control. I'm one of those people who needs to have order in my environment so I actually fled for my parents' :) That said, while my house typically looks put together- it is not CLEAN. And I invite people over in all stages- including the first time I had to meet new team members for my son's Destination Imagination team and the house was in shambles, with colored cabinets and walls :)

  2. THANK YOU. I struggle with this - it probably doesn't help my MIL has to comment most times she comes over, asking if I need her to help me clean, etc. We have a small apartment, it's cluttered but it is clean, we homeschool, and both adults work from home. Yeah, it's far from show worthy. I actually avoid inviting people over because I worry about what they will say!

    So thank you. I always appreciate seeing the real life instead of wondering if something is wrong with me because I don't have a house that looks awesome like in others' pics.


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