Summer of squalor revisited


Every once in a while I receive a note asking about something I wrote about some time ago. This time it was a sweet email asking about how things went with the Summer of Squalor.

Omg you people pay attention. You take notice. You make notes.

The Summer of Squalor was my loose attempt to relax and spend less time keeping house and more making a home. I used to be obsessed with cleaning every nook and cranny beyond reason before nearly any and every visit. Family, friend, random plumbers. It didn’t matter.

I was known for a near obsession with bleach. I mopped my floors with it. No lie. I would fret and fuss and make everyone miserable making everything bleachy clean and lemon fresh in order to let anyone in.

If my children wanted to have guests, I would set out a list of chores and responsibilities that had to be completed before they could entertain. It seemed reasonable. Who doesn’t want to make a good impression? Aren’t preteens and teens an exacting white-glove test bunch?

Attitude change

Then one day BoyWonder said, with a sigh, that he didn’t feel like having friends over because it was too much work. Somehow, that resonated with me. In my push to make our house a home, I had tipped over into haranguing my family into unreasonable levels of open-house cleanliness — just to have a few teenagers over?

So I made a pact with myself to relax. We still have standards. I like fresh scent, clean floors and counters, and enough clean laundry to keep us from going out in our pajamas (unless we choose to). What I quit worrying about was making sure every pillow was fluffed and every shoe neat by the door (we are okay with neat piles around here).

A few dirty dishes won’t stop us from entertaining, and my guests learned long ago that a bath towel can work as a hand towel if push comes to shove.


So we started a new school year (for the WonderKids), and new jobs for Mr. Wonderful and me. We had academics, athletics and busy schedules. We had new friends and old friends and we found, quite happily, that our home became Grand Central Station.

I learned to roll with it. When BoyWonder called home to say he was bringing a good portion of the soccer team home, I preheated the oven and didn’t block the kitchen door. When GirlWonder wants to have a bevy of friends over, I just smile and say “that’s fine dear.”

When my own (semi) grown-up pals want to come over and play, I quit worrying about dusting under the chairs and pulled a few up for a nice long chat instead.

The verdict? Nobody died or quit being friends with us.

We entertain more, not less. I honestly think, when I quit fussing over the house and started focusing on relationships, life got not only easier, but better.

With the holidays approaching I took it a step further. I still like clean and tidy. What I no longer feel the need for is obsession. I want to bake and cook and decorate with more joy in my heart and less spray cleaner in my hand.

In the past week I hosted out of town guests overnight and an entire Thanksgiving Dinner. I’m proud to say that just like the original Pilgrims, I didn’t bleach the floors once.

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  1. I applaud your successful efforts to relax. I’m trying to do the same. I think I got obsessive keeping house for elders who were enthusiastic collectors/hoarders/clutterers. I loved them, so dealt with their mounds of stuff in my house. The backlash was a yen for bare space and visual quiet and nothing extra or out of its place.


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