Cleanliness is godliness! This mantra taunts me from the side of a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap as I lie in the bath. I submerge myself in the water; at least I’m clean, I think. But a wave of guilt washes over me. I know the rest of my apartment is a mess that needs cleaning.
As much as I want to keep clean, tidiness evades me. When I was growing up, my mother (basically a Canadian Marie Kondo) would preach the benefits of a spotless home: If I kept tidy, I’d be able to find things easier. I’d be less distracted! I wouldn’t get mice! But I didn’t listen. Instead, I would pile clothes and books between my bed and the far wall of my room, hidden from view from the hallway. I can’t remember feeling guilty about being messy when I was a child — that came later in life.
Living alone, I can put off household chores for as long as I can stand the mess: Well-intentioned, I might fill up my sink with water to do the dishes. I feel the false sense of accomplishment, having hidden my dirty plates with suds. Sometimes I repeat this process for two or three days until I finally need a fork and am forced to do the thankless task of washing the dishes. My underwear drawer pulls out with suspicious ease — there’s nothing in the drawer. Begrudgingly, I acknowledge that today must be laundry day. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to Windex the mirrors before guests arrive.
I have a maxim I repeat to myself, inspired by Simone de Beauvoir, when I get frustrated with the task of cleaning: Housework is the worst kind of work because it undoes itself. “Few tasks are more similar to the torment of Sisyphus than those of the housewife; day after day, one must wash dishes, dust furniture, mend clothes that will be dirty, dusty, and torn again,” writes de Beauvoir in her 1949 feminist tome The Second Sex. She continues: “The housewife wears herself out running on the spot; she does nothing; she only perpetuates the present; she never gains the sense that she is conquering a positive Good, but struggles indefinitely against Evil.”
It takes only a day for the boulder of housework to fall back down the mountain, needing to be pushed back up again. One day my apartment is meticulous, worthy of an Apartment Therapy shoot, and the next day the chaos is back without my realizing it had started.
When I first moved into my apartment, I bought a magnetic whiteboard for the fridge with sections divided like piano keys for each day of the week. On Monday, I wrote: Laundry. Tuesday: Clean bathroom. Wednesday: Water plants. Thursday: Sweep. In an act of generosity, I gave myself the weekends off from cleaning. I kept to this schedule for a week, maybe two. And yet, I’ve kept the schedule on my fridge, a constant reminder of all the ways I’m falling behind.
It’s ironic that messiness coincides with the label of laziness. For me, the level of my mess is in direct correlation to productivity in other areas of my life. I work seven days a week to keep up with the demands I put on myself as a freelance writer. When I’m not at home writing, I’m working a second job at a local restaurant.
Outside my home, I appear neat and put together: I’m showered, I’m clean, I’m well-dressed — and I feel confident in this persona. Even my Instagram posts of my home are strategically angled to hide the mess. But I live with the constant anxiety that I’ll have an unexpected visitor and this façade will crumble.