the game of housekeeping

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I was explaining to one of my single guy friends the other day how having guests come over to your house is a lot different when you’re married than when you’re single.  It’s not enough to just toss the piles of mail and other clutter into your bedroom.  No, it’s time for a whole-house cleaning and makeover!  This is usually difficult (read: impossible) for men to understand, so I will try to explain.  Imagine you’re on a TV game show and every time someone comes over, your house is judged in the categories of how well you decorate, organize, and clean.  Forget the practical aspect of your guests understanding that people actually live in the house.  Sure, that seems like a valid excuse, and it is, but it only works with men.  If I go to a friend’s house and it’s cluttered, I don’t judge him, nor do I really care.  As long as my life is not endangered by the clutter and dust, it doesn’t matter.  I understand houses get messy sometimes and that there are many things you’d rather do than clean your house every single day.  And if you have children, it’s advisable to give up that dream of a house that always looks like a show home in a magazine or on certain TV shows, or you’re going to be frustrated a lot.

Anyway, back to my analogy before I go into rant mode.  Imagine you’re on a game show.  You and your wife are the contestants, and your guests are the panel of non-celebrity judges (even if their opinions get treated like they’re celebrities).  You might as well pretend it’s Martha Stewart showing up to judge you for how your house looks.  And that’s a critical aspect here — you are being judged, not just your house.  If it looks like people live there, you are obviously a poor housekeeper, and your life priorities must be all wrong.  And the categories you’re judged in include much more than just how clean your house is.  Even if you dust everything, vacuum, sweep, mop, do all the dishes, clean the bathrooms, etc., you can still receive a poor score.  See, it also matters how your furniture looks, and what art you have hanging on the walls, and what curtains you have, and how recently you’ve painted, and what your “theme” is, and so on.  I could not possibly list everything on the list because I am male.  I just don’t get it.

So let’s get to the next part of the game show — the prizes.  Well, there are no prizes.  It is theoretically possible to pass through this test unscathed, but unless you enjoy the process of all this housework, it’s not going to feel like winning.  And notice I said it’s possible to win in theory.  Realize that the difference between theory and practice is a lot bigger in practice than in theory.  Most likely you will lose miserably.  In some cases, even if you do all you know to do, you still lose regardless, even if the house is spotless and clutter-free, because you should’ve done more stuff, like hanging new curtains and pictures.

There are also some special complications that are bonus during this ordeal.  If your guests are your parents or in-laws, you may automatically lose.  But don’t let that faze you — you still must try your absolute best or you lose in more ways than one!  Sometimes it is a no-win situation, so you may not feel like trying at all, but there are definitely different levels of losing.

Well, there’s my perspective on the game of housekeeping.  I would enjoy hearing other perspectives.  And if anyone knows how to explain this to wives, to make the situation better, please share.  (And if it works, you should probably write a book and go around the country teaching at marriage enrichment seminars.)  Also, know that you can leave comments under an alias so your spouse won’t know it’s you.  So feel free to speak the unbridled truth.

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2 responses »

  1. Part of the ritual is the words you greet with. Regardless of how the house actually looks, the wife will always open with some version of ‘Sorry that the house is a mess’, and follow with a vague excuse. Note that this is always said, regardless of the actual level of mess in the house.

    If the house is actually a mess, I think that phrase is a subtle plea for mercy from the judges (which will be ignored).
    If the house is spotlessly clean, it’s a suggestion that you did not just spend the previous two days frantically cleaning, and that the house is always at or above this level of perfection.

  2. Great post! I’d like to add that you also get judged by your spouse, especially by the wife. Sometimes she’ll look angry/upset and/or be crying, and you ask what’s wrong, and she might say “nothing” or she might just ignore the question altogether. That’s when something is really bad. I’d also like to point out that such responses can do more harm than good. I realize that moment might not be the time to discuss it, but a quick response of something like “I would rather not discuss it right now” is better than saying “nothing”, which is obviously a lie. And when those inquiries are ignored, the spouse is left wondering if it’s their fault (which is likely, but not always the case), and their imagination tends to run with that, leading to additional frustration.

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