March 8, 2010...12:22 pm

Who wants to be a housekeeper?

I like a clean toilet.  I want the bowl to sparkle and the rim to shine.  My tush deserves first class service when it does its business.  Who’s with me?

But if you hand me a stack of mail or receipts my eyes cloud over and my limbs go cold. 

I hate organizing.  I would rather scrape soap scum off tile with my fingernails than file bills.  I would sooner disinfect a mop used to swab the decks of the New York City subway than decide where to store old holiday cards.  Killing bacteria is easy, empowering even.  Luckily for me, my husband enjoys a filing cabinet. 

Before we moved in together, I could blissfully leave anything and everything in purposeless piles throughout my apartment.  A stack of old magazines in one corner, a mountain of credit card offers in the other.  Scribbled notes with names, numbers and passwords were routinely shoved into one of many designated “junk” drawers.  But when you move in with the one you love…party is OVER! 
We quickly assessed each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  He likes to organize, I like to kill germs.  He likes to cook, I sometimes like to cook.  I enjoy doing dishes.  He hates laundry, I love it.  But despite our seemingly symbiotic cleaning orientations, I still bring a lot of insecurity into our relationship.  It’s not like I enjoy being disorganized, I just am.  Every so often I burn with shame when Peter gently inquires about a new stack of papers I have created. 

“Maybe, when you get a chance, we could go through these and see what you want to keep?” 

It’s then that I feel the weight of several generations of wifely expectations on my shoulders.  And let me be clear, Peter in no way puts pressure on me to assume the traditional role of female housekeeper.  I put the pressure on myself.  Despite a fair division of labor in our household, I still feel guilty that I do not excel at housekeeping and organization.  When you grow up watching women do just that, it’s hard to separate yourself from that role.  I never feel like I do enough.  I can always be doing more.  I should clean the inside of the refrigerator, vacuum under the couch, wash the windows, donate old clothes, clean out of the Tupperware with the weird, old leftovers, and on and on and on…

I think that’s why I enjoy disinfecting, because it’s so final.  You can see and smell the results.  I can point to the toilet and say, “I did that.  I got on my knees and scrubbed that baby clean.” 

Those five minutes of backbreaking work make me feel a tiny bit better about myself.  For a brief moment, I really feel like a woman. 

Crazy, huh?



  • I think it’s interesting that the banner of your blog here depicts a woman with a toilet brush in her hand. Why the image to illustrate the concept of “wife”?

    • paula! sweet to see your face here. re: the banner – one of the things we are dealing with is stereotypes of wifeliness. we’ll be adding other images to the banner as well. xorobyn

  • Cathleen – does Peter take on organization consulting projects? I am so paper-work disorganized that my house has turned into one pile after another. I feel shame about this. I’m glad to know that I am not alone.


  • In our marriage, we found that neither one of us feels personal fulfillment cleaning toilets so we hired a cleaning service. We also send out his dress shirts for ironing, because we decided the cost of that was negligible compared to the growing sense of failure I felt when confronted with a pile of wrinkled shirts. We also each resent being in charge of the bills, but he handles that, because he does have a business degree after all.. and I handle all the light household repairs and installations, because I am supercrafty and I know the difference between a wrench and pliers.

  • This is so funny–James and I are the same way. I feel like I really can’t put things away until they spend a few days in “Stuff Purgatory,” which means in piles on various horizontal surfaces. A dirty bathroom, however, will drive me bananas. I have actually arrived at a friend’s house for a party, declared, “you can’t have people over with a bathroom looking like this,” and then proceeded to clean said atrocious bathroom.

    Yet, I completely feel insecure about my tendency toward clutter. We’ve resolved the issue to a certain extent by agreeing upon a few clutter zones (my desk, for example), where James just turns a blind eye to everything sitting in Stuff Purgatory. But I still feel shame about it!

    Oh well. There’s still time to turn into that super-organized, totally on top of it Martha-Stewart-person. Right?

  • I, on the other hand, love the concept of cleaning but I quickly allow myself distractions so that I only half clean the bathroom or do a lick and a promise on the kitchen floor. I would love a clean house with everything in its place but it only happens when there is a crisis – guests. Your grandmother kept the living room clean but the rest of the house was a challenge. there were too many of us and too little space for clothing, toys, etc. Only the closest friends got past the living room. In my best of all possible worlds, the housekeeper would take care of the cleaning, the cook would prepare a delicious dinner and the financial manager would take care of all the money stuff. I would gladly go off to work doing what I love and come home to paradise. Oh well!

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