The One Cleaning Habit My Mom Did That I Never Do

published Jun 21, 2024
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Credit: Chloe Berk

My mom was a good parent. She took care of us, cared about our happiness and success, and made sure our home was a nice place to live and for others to visit. It was clean, tidy, and organized. There was little to no clutter downstairs, but it wasn’t sterile; fun personal knickknacks sat on shelves, and photos littered the mantel. The pets were allowed on the furniture, and it was a cozy place to be in.

To ensure our home maintained the delicate balance between neat and pleasant, however, my mom did nag us about putting things away. For instance, she didn’t want us to wear shoes in the house, but if we came in via the front door, she didn’t want any strewn footwear. She encouraged imaginative play, but didn’t want toys left out all the time.

She was type A. I am not. I learned early on that the path of least resistance was the path to success. With my mom, this meant following directions and rules when possible. When it came to tidying, though, I couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t care that my shoes were near the door. I liked leaving my toys out, frozen mid-play like a movie on pause. 

I hacked my mom’s desire for cleanliness. She’d tell me to clean my room or put my shoes away, but she didn’t rage at me or punish me if I didn’t do it. If I waited long enough, my mom would get sick of my messy room and clean it for me one day while I was at school. I’d wake up in the morning and it would be like little elves moved my shoes into the cabinet in the laundry room. If I left a half-full glass of water on the coffee table, I’d return to an empty table. She wasn’t pleased that she “had to” do my chores for me, but she did it without fail. 

I have kids now (and not particularly tidy ones, either). I have three choices when it comes to the state of their clutter: Do as my mom did and handle it myself, rage and punish them if they don’t put away their things, or do nothing.

It’s not in my parenting philosophy to rage and punish, even if stepping on a loose LEGO makes me hot with anger due to the searing pain. I don’t want to waste my one precious life gathering the little buggers either. So, I choose the path of least resistance: I don’t pick up their stuff.

When they were little, I did, of course. Now, there are times when I want to vacuum or run a load of laundry and they haven’t gotten to cleaning, so I will tidy sometimes. For the most part, though, I leave their things be. Yes, this means my home is nearly never tidy. 

Because I’m not the household manager of all their objects, sometimes there is the opportunity for natural consequences. You can’t find your library book? Did you look in the chaos under your bed? You left your plate on the table and the dog jumped up and ate your discarded pizza? I’m sorry for your loss. 

My older kid, who is 10, will often take it upon themselves to make their bedroom a nice, clean space. They will gather their laundry into a basket and drag it to the laundry room. They won’t blame me quite so often when they can’t find their other sneaker after flinging it wildly into the garage. The other kid, who is seven, still needs a little guidance and we frequently clean his room together. 

There are also some natural consequences for me, too. We have been late because a kid can’t find their favorite sweatshirt. I have had to pay for a lost library book. I’ve tripped over a discarded cardboard box sculpture left in the middle of the living room. 

However, I’m also showing my children that they need to take ownership and responsibility for their things. I’ll always be there to help them find something if they ask nicely, and I’m willing to help them tidy if needed, but overall they can and do handle their own belongings. I’m not a servant who only attends to their needs and never my own. I point out to them that I, too, dislike putting my clean clothes away, but that I need to do it if I want to know where all my sock matches are. 

My mom, were she alive to see it, might find the state of my house unfavorable. However, I know she’d be proud of how my kids take their plates to the sink, put their favorite toys away, and share the load of living in the household. She lived for her children, sometimes at the detriment of her own time and dreams. While I do often serve and sacrifice for my children, I want to think she’d be proud of me for advocating for myself.