Monday, March 16, 2009


My house suffers from C.H.A.O.S.—Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. It’s not that I don’t want to live in a tidy house—really!—it’s just that I can’t figure out how to get—and stay—there.

There are a number of very good reasons for this.

First, we have a dirt driveway, which means that, especially at this time of the year, we have a mud driveway. Keeping up with the mud that comes in on our shoes is hopeless. So I don’t even try. I know people who have instituted a no-shoes-in-the-house rule and claim that it has made a remarkable difference. However, in order to institute a no-shoes-in-the-house rule, you have to a) live alone or b) live with cooperative people, neither of which is my situation.

Second, we have a big black Lab who goes to work in the woods with Tony. Remy spends his days, depending on the season, splashing in brooks, playing in mud, and rolling in everything from snow to dust to unidentifiable dead things. He spends every evening shedding at least a pound of fur, along with whatever dust, burrs, pine needles, pitch, and things-too-terrible-to-contemplate he has picked up during the day, evenly distributing this detritus through the house. (By the way, I usually think of the word detritus as “accumulated matter or debris,” as in “I’ve lost the phone bill again and am sifting through the detritus on the kitchen table to try to find it,” but I note that, according to Wikipedia, “In biology, detritus is non-living particulate organic material…It typically includes the bodies or fragments of dead organisms as well as fecal material.” Yeah, that’s it.)

Third, we have four cats. Whenever I am asked how many cats I have (and you might be surprised at how often I get asked this question. For instance, in the past week alone, I’ve been asked it twice. Once was by the cashier at the grocery story, when I was buying the supersize bag of cat crunchies, the supersize box of scoopable cat litter, and ten cans of canned cat food. Then just yesterday, when my friend Cathy came over to go for a walk with me, and it was so warm and spring-like that I had the back door open and was letting the cats think about coming out into the dog pen to roll around on the doorstep, Cathy saw all their little faces peering out the door and asked, “How many cats do you have, anyway?”)…anyway, as I was saying, whenever I get asked how many cats I have, I say something like this: “Well, I have two cats myself. But I let Caitlin adopt Manny when she was a senior in high school, and of course he still lives with us and obviously always will. Then a year later, Annie got Max, and when she moved into a no-pets apartment, he came to stay with us, and now that she has a boyfriend who’s allergic to cats, it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere, either.” I feel it’s important to explain that I’m not one of those crazy cat people, really, I’m not, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. (When I come downstairs in the morning, and they’re all in the kitchen to greet me, yowling and weaving around my legs, a sea of furry, writhing bodies, I think of Harrison Withers from Harriet the Spy and I have to tell myself over and over, like a mantra, “I am not a crazy cat person, I am not a crazy cat person…”) Well, four cats shed a lot. They create clumps of cat fur, dust bunnies of cat fur, rolling tumbleweeds of cat fur that can very quickly get out of hand.

That about takes care of the actual dirt problem. But even if I didn’t have a mud driveway, a big dirty dog, and four cats, I would still have a big clutter problem. There is clothing clutter, gadget clutter, and decorative clutter. There is office supply clutter, cooking-related clutter, and sewing clutter. But a lot of the clutter, the majority of it, in fact, seems to consist of paper—books, magazines, newspapers, important mail, junk mail, probably-junk-but-I’m-not-sure-yet mail, cards, notes, and lists.

I haven’t seen the dining room table since we ate Christmas Eve dinner on it. Shortly after that, I started working on the year-end tax stuff there, and half of the table is still buried under files and receipts and so forth. It also comes in handy for folding laundry (when I can uncover enough of the surface) and as a landing pad for things that are on their way to some other part of the house…like the bottle of shampoo that has been trying to make its way upstairs to the bathroom for about three weeks, while I continue to wash my hair with the watered-down dregs of the last bottle.

But that’s OK, because we can always eat at the kitchen table:

It’s very easy to blame all of this clutter on the fact that more stuff comes in the mail every day than any normal person could possibly keep up with, or the fact that, if any housework ever does get done around here, I’m the only one who ever does it, or the fact that houses built in the late 1800s are notoriously short on storage space.

But here’s the real problem: my priorities.

One night last week I came home from work, and here are seven things I did not do:

1) I did not wash, fold, and put away laundry.
2) I did not sweep the kitchen floor.
3) I did not finish my bookkeeping and put away the files and piles of papers on the dining room table.
4) I did not put away the dishes in the dish drainer.
5) I did not sort the recycling.
6) I did not get out the vacuum cleaner and drag it from room to room, trying to keep up with the flying fur.
7) I did not clean any toilets, sinks, or tubs.

Here are seven things I did do that night after work:

1) I talked to Donna on the phone. We have many things to talk about, and they are all very, very important.
2) I made dinner. From scratch. I don’t remember what it was, but I’m sure it was pretty good.
3) I made two lovely loaves of oatmeal bread, fresh and fragrant and yeasty.
4) I made two kinds of cupcakes—yellow and chocolate—for my coworker’s birthday, and decorated them with sunflowers.
5) I watched “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” with Will and Tony. (The ones that were on the night before; I don’t stay up late enough to watch them the first time around.)
6) I finished knitting a baby sweater.
7) I went to bed and read The Mighty Queens of Freeville for an hour before I fell asleep.

Tonight I can think of at least ten things I should probably be doing instead of posting to my blog...but I have my priorities.


  1. Cupcakes and Jon Stewart trump housework every time. However, if Jon Stewart would come to my house to eat cupcakes, I might clean.

  2. Definitely, I would clean for Jon. Or Stephen. Definitely. At least, I say I would.