Cleaning Confessional

When you have company coming over to your house, you spend time tidying and cleaning up. How much you tidy up and clean depends on the visitors coming over. Is tidying up for others a bald-faced lie, or does it depend on who’s coming over?

When company is coming to our house, I clean. Sometimes it takes all day. Because it puts forth a false impression of how our family really lives, I guess this could be considered a lie. It’s the depth and complexity of the lie that changes, depending upon who is coming to visit.

Old Friends (white lie)

Our old friends already like us and will be forgiving of a messy house. This type of visit requires only that I give the kitchen counters a swipe, pick up toys from walkways, and make sure there isn’t a ring in the toilet.

Little Child Doing DishesNew Friends (bald-faced lie)

With new friends, one wants to give the best impression. The house must be clean and stylishly decorated, with flowers on the table and soft music playing in the background. This façade will be destroyed as soon as the “new friends” are moved into the “old friends” category. When anticipating the visit of new friends, the blinders that I normally wear to tolerate my house are ripped off. Cobwebs in high corners glare like neon lights. The porch needs sweeping, and when was the last time I shampooed the carpet? Towers of clutter teeter precariously on flat surfaces. The walls around the light switches are dirty—is that jam? I usually worry so much about the smaller details that I run out of time and end up throwing the rest of the clutter into the master bedroom. Later, after our guests leave, this requires an archeological-style excavation before my husband and I can fall into bed, exhausted.

Families with Children (small falsehood)

These people are fellow parents, so they will understand the toys on the floor or even the occasional un-flushed toilet. However, the outside play areas and children’s bedrooms must be clean. For example, one day, I decided not to clean the backyard. I assumed that since there was a steady drizzle and an ambient temperature of fifty degrees, no child would want to go outside. Of course, one kid determinedly donned her raincoat and galoshes to go out and swing. Later, I felt embarrassed when she knocked on the backdoor asking for a Popsicle. I was puzzled until she showed me a handful of Popsicle sticks and crusty wrappers she had unearthed from the gravel of the swing set pit, left over from the previous summer.

Dinner Guests Who Like to Help (lie of omission)

This category requires a “new” or “old” friend-style cleaning along with a full dose of avoidance. These guests really want to help. They want to wash dishes, and will even put away leftovers. The avoidance comes when I prevent them from doing the latter. Searching for Tupperware would reveal the drawer of containers along with an assortment of Goldfish and graham cracker crumbs—or, in one humiliating instance, the remnants of a blacked, half-eaten banana. Then, because there is never room in the kitchen refrigerator, the leftovers must be put away in the second fridge, which is in my garage. On a good day, my garage is an obstacle course. On most days, it’s a death trap. I’m afraid of finding a dinner guest hours later, wedged between boxes, waving the lid of a covered dish with a dusty Christmas wreath dangling from around her neck. No thanks — I’ll take care of the leftovers myself.

Visiting Family (another bald-faced lie…although the truth is revealed if they stay long enough)

For these guests, a whole house cleaning is needed. Family will think nothing of popping into my bedroom to borrow a shirt or rummaging through my bathroom in search of a hairdryer. Consequently, my usual refuge/storage area (my bedroom) must be clean. Some family visitors may want to do laundry. I have no objection to the use of my soap or machine, I’m just afraid they might suffer a fall while kicking their way through the piles of our dirty laundry in the laundry room. I’d also hate for them to see the gummy layer of dried detergent on the washer lid. And what if they develop a chronic cough from the thick layer of dust and lint on top of the dryer?

The In-laws (lie requiring confession to a priest)

Here’s where I surrender. Regular lies aren’t enough. I’ve been known to call a cleaning service, and have even entertained the idea of a professional decorator.

So I clean, lying by various degrees. I wish I were one of those people whose home is always spotless and organized. Maybe that will happen someday, in the distant future, when all the children have left home. Until then, I remain a liar.

Tiffany Doerr Guerzon is a mom of three whose writing has been featured in the “Christian Science Monitor” and “Errant Parent.” She doesn’t really advocate lying, just cleaning up the truth.