Welcome to the factory floor

In April, we asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering and organizing hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

Unclutterer reader Judy asked:

My judgmental brother and sister in law are coming mid September. I have stuff, mostly papers everywhere. Also, I have some sentimental stuff I want to get rid of but feel guilty about. I’m employed full time and it feels overwhelming.

I hear ya, Judy. I always know when we’re getting house guests because the cleaning goes into overdrive. Wait, cleaning is too subtle a word. We give our home a nuke it from space blast of organization and cleaning before people come to visit. Or as I call it, creating the “lie house.”

Why “lie house?” Because the sterile state we create is not how our house actually exists day-to-day.

As part of our preparation for out-of-town guests, we clean the house from top to bottom. I suspect you do the same. It’s not only a matter of pride, but a display of respect for your guests. You want everything to look nice for the people who bothered to travel and spend money just for the pleasure of your company. It makes perfect sense.

And, usually, we go EXTREME.

Vacuuming begets dusting, which begets tidying up the knick-knacks, which leads to reorganizing the living room, buying flowers for vases, scrubbing the floor, dusting the dog, washing the soap, combing the lawn, power-washing the brick fireplace, constructing an altar to the gods and goddesses of cleanliness and preparing to sacrifice the most well-groomed chicken you’ve ever seen.

But lately we’ve stopped and asked ourselves, “Wait, what are we doing?”

The chicken is relieved.

Here’s the fact of the matter. Right now, this is a working house. It’s the factory floor and production is at its peak. We have two adults living here, each with a full-time job. There is a dog whose hobbies include disemboweling her squeaky toys and spreading the nylon innards across the rug. We’ve got three kids in this house, ranging in age from 10 to 13, who spend their time (and ours) on:

  • Girl Scouts
  • Cub Scouts
  • Ballet
  • Soccer
  • After-school science club
  • After-school comedy club (seriously)
  • Friends, playdates, homework, and so on

These are the years spent in the trenches. The years where my wife and I argue over who gets to be the one to grocery shop, because grocery shopping means you get 25 minutes to yourself. If guests arrive and there’s a stack of papers on a table somewhere or library books strewn about or if our dear visitors have to witness a round of my favorite 7:38 a.m. game, “Where Are Your Clean Socks And Why Must We Go Through This Every Blessed Day?” Well, you know what? Fine.

The people who are nice enough to travel and spend money just to be in our company understand where we are at this stage in our lives. They love us, and know that transferring the breakfast cereal into labeled Tupperware containers is just under “jewel-encrusted, heated driveway” on our list of current priorities.

Now, I’m not saying that the active family lifestyle is permission to live in a dumpster, but it is permission to let some things go, even if just for a bit. If I have a choice between creating a pristine library of the kids’ books or planning a fun weekend with the family and our guests, I’ll choose the latter. The books will always be there; my kids’ childhood and this visit won’t.

If you want a museum experience, the MFA is just up the road. Otherwise, our family experience welcomes you. Come on in.

If you’re truly overwhelmed, Judy, give yourself permission to let some of the stress go. Do what you can, use the impending visit as motivation if that is what you need to reach your organizing and uncluttering goals, but also remember that your visitors are going to love you irrespective of your papers and sentimental items. Feeling anxious isn’t good for anyone, especially for four months as you prepare for the visit. Your home can be a museum, but it doesn’t have to be.

12 Comments for “Welcome to the factory floor”

  1. posted by Laura on

    I know relatives can be difficult and judgmental, but perhaps are you projecting the blame on them because you feel guilty about not having the perfect house? Own your clutter, it’s how you live and don’t blame others unless they’ve been outright critical. (I apologize for not knowing the back story here and generalizing.) If they have been critical of your home, I suggest meeting elsewhere. If that is truly not an option prioritize the rooms they need to be in and work from there. Remember….every visit does not need to be a grand house tour.

  2. posted by Pwassonne on

    I’d like to add something. Judy, why do you want to clean up? Is it because you’re afraid of your relatives’ judgement, or because their upcoming visit reminds you that you have wanted to clean / tidy up for a long time? In other words, do you want to clean up for their sake of for yours and your family’s? If you just want to be able to face them, it’s like David said, you don’t have to go all the way through and dust the top of cupboards too high for anyone to notice. I have no idea how messy your house currently is or how high your guests’ standards are, but like David said, you decide what you’re comfortable with.
    On the other hand, it sounds to me like your urge to clean up was there before you knew you’d be entertaining guests, and you really want to have a clean house because you feel you’d be happier that way. In this case, your relatives’ visit can work as a self-imposed deadline to get it done. There are organizing / uncluttering methods that are designed for people who can’t do everything in one go because they have other commitments. Or you could use another method and adapt it, for example, you could sort and organize the contents of one piece of furniture every day. Either way, I hope you can find something that works for you ^^

  3. posted by Dorothy on

    This. This. This. This. This.

    The gods of sanity and hospitality are smiling on you, David.

  4. posted by Leslie on

    I remember when my aunt and uncle would come visit, my mother would scrub out the runner on the shower door in addition to cleaning the rest of the house. I could never understand why she did it (and ONLY when my aunt came) and asked her one time while she was in there madly scrubbing away with an old toothbrush. She said it was because my aunt never cleaned hers and she wanted to show her what a clean (and I’m guessing functioning) shower door should look like.

  5. posted by iris on

    Clutter is less annoying if it is not covered in dirt. Make sure the bathroom/toilet is clean – really clean. And, if you’re going to prepare food at home, that part of the kitchen. Clean sheets and towels and an unobstructed pathway to the guest bed, and you’re set. 😉

    Trust me, I have stayed at friend’s places that were really filthy. And that was way past the time when “I’m a busy student” could have been considered a valid excuse. But I NEVER did – and never will – comment on that, that would be plain rude.

    Family, of course, has different rules; they will happily comment on everything and then some. But, exactly because of those rules, you can say stuff you wouldn’t say to a friend: “I’m sorry you don’t like the state of my place. As you know I have a lot of stuff going on right now… But if it bothers you so much, you know, I’d really appreciate some help with this…”

    Three possible outcomes: They turn on their heels and leave, they STFU for the rest of their visit, or you end up with a cleaner home. Sounds like win-win-win to me 😉

    David, that was your best post ever! Long live the chicken!

  6. posted by Margaret on

    David, this was a really enjoyable post to read! Usually I skip posts that don’t apply, but this one was just too good. I’ve been there, 4 kids all grown now with busy households of their own, and I have the bankers boxes to prove it. That was my favourite cleanup technique when guests were coming – dump stuff in bankers boxes, stack them, cover with a nice cloth, vase or coffee table book on top, voila! To be sorted later, or not.

  7. posted by AinOakPark on

    Before I came for a visit, one of my friends would ask, “Do you want home cooked meals or a clean house?” It sort of prepped me for the idea that not ALL would be perfect. I always chose the home cooked meals because the house was never so bad that I thought much about it.

    Someone I know, though, had a leather couch that (evidently) no one sat on. I sat there in black pants and top and got up to find I had dusted that particular part of the couch with my body. Awkward!

  8. posted by Joyce on

    I have been coming across articles with this same message lately. I agree to just have a clean bathroom , kitchen, and clean sheets for their bed. I have been entertaining people that I wouldn’t have due to my clutter. It’s so much fun and I see what I was missing due to being embarrased by the “less than presentable ” house. Yolo. ( I love the comment stfu lol ).

  9. posted by angie on

    Take two big boxes. Put all papers in one box and hide it somewhere. Put sentimental stuff in another box. when your brother and sister-in-law come for a visit ask them to go through the sentimental stuff with you and help get rid of it or take some with them.

  10. posted by Sarah on

    David, an EXCELLENT post! BRAVO, and good luck to the chicken! Let’s hear it for sanity in home cleanliness and sanity in one’s priorities.

    On the topic of judgmental relatives, we have 2 who came to our home once (and our home was quite presentable, but quite ordinary) and they literally have never bothered to visit again. We both work & do all our own housework, laundry, etc., as so many people do; it’s just how life is for us.

    Since that one visit by these relatives, we are expected to drive to THEIR house to see them. Their house is grand & they could host a cocktail party on a couple of hours’ notice, but here’s the kicker: the reason their house is always “company-ready” is because they have a 40-hour-a-week housekeeper who is supplemented by a cleaning team (as needed), AND they have a garden/lawn service, PLUS a company that takes care of their indoor swimming pool. Hey, I could be “company-ready” every day if I had the $$ for that kind of crew!

  11. posted by Sunny on

    First, there’s a difference between dirt/old food/dust/trash and clutter. Let that sink in for a minute. A busy household begets some clutter as it is the stuff of our lives. For the extraneous clutter grab laundry baskets, boxes, etc. and as was suggested, put papers in one, other misc. stuff in the other(s) and put those in a room that your guests have no right to see. If they snoop, you have an insight into their characters and you should feel free to judge them for that… and possibly not invite them back. A clean kitchen, bathroom, and sheets (with big chunks of clutter removed for safety reasons) are reasonable accommodations to make for houseguests. Living in a permanently dirty (think old food vs. old papers) environment yourself means you are not honoring yourself or your family, so you should have the same standards for guests that you have for yourself… Clean kitchen, bathroom, and sheets… and keep working on the clutter, box by box.

  12. posted by Suselew on

    I was always raised to show respect and make sure your guest feels special by taking the time to tidy up and make sure they have clean and restful accommodations. You can go overboard, but I would never present my home in the normal “this is how we live so take it or leave it” attitude. Both of my sons have very messy unorganized homes. I don’t expect them to scrub all day in anticipation of my visit, but picking up the dog poo or cleaning up the kitchen would tell me that they care enough so I won’t be afraid to use their bathrooms. Sometimes I think we too often use excuses as a way to be lazy. I know I’m in the minority here but I still will prepare my home for visits and guests in a way that I would like to be treated.

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