My Mother Was a Clean Freak


When I was growing up, my mother was a clean freak. You could quite literally have eaten off any single inch of the flooring in my mother’s house: even the carpets. Dust had no right to abide in my mother’s home. And my mother had more books; more doilies; more knick-knacks, more collectables than any other person I have ever known: all dust free. The interior of my mother’s fridge was a show piece. Actually, my mother’s woodpile was a show piece. And still, guests coming to visit meant a days-long ordeal of scrubbing and polishing; vacuuming and cleaning; accompanied by my mother’s irritability and very short temper. Right up until she moved into the local seniors’ home, my mother did laundry every single day. Germs did not stand a chance in my mother’s home.

It had not always been that way, however. When Mom was a child, perhaps 9 or 10 years old; she discovered that if she ‘had to go to the bathroom’, right after supper, that she could get away with lingering in there for quite a long time, no questions asked. No fool, this quickly became her nightly ritual. The bathroom was situated right off my grandparents’ big old country kitchen, so Mom was in a prime spot to keep an ear perked for the sound of the dishes being started by my Grammy and her two older sisters – while she lounged unconcernedly in the bathroom until the job was done. Mom told me that she never ‘finished her business’ until the kitchen grew silent, signaling that all the dishes had been dried and put away, and the family had retired to my grandparents’ tiny living room to listen to the radio or play a bit of music together.

My grandmother was no fool either.

One evening, when the sound of dishwashing – which had been particularly loud that evening – finally came to an end and Mom crept out of her hiding place, my grandmother was standing there, arms folded, beside a sink still filled with dirty dishes. Wise to my mother’s ruse, Grammy had sent her two eldest daughters away for a much-deserved break, banging pots, pans and dishes outside the bathroom door and then abruptly stopping, until my mother felt it was safe to emerge. Mom ended up doing all the dishes alone that night (and probably for a great many nights after), and to my knowledge – never tried to pull one over on her mother again.

If there is a such a thing as karma, or reaping what you sew, it all seems to be running backwards and with no apparent pattern in our family. I was the daughter who cleaned up before being asked to; who ‘surprised my mother’ by doing the dishes; who loved to go pick berries despite the summer heat and the blackflies. Growing up, as soon as I had a room of my own (my sister and I shared a room until I was 8 or 9 years old), my bedroom always looked like something out of Country Living Magazine. Everything was in its place; each book arranged by author and by size; each stuffed toy having a specially-designated space on my bed; each knick-knack lovingly dusted and set ‘just so’ in its designated place.

Somehow, I got the daughter my mother deserved. The entire time she was growing up, my daughter’s room never looked better than Barely-Controlled Chaos. Her bed was either left unmade or so sloppily pulled together that it was hard to tell if it was deliberately made or not. Although there was a clothes hamper just feet from her room, no article of clothing ever made its way into the laundry except under duress. Books, CDs, stuffed toys, etc. were piled haphazardly throughout the room. Her closet was stuffed cheek-to-jowl with every imaginable item. Although my daughter was with me one week out of two, and although she had a lovely chest of drawers, her suitcase remained full – open and overflowing on the floor – for 15 years. Not once did she unpack (I confess that I did unpack for her in the early years). My mother, recognizing karma when she saw it, took pity on me when she would come for visits. “How about we surprise Mom while she’s at work, and clean out your closet today?” she asked my daughter on one such visit. My daughter is no fool either. “Why would we wanna do THAT?” she asked, little nose scrunched up, entirely perplexed. I did try. And cajole. And threaten. And beg. For years. But my daughter was a self-professed and unapologetic slob. As she became a teenager and school books and pay stubs replaced toys and stuffed animals, I would have had more luck trying to dry up the ocean with a tissue than to get her to clean up her room.

Recently, my daughter came for a visit. She has been living in Europe for a few years now, and – to our mutual chagrin – she did the whole ‘setting up her first apartment’ thing without any help from her Mom. I got the flu about 5 minutes before she arrived and as a result, I had very little energy to do anything but sit with her for the week that she was here. As a result, we spent a very quiet – albeit entirely lovely – week together.

Because our daughter is a vegetarian, my husband stepped back a good deal of the time and let her take over meals. I helped a little, but she basically took control and whipped up meals ‘based on what she found in the fridge’ (a feat akin to mystical magic to my non-culinary eyes). I was very touched when I saw her quickly doing up the dishes after supper on one of her first nights here. I was pleased when I walked by the guest room and noted that she had made her bed (and not an article of clothing on the floor – or even on the bed). I was thrilled when she took the dog out so he could have a pee. I was happy when she made sure the cat got equal ‘loving time’. And a clean litter box. We spent a few afternoons going through my daughter’s memory boxes and carefully triaging things that really had no particular significance to her, to give to Good Will. But my jaw dropped open when, during a quiet afternoon conversation, she casually found a (clean!!!)  cleaning cloth in the kitchen and began to dust the living room while we talked.

“Who are you and what have you done to my daughter?!” I finally asked, in astonishment.

“Oh. Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to insult you or anything. I just can’t stand it when I see dust or clutter. It stresses me out.” Replied the Stranger-Who-Looks-Exactly-Like-My-Daughter.

I must have given her a particularly eloquent eye-roll because at that moment, I had lost my voice. “Mom!” replied The Stranger. “Don’t look at me like that! I DO know how to take care of a house, you know.”

I really don’t know exactly how this karma thing – or reaping what you sew – works, but that day, all my childhood neatness came back into my lap like an unexpected present.

I do hope I get to have grandchildren. I can’t wait to see what karma has in store for us next…

Source of photo

Patti Moore Wilson ©


Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

20 thoughts on “My Mother Was a Clean Freak”

  1. Oh, how I wish my youngest daughter, now 29, would get the cleaning bug. She is an even worse clutter keeper, and housekeeper than when she lived at home! I try to tell her that the mess stresses me out, and she says it does the same for her, but then says she doesn’t have the energy to clean up. It’s so frustrating!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, clutter is a whole ‘nother post…😳 perhaps even a book… I am quietly working on (a book? A memoir? a diary?) about clutter and minor hoarding after having helped my Mom empty her house recently. If it didn’t bother your daughter, I would gently suggest averting your eyes, but if it DOES bother her (and exhaust her) perhaps she could do it with a bit of help from a trusted (and totally uninvested) friend?? If it stresses you, too, I expect you might not be the ‘one’ to assist her…just gently sayin’ 😊❤️

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I have cleaned and organized her apartment many times, and helped whenever asked, and I think she genuinely appreciates it. I do try to avert my eyes, and keep my mouth shut when visiting her home, 🤐 but inside I’m on edge. 😬 Your suggestion of a friend helping would be great, if there was one willing to do it. For now, I prefer our visits to take place at our home. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I found the most AWESOME book a few years ago that not only helps you organize, but also helps you see WHY you collect and clutter up your house.
        It literally changed my life:
        Hope this helps…❤️❤️❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing!… 🙂

    Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
    to paint a picture, or write a letter,
    bake a cake, or plant a seed.
    Ponder the difference between want and need.

    Dust if you must, but there is not much time,
    with rivers to swim and mountains to climb!
    Music to hear, and books to read,
    friends to cherish and life to lead.

    Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
    with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
    a flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
    this day will not come round again.

    Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
    old age will come and it’s not kind.
    And when you go, and go you must,
    you, yourself, will make more dust!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a joy to read, had a good giggle. I have been always messy – still am – but when I go back to my parents I get a bit of a cleaning bug over there. I guess my mom got messier and I got a bit more picky. There’s some sort of a weird cycle… Glad you had a nice time with your daughter 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A nine year old can be pretty sly; but, the one thing sly kids learn last is when to change tactics. So, when they DO get caught because they used the same trick over and over, they either learn not to pull tricks like that on the people they love or to vary the tricks that they play on the people they love…

    Liked by 1 person

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