Four months ago I found myself on Ikea website, having paid three hundred euros for a bunch of BRANÄS, SAXBORGA, and KNAGGLIG, not a single one of which is a piece of furniture. I spent what used to be my first official monthly salary on all kinds of boxes, containers, cartons, and hampers.
A year ago, I’d consider myself crazy. Now I am pretty sure I would go crazy if I didn’t do it. Our house, ever since my son was born, was slowly overtaken by increasing amounts of clothes, toys, and baby gadgets. At one point we had two cribs in our bedroom: one that attaches to our bed and one that doesn’t. Not to mention a baby car seat that lives behind the door of the living room, because we don’t have a car, but still need a car seat for emergencies.
Browsing Ikea website was an act of desperation. Never have I organized, cleaned, and washed as much in my life as I do these days, and yet my house is a bigger mess than ever. If an acquaintance were to stop by on a random Tuesday to say hi, I’d shut the door in her face. Explaining my weird behavior would cause me much less embarrassment than apologizing for the state of my home.
And I try! Boy, do I try to keep it decent. The other day I set out to write down every single time I clean throughout the day, just for the fun of it and also to impress you, my dear reader (and, perhaps, my husband).
While I brush my teeth and wash my face, my son is busy taking every single rag from under the sink and throwing them around the floor and into the bathtub. The night before I’d cleaned the bathroom, and this morning, looking at a spotless mirror and whiter-than-white sink gives me as much joy as only sleeping till midday or having a glass of really good wine used to provide. But those are unattainable now, so a clean toilet will do. I brush Kroshka’s teeth, then pick up all the rags and put them back under the sink.
I make breakfast and Kroshka opens every cabinet within his reach. A ladle, a coffee pot, half a lemon and a dirty T-shirt find its way to the floor. As long as I can fry eggs in peace, I don’t mind.
I only intervene, when he opens the fridge, removes the lid from the butter dish and starts eating butter by scraping it with his tiny finger. I put the butter dish on the counter. He moves on to an avocado. I put the avocado up too. He takes the open cup of sour cream and turns it upside down. I wipe the floor, move Kroshka, who is now trying to put one leg on the lower shelf of the fridge, to a side, and close it.
We are done with breakfast, so, naturally, more cleaning ensues. After every meal and snack (read: five times a day) I wash Kroshka, his high chair, and the floor. How long and annoying the process is depends on what exactly I served.
Say, bread and boiled egg are perfectly easy to pick up off the floor with my hands. On the other hand, rice, when thrown around by handfuls within three meter radius, is better vacuumed. And when it comes to soup, well, I kinda asked for it myself, haven’t I? There’s lots of picking of cabbage and potatoes out of puddles on the floor and then wiping the said puddles. As you can see, my mental faculties are also involved in the process: do I wipe? do I vacuum? Decisions, decisions.
I desperately need a cup of coffee, but not before I wash the dishes and pick up all those ladles, lemons and dirty T-shirts off the kitchen floor. While I am at it, I throw laundry into the washing machine, and if you are wondering, yes, the washing machine is in the kitchen, and the hamper with dirty clothes too.
You see, we live in a European apartment. That should be self-explanatory, but just in case you are the lucky owner of a house with walk-in closets, a laundry room, garage, and several bathrooms, I’ll elaborate. We live in a 55-square-meters (590-square-feet) one-bedroom apartment. All the clothes for two adults and a baby, including overcoats, fit in (or rather, are forced to fit in) a wardrobe and a three-drawer chest.
With no laundry room and a bathroom, in which only one person at a time can comfortably stand still (a step to each side is possible, but not encouraged), the washing machine found itself in the kitchen, right next to the stove.
Do I need to mention that a drying machine is a thing of my dreams? Instead, we have a drying rack that has become a permanent fixture in the living room. Over the past year, I came to accept the rack with bodysuits, T-shirts, and pajamas as part of interior.
But I digress. I loaded the washer, picked the coffee pot off the floor and made myself espresso.
It’s vacuuming time. I know I mentioned vacuuming before, but that was localized vacuuming, primarily under and around the high chair. Now I vacuum the whole apartment and mop the floor.
I have to mention that I only mop once in a few weeks, least you think I am a Monica Geller type of person. I am quite the opposite, actually. The other day I’ve been reminiscing on my University years and particularly on the dormitory room that I shared with three other girls for five years. The room meant for four people was — I kid you not — 16 square meters (170 square feet).
Living in such tight conditions, one makes the best of friends and the worst of enemies, naturally. My adversary and, by coincidence, a namesake once said that she feels bad for my future husband because I am so messy. In my defense, try keeping a shoe box that serves as a study, a bedroom, and a dining room for four people clean! On a side note, my husband accepts me and my mess the way we are.
I am not as bad as my roommate thought of me, but not obsessed with cleaning either, although I can see how you might think that, given that by this point I’ve written one thousand words about cleaning.
I make lunch, Kroshka plays with garbage. It’s the cleaner kind of garbage, like plastic bottles and paper bags, do not worry. In Germany, separating trash is a complex system not to be messed with (pun intended).
I have separate bins for plastic, paper, glass, and biodegradable waste. There’s also an extra bin for trash that doesn’t fit any of the above categories. On top of that, glass must be separated into glass bottles that can be returned to the store for a small award called “pfand” and glass that must be simply thrown out. The latter category is also subdivided into white, brown, and green glass.
Here’s my main concern: the trick with hiding a trash bin in a cabinet under the sink doesn’t work in Germany as I have six bins. To Kroshka’s immeasurable delight, plastic and paper bins are within his direct access and he takes full advantage of it.
I make my way to the stove, trying not to step on an empty toothpaste tube, a pile of paper bags, and — back by popular demand — the coffee pot. When the food is ready, I quickly sort through the trash and put it back in the bins. After lunch I wash the dishes and clean the high chair— you already know the drill.
For one and a half hours after lunch I am absolved of Cinderella duties while we go for a walk. There’s, of course, the hand-washing of Kroshka’s jacket and mittens afterwards, but that happens only every other day or so, when he’s particularly keen on lying in a puddle of dirt. There’s also another round of vacuuming: this time the dirt we bring home on the soles of our shoes. I live in a one-bedroom apartment and I am seriously considering buying a robot vacuum.
You could argue, that I don’t have to vacuum multiple times a day or wash the dishes right after a meal. In fact, all those “sleep, when your baby sleeps” and “the baby won’t remember how clean the house is” come to mind, which drive me crazy. Because if I skip vacuuming, my son will pick up every piece of dirt off the floor and put it straight into his mouth.
And if I don’t wash the dishes after lunch, I will have to cook dinner in my already tiny kitchen amid a mess of garbage, dirty dishes, and food leftovers. Add to that a one-year-old who’s clinging to your leg and you got a recipe for a breakdown. So, you see, it’s not the Monica Geller in me, who’s ordering me to scrub twenty five times a day, it’s my survival instinct.
I make dinner and, by this point, I am out of words to describe it: it’s the same garbage and coffee pot on the floor, a pile of dishes mixed with vegetable peel in the sink, and pieces of food stuck to the high chair. The repetitiveness of it all is excruciating.
It is only after becoming a mother, that I understood how often what I imagined to be hard is not hard at all. It is the things you never considered that crush your spirit. Why is everyone asking me if my baby sleeps through the night, when the real problem has always been with his naps, of which, at some point, there were six a day?
How come people talk about having to pick up toys, scattered around the room (a task that in reality takes five minutes), but not about having to wipe soup off the floor day in and day out?
And why is changing a dirty diaper considered the peak of parental struggles? The grimace of disgust people get on their faces when talking about it, like there’s absolutely nothing worse than dealing with poop. You know what’s worse? Cleaning up oil, anchovies and pieces of glass off the floor after telling my son fifteen times not to open the fridge and most definitely not to touch that little jar.
I clean something or other every half an hour on average from dawn to dusk only to witness my house slowly descend into chaos, no matter how hard I try. At least once you clean that bum, it’s cute and fresh and stays that way for a while. My house, on the other hand, is like a vortex sucking all my time and energy to no avail.
After putting Kroshka to sleep, I pick up the toys and wash the dishes one last time. Happy to say, that my husband often takes over at this point. For about four hours until I go to sleep the house is clean and organized. Sure, the drying rack is proudly displayed in the living room, compost bin lives on the kitchen counter, and a couple of body suits are laid on the heater at all times for faster drying. I’ll take it. My standards for what I call “clean” these days are not terribly high.