Life was easier with only 700 square feet. The tiny apartment my new husband and I occupied for our first two years hugged us close with cozy spaces and colorful walls. Hospitality was a pain, but we didn’t care. Because we never had to mow the lawn.
Sure, the neighbor across the hall died, and no one knew about it for four days. And sure, our upstairs neighbor’s pet ferret found his way into Josh’s shoes one morning. And sure, the catty-corner apartment hosted drug dealers and bad parents.
But I miss those days for one big reason: the housework was minimal and clearly defined. Those were the days.
In premarital counseling, we divided the chores to avoid the conflict later. Josh took laundry because the washer and dryer lurked in the dark, cement basement below us. And I was going to wear dirty clothes before I hauled a hamper down those steps. It worked out perfectly though because he hated cleaning the bathroom. And while I could think of a hundred things I liked more, it sure trumped reliving a horror movie every time I ran out of underwear.
And so it was, two simple people, Josh with too many books and me with too many scarves, and only three pieces of furniture, one a freebie that smelled of cigarettes.
When we moved into our first real home three years ago, we sat down in the empty living room and laughed giddy little laughs. With the money we earned from the government home-buyer stimulus, we purchased new furniture and paid off debt. Suddenly we were adults, with squishy leather couches and a baby on the way.
We were big-hearted and a little crazy back then, and we wanted roommates. We figured five bedrooms were too much for the two-plus of us. When John arrived in November that year, two twenty-something boys occupied the basement. They came upstairs for food and conversation, and sometimes the kitchen was messier when they left.
For two and a half years, roommates shared our home. They perfected our hospitality and opened our lives wide. But the season ended in October last year, and we settled into a new routine with just three of us. We never had that before.
Suddenly, the messes we noticed around the home were just ours, but mainly mine. Laundry left unfolded. Unswept floors. A fridge that only got one deep clean in its lifetime.
We vacuumed and scrubbed when guests came over, and I hardly noticed the dust collecting on the shelves. Or the paint splotches left on the ceiling. But my husband and his service love language noticed. Probably because he held his appointments for church at the house or worked from his home office while I worked outside the home for my 40 hours.
For months he said nothing, until he couldn’t take it anymore. In an unsuspecting moment, he blurted his frustrations with my lackadaisical housekeeping. “Why am I the only one cleaning the kitchen?” He wondered aloud, hoping I might care. But I didn’t. I didn’t mind a little dirt and grime. Our house was generally clean-enough by my standards. Why all the hullabaloo?
Every few months, we argued, and every few months I changed my ways. For a few weeks. But I just didn’t see it. And so my temporary behavior modification became about not making my husband mad, instead of wanting a tidy home. At the end of the work day or on weekends, parenting, writing and other obligations and joys filled my time. I simply couldn’t figure out how laundry and vacuuming were to fit into my life.
One day, he sent me a text at work. I left the dishes in the sink, and apparently I expected him to clean them. He wasn’t happy. As graciously as he could, he explained why this wasn’t partnership, the very thing I sought in my marriage. A marriage of equals. This is my mantra. But I wasn’t living it.
That morning on the sidewalk in front of my clinic, I finally heard him. It wasn’t about clean or dirty. It was about respect. About minimizing clutter and hassle for the man I loved. About making his life easier.
It was about love. I could do that.
Dirt is still invisible to me most days, but I can see it when I look for it. And I do now. My love of housework hasn’t grown, but the priority I give it has. Because anything done as an extravagant act of love is always worth my time.