Our floors downstairs have always been dirty. We don’t have this problem on the upper floors; sand comes in from our front entrance and dirt from the back, and I’d just sort of given in. I run my Swiffer WetJet over them occasionally, and we sweep frequently, but there’s just always been a dark dirty base on them that I’d never really tackled.
Then last weekend we had friends over for brunch, including an adorable toddler. We all had a great time (and the quiche was delicious), but I was mortified as his dad was getting him ready to leave, trying to brush the black off of his little feet. I’m used to it with my feet – dirt in your own house is somehow not as dirty as what you encounter in other places. But seeing it on his feet made my really embarrassed. Almost as soon as they’d left I started moving furniture. A round of sweeping and vacuuming and two passes with the Swiffer WetJet didn’t do it, so I got down on my hands and knees with a bucket of vinegar water and some rags and did what I should have done years ago.
Growing up I watched my own mother clean the floors this way. She was (and still is) meticulous, tireless and consistent. I always thought to myself, why doesn’t she use a mop or something easier? The answer, of course, was that nothing else does the job as well as a bucket, bruised knees, and effort.
Seven hours total it took. For one floor of our house, about 600 square feet when you take out the stairs and the counters and other areas covered by bookcases and appliances. My shoulders were killing me and my knees were aching. It’s not like I would have to do that all the time, that’s just what it took to get rid of years of construction dust and dirt and sand and spilled juice cups and dripped ice cream and ground-in crumbs. Now all I would have to do is maintain it.
So here I am, a week later, staring at a sticky spot on the floor the size of a dollar bill. And instead of just grabbing a sponge and wiping it up, every fiber in my being is telling me to get out the bucket and move the furniture. For one sticky spot. The rest of the floor is still amazingly clean. I was a total pain in the ass all week about our new no-shoe rule. All I need to do is wipe up that one spot and leave it. But I can’t.
I don’t know why my brain works like this. It’s perfectionism, self diagnosed from dozens of talk shows and internet sites. People hear the term “perfectionism” and think I must be someone who has a perfect house and perfect body and perfect life, or at least I’m working tirelessly towards those things, but that’s not how it works. It means that if I can’t make something perfect, then I simply don’t do it. It’s why I’m a control freak, why I have trouble delegating, why I’m overweight, and why my house is a mess.
And I feel like if I could just clean that sticky spot and move on, then I could also exercise on a Monday and not give up on the rest of the week after skipping Tuesday. That I could clean one small shelf when I have a spare fifteen minutes, instead of waiting until I have a free weekend to clean all of the shelves at once (a time that never seems to come). That I could let Fiona help me fold the mountain of clean laundry on our guest bed (she’s been begging!), even though she won’t do it “right.’ That I could pick up a couple pieces of trash from my sidewalk on my way in without waiting for a free morning to put on gardening gloves, grab a garbage bag, and do the whole block. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning all of my shelves or folding all of my laundry myself in one big marathon session or picking up all of the garbage, except that I never get around to it, and waiting to do big projects stops me from making a small dent.
The saying that has helped me the most in my life is this riddle: How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time. Occasionally I’m able to let that kind of thinking win, and get things done. But those times are infrequent, and I fall back into old habits quickly. If I could learn to take small bites consistently I could change my life. I’m going to start with that sticky spot.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn, Behind the Screen, Momtourage, and podcasts with The Blogging Angels.