Last night we spent New Year's Eve with some people who take care of their things. They are a childless couple who work with my husband. I don't know them very well, but am getting to know them a little better, and this is how I have chosen to think of them. Their kitchen and bathroom are gleaming, immaculate expanses of marble, tile, and polished wood. Their yard is a wonderland of perfectly coordinated and well trimmed woodland paths. Their dogs are fluffy, clean smelling and well behaved. I felt a bit glum as I thought back to my own cluttered house, remembering the Christmas mess that still lingers, the dirty floors, the dusty surfaces, the smelly dogs, and my old cat who pees wherever he damn well pleases (it's his version of wearing purple).
I remember an incident that happened when I was a young child. I had a baby doll that I cared nothing for. I carried her by her hair, what little of it remained, and her naked little vinyl body bore the scars of neglect - scratches and scuff marks from being stepped on, rolled over by the rocking chair, or ridden over on a trike. One day the little girl next door asked if she could have her. Sure, I said. Take her. The next day my friend showed up with my old doll in a new baby bed made from a shoe box, with a piece flannel carefully folded to make a mattress. She carefully lifted baby from the bed and cradled her in her arms. Baby was dressed in clothes for a change. Her hair was combed. Her body was clean. Suddenly I felt a pang of regret. How could I have given up something that was so precious? I remember running home to my mom nearly in tears, and asking her how I could go about getting baby back, and I think my mom gave a stern rebuke accompanied by that old platitude about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence (I wasn't sure how that applied in this case, but I did realize that if I were to get it back I would have to employ my own devices). I don't remember how it all turned out. In all likelihood I either bullied the girl into giving it back to me or traded her something truly worthless for it. In either case, I think I did get the doll back somehow, and soon she was relegated once again to the heap of neglected toys. Because the truth of the matter is, baby dolls never interested me that much. What I envied was the happiness and contentment that other little girls derived from them.
I bring this story up because it reminds me very much of how I react when I enter the homes of folks who truly love them and maintain them perfectly. I always feel envious. I do not necessarily wish that I owned the house or the furnishings. I just wish I had a clean, neat, lovely house where everything was new and everything worked properly and everything was spic and span. I'm no longer five years old, so these feelings of envy do not usually last very long. Because I realize that I have exactly the house that I can tolerate. When things get so bad that even I can't tolerate them, I generally do something about it. I realize that what I truly dislike is the drudgery of keeping a house neat and clean and working properly. And I also realize that although in theory I would enjoy having a beautiful home and yard, it would not bring me the same happiness and contentment that others derive from it.
Last night as I drifted off to sleep with my cat purring contentedly by my side, I looked around at our bedroom -- shoes littering the floor, a laundry basket of unfolded clothes perched on a stool, clutter on the dresser and the nightstand -- and sighed. I guess I will be cleaning the house on Monday. But I'm not going to beat myself up too much if I get distracted and decide to do something more interesting instead.