How Not to Be a Jerk to Your Friends with Messy Houses

A dining room table piled several feet high in laundry.

A while back there was an article going around about why you shouldn’t hold yourself to super high standards before having people over. I can’t find the particular one I had in mind, but I remember thinking, “That’s sweet, but oh, his definition of ‘messy’ is precious.” I’ve been on many points on messy-house spectrum over the years, and have had friends and family at many more points along it as well. It’s a symptom of how strong the judgment can be that I wrote this years ago and only feel comfortable publishing it at a moment when I’m on a clean and purge kick.

That said, here’s my list of do’s and don’ts. Judgy comments will be gleefully deleted.

  1. DON’T contradict us when we tell you that our house is a mess/dirty/a disaster and you haven’t been there or have only seen it at times when we have probably done a lot of cleaning, like a party. Especially don’t say things that start with “I’m sure,” such as “I’m sure it’s no worse than mine” or “I’m sure it’s only disorganized but not dirty.” Stop and think what you are saying there. You are saying “Because I like you, I’m assuming you couldn’t possibly have a house that doesn’t meet what I would consider minimum standards. That means I think housekeeping is tied to character.” Now imagine how we feel knowing that we almost certainly do not meet your minimum standards.
  2. DO be reassuring when we apologize for the state of the house, and be as casual as you can. “I’m not concerned,” or “It’s a pleasant chaos” or “I’m a friend, you don’t have to clean up for me” are good sorts of things to say. Refrain from anything that implies a guess about how it compares to normal or how much time they spent cleaning.
  3. Unless you come over on a very regular basis, DON’T assume that you can tell how what you are seeing compares to normal. Depending on what you are used to, it can look like chaos to you and we’ve actually lost sleep cleaning for you. Or it might really be an unusually bad day and you’re just a friend we’re not embarrassed to show it to. Also, these things are not etched in stone; they can change over the span of years (though not because you opined that they should).
  4. DON’T assume we don’t care, or don’t know how to clean, or don’t have our own limits that we never let things pass. In our heart of hearts we may spend more time than you know longing for a month free of other obligations to just get caught up and sort through all this junk and put functional systems in place, so it’s, if not a model home, more pleasant to live in.
  5. DON’T assume we do care. What freaks you out might not freak us out. We might place a really high value on socializing after dinner and figure the dishwasher can handle it if the dishes have sat on the table for a few hours. Dust? Not an emergency. Surfaces not disinfected daily? It’s called a strong immune system. Seriously, there are so many more important things in life to spend time on, and the health value of hypercleanliness has been seriously disputed.
  6. DON’T assume we will leave other places a mess. Most of us will pitch in to a group effort with as much or more gusto as anyone else. In fact, many of us are likely to be hyper aware of leaving a borrowed space pristine. It’s different when it’s not your own house.
  7. DON’T assume anything about our families of origin. Some of us grew up with hoarders, some with crazy neatnicks, some with perfectly well balanced housekeepers. Some of us did chores from a young age and some of us (especially men) were never taught how to clean a bathroom.
  8. DO take responsibility for your own boundaries. You are allowed to have conditions you don’t want to visit—whatever it is that crosses your line, be it odors, pests, safety hazards for your baby, dust bunnies, crooked pictures on the wall. Whatever your own comfort level is, own it. But then recognize that is your limit. You make the change—Be the one to host. Suggest third places to meet. Enjoy the nice day on the stoop. Don’t imply that it is your friends’ job to meet your standards or make you feel at home in their home.
  9. If you want to help and that help has been accepted, DO trust us about what would be most helpful. It might not be the thing sticking out to you as needing doing. We likely know what things we have blocks about, what things would make the biggest difference if we could get out from under. Remember being helpful is not about bringing in your superior housekeeping knowledge, it’s about providing support.
  10. DO keep coming over as long as you are ok doing so. If you are comfortable, or even if your discomfort is mild enough that you can keep it to yourself, then keep showing up. Either it gives us motivation to clean, or it gives us reassurance that we aren’t being judged, or both. In fact, hanging out with you is probably one of those things we place a priority on above cleaning.

A Weekend in Manhattan for Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles Fans

My 7-year-old is a major fan of Rick Riordan’s novels, and this weekend for a birthday present, I took her on a tour of sites from the books located in Manhattan. When I mentioned my planning for the trip on Facebook I got a lot of interest from other parents, so I figured I’d write up what we did and how it worked.

Obviously your mileage will vary with age of kid, willingness to walk, attention span, and level of obsession. My daughter knows the books well enough that we could drop into the stories at any point and read the chapter that bears upon the site we were visiting and have it make sense. Also she can be read aloud to approximately forever and not get tired of it. And we did–there’s something pretty neat about sitting in the spot being described and reading the story. You pick up on details you wouldn’t notice if you just walked up to something and said “Look, there’s the Plaza Hotel where the demigod army made their headquarters in the Battle of Manhattan” and stood there for five minutes. Given that the passages we wanted spanned several physical books and we were traveling light, I brought with me our paper copy of The Last Olympian (TLO), and then sprang for ebook versions of The Lightning Thief (TLF), The Red Pyramid (RP), and “The Crown of Ptolemy” to read from my phone. (Plus a backup battery stick for the phone.) That worked out quite well. Continue reading

“Non-Racist Trump Voters” Have a Moral Obligation to Stand Up to Hate

Dear Trump Voters,

I’ve seen a lot of you being very angry at being assumed a racist. I’ve seen you claiming you love everybody and believe your “rough around the edges” candidate really does too, and you were voting based on economics or sticking it to the establishment.

Let’s say for a minute that the rest of us take you at your word that you do not believe you are racist or hateful. Continue reading

Albany Cops Sound Like Abusive Spouses in Teen Workshop

There’s this pattern that happens with abusive spouses. They often explain to their victims how to behave so they won’t get beaten up again. All the victim needs to do is give them proper respect, not burn their dinner, remember to leave out their slippers at the right place, never buy the wrong brand of toothpaste, never make them feel like they are being laughed at, never give them attitude or make them mad. And then, supposedly, they’ll be safe.

Of course, the abuser is not actually owed any of those things in the first place. And in any case, it’s always a lie. It’s a losing game. The abuse will continue, because periodic reminders of control are necessary and because the abuser will keep finding new things to add to the reasons they were “forced” to administer a beating.

This was one of the first things I thought of when I heard the details of the police portion of a recent “workshop” on police encounters that Albany youth were forced to attend as part of the city’s summer employment program. Continue reading

Homeless Program Opponents Refreshingly (If Terrifyingly) Honest About Their Motivations

They are at it again. The same folks in the wealthier part of Western Albany who don’t want to provide a decent building to educate our children in also don’t like that a church in their neighborhood was participating in a regional effort to help families without homes via a day time outreach program hosted in a church parsonage. Neighborhood ne’er do well and perennial candidate Joe Sullivan, pursuing his vision of segregation and protection from scary people down on their luck, managed to luck into a judge who decided to overturn the zoning decision based on a technicality about whether a parsonage is actually a house of worship. Chris Churchill at the Times Union is right that this was a bad decision; I hope Family Promise and Bethany Reformed Church do appeal.

Wow, You Said That Out Loud

But the controversy also provided a disturbing look at how many residents of wealthier, whiter, single-family-home neighborhoods seem to feel that they deserve the right to decide who can enter those neighborhoods just by virtue of owning homes there. (Yes, I read the comments, so help me God.) They are startlingly direct about it: They feel that anything serving people poorer than they are should be considered a noxious use for the purposes of zoning and banned from their “nice” neighborhood.  Continue reading

10 Tips for Contra Dancing With Kids

We just got back from another lovely weekend at the Dance Flurry Festival in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.  Nadia, 9, has been dancing for several years and is an accomplished contra dancer who can dance both roles and hold her own through most complex figures. Her younger sister Molly, 5, has just started dancing full contras this year and is still a beginner.

For the most part, the contra dance community is wonderfully warm and welcoming to its youngest members, appreciating their delight and cheerfully helping them out when needed. However, we have noticed a few counter-productive tendencies that many dancers have when they encounter kid dancers, and so we wanted to offer you this set of tips to help us all bring up the next generation: Continue reading

Ridiculous Opinion Column Proves Need for Movement

Charlie Kraebel, managing editor of the Troy Record and the Saratogian had a little “showing his true colors” accident in an opinion column this weekend, in which he was mighty distressed at the launching of the Upstate NY Black Lives Matter chapter. Before you read it, I recommend having a cushion nearby for when you feel the desire to bang your head on something hard.

He has basically three main arguments: First, that black people can’t demand that cops stop killing them for no reason until crime committed by black people against other black people is eradicated. Second, that Black Lives Matter activists don’t really care about Dontay Ivy’s family, just their dastardly agenda. And third, that the Black Lives Matter movement nationally has been all about causing riots and defending “thugs.”

Let’s take these one at a time. Continue reading

Not Yet Even Talking the Talk

On Monday, Jan 25., I joined the group of protestors who disrupted the beginning of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s state of the city speech. It was a very powerful, really well organized action, a demonstration of a community coming together and insisting on being heard. That latter bit is more important than how the mayor reacted. (Hear more from the organizers here.)

However, she did engage the crowd for a while, and a bunch of things have been rattling around in my head about what she said. I wanted to spell them out, especially for people who don’t really understand why what she said met with negative reactions. Continue reading