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

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

Fort Kit!

This morning we revealed our Twelfth Night present to the girls—an upgrade in the DIY fort kit Rebecca had brilliantly concocted for them a few years back. An expansion pack, if you will, on a previous roaring success.

They did not immediately give their delighted “ooh ooh ooh!” reaction that they are so good at, which is not surprising given that it was “just” a reboot, and came at the end of the holiday season. And yet, what matters more is that a few minutes later they were climbing all over the dining room, hanging rope, testing suction cups, and demanding that I fetch even more clothespins, and then got teary as we tried to peel them away to get to school on time.

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Industrious fort building, poorly documented

A DIY fort kit is a great way to give a gift that inspires creativity, free play, and civil engineering practice. And it can be really cheap.

Want to build your own? Here are the essential components: Continue reading

Charity and Justice

A few weeks ago my daughter got a bee in her bonnet about wanting to help homeless people. Like many of her peers she has begun to notice the world outside of herself and has run into panhandlers on the street, outside the Co-op, at highway exit ramps.

She had no interest in giving to shelters, or buying toys for toy drives. It had to be directly to the very people she saw on the street. Continue reading

Who Gets to Play?

My 2nd grader wants to do everything (Soccer! Gymnastics! 4H! Garden club! Karate! Running club! Contra dance!). The only reason an instrument isn’t on her list is because she wants to learn flute and she’s too young to start.

As someone with many interests too, part of me wants to enable her to pursue all of her passions, or as many of them as she can fit in a week. But then I spend a Sunday morning watching her play royal family with her sister or an afternoon watching her run around outside with her friends, and I’m much more worried that even though we have drawn a line, that we have given in to too many structured activities, when what she really needs is more time for free play. Continue reading