Sunday, June 24, 2012
Messy is the New Clean
I was reading the new issue of "Real Simple" magazine when I came across this ad for Clorox:
I don't know about you, but to me Clorox is synonymous with clean. And when I think of clean, I don't just think "germ free," I think, "pristine," "immaculate," "in order," and "perfect." So when I saw this ad, I noticed immediately that the towels were rumpled and obviously used, there were toys and kleenex stacked on the back of the toilet, the toilet lid was up, there were toys and loose toilet paper on the floor, and yet this bathroom is being modeled as Clorox-clean. How can this be? Am I missing something? Like, a generation or two?
In my day, we were taught not only to sanitize the toilet, but to hang the towels straight, pick up the toys from the floor and put the toilet lid down. But that just isn't in style anymore. I must be getting old, because I am constantly surprised when I look at pictures on Facebook of young 20- or 30-somethings in their homes, which are a merry mess with clutter and a general untidy look that doesn't seem to phase them a bit. When I take a picture I make sure that my house is clean before I snap the shutter. If it isn't, either I don't take the picture or I'll reposition my subject to a more tidy location. I would be completely ashamed if that picture of the bathroom in Real Simple was mine. But obviously, the times they are a changin'.
When I was a kid, this scenario was a common occurrence in our home: My brother, sister and I would be contentedly watching TV, reading, doing homework or playing Barbies on the floor when suddenly we'd hear a car pull into the driveway. My mom would come rushing out of the kitchen to peer out the window to see who it was. If it was a salesman, everything remained calm...but if it was someone we knew she would hiss, "Kids! Get up! Put your toys away! Grab those newspapers! Get your jackets and backpacks and take them upstairs! Take your glasses into the kitchen! Run! It's So-and-So! Hurry! And TURN OFF THE TV!!!" And, boy, you should have seen us fly! We practically ran into each other in our haste to turn our living room into a proper parlor. By the time So-and-So had got out of the car, walked up to the front door and rang the bell, we would have made everything in that room perfect...including plumping up the throw pillows and lighting a candle. Then we'd be sitting quietly on the couch as the door opened, with my mother's "surprised" voice welcoming So-and-So into the house..."Well, hello! What a surprise! How nice to see you! Come in, come in!" I always wondered what people thought when they saw that spotless living room and three children sitting empty-handed and silent on the couch staring at a blank TV screen!
But that training stuck with me into my own adult life. I downplayed the perfection a bit by allowing my kids to keep out one toy each so they would at least look like they were busy and halfway normal when someone walked into our home. But it wasn't just my mom and I who were clean-freaks. I remember complaining to my mother-in-law once about the problem with not having a dishwasher was how just as soon as I finished the dishes, someone would pour a drink or eat a snack and there would be dishes in the sink again. She gave me this sage advice: "Oh, I always kept a dishpan in the sink and all the dirty dishes that accumulated between dishwashing would go in there. Then, if someone came over unexpectedly, I would just pick up the dishpan full of dishes and put it in the oven!" I thought that was about the smartest trick ever, and quickly added it to my good-housekeeping arsenal.
If anyone challenged me on my obsessive-compulsive cleaning frenzy, I'd staunchly defend myself by saying that no one ever had to write a book on how to mess up your house in 10 easy steps, but there were certainly whole shelves devoted to cleaning and organizing it. And, of course, I had Martha Stewart to back me up. Her magazine was full of gorgeous, picture-perfect, even staged rooms...nothing out of place and every item visible had a purpose, even if that purpose was just to look stunning. For my generation, she was the Golden Standard.
But then came my daughters's generation.
I first noticed the subtle differences in the catalogs of their favorite stores....the mismatched, slightly rumpled clothes and the tousled bed-head hairstyles, bedrooms that were ultra-casual with jewelry draped over the dresser mirror, throw pillows scattered across an unmade bed, clothes draped over a chair, an eclectic combination of old and new furniture, and wall colors that clashed with the curtains. Then on new movies, it was suddenly cool to have personal products spread out over the bathroom counter, and working girls switched from neat little purses to big bags that contained half their apartment. This new trend quickly took hold in our house, and it seemed I was forever telling them to clean their rooms...or at least shut their closet doors and dresser drawers! But it's a losing battle, because not only are they not ashamed when someone sees their messy room, they are actually comfortable...and so is the friend who is visiting!
And so I face a losing battle, not just against my kids but against the whole "messy" movement. Grunge clothes, messy hair, rumpled beds and dirty bathrooms have replaced matching clothes, sleek hairstyles, crisp bedding and sparkling fixtures.
And now even Clorox is against me!
So if messy is the new clean, then it's time to let my hair down...or at least pin it up in a messy bun! No more making my bed! No more running through the house collecting everyone else's forgotten items. No more fretting over footwear in the foyer! I'm just going to sanitize my toilet and call it a day!