Cleanliness, communication, and compromise

I’ve always heard that men are more oblivious to the presence of dirt than women. That they’ll think nothing of wearing the same underwear for a few days, that they’ll tramp through a freshly-mopped kitchen with dirty boots, that they’ll let the house get to the level of “filthy” before they notice it needs to be cleaned, etc.

Not Brazilian men.

My housekeeping is as follows:

  • In daily life I stay neat – dishes always washed and house more or less organized..
  • I do a “medium” cleaning once a week, generally on Fridays. By “medium” cleaning I mean I dust, sweep and mop the floors, and wash the kitchen and bathroom.
  • A “thorough” cleaning – which would involve scrubbing the insides of the fridge and all the cabinets and moving the sofas in order to clean underneath them – I do once every six weeks… ish.

One Friday morning – I was going to do my “medium” cleaning later that day! – Christian announced, “This bathroom is nauseating” – and proceeded to scrub it down himself. I was glad for the help, of course, but it sparked a conversation about what we each considered to be an acceptable level of cleanliness. At some point during the discussion, Christian made the statement that it’d be good if the house could be cleaned every day.

Well, that got my feminist panties in a bunch. “That’s ridiculous,” I snapped. “I have better things to do with my time than clean every freaking day. Deus me livre! (May God free me [from that fate])”

Commence slightly heated discussion. Welcome to married life!

We made up pretty quickly. But upon reflection, I realized two things:

1) I reacted to something he didn’t say. When he said it would be nice if the house could be cleaned every day, my mind immediately translated that into, “I want YOU to clean every day” and imagined he wanted me to be Suzy Homemaker who has no ambition beyond having perfectly sparkling floors and not a speck of dust in the house. That wasn’t actually the case, but my mind took me there.

2) Word choice and tone matters. How different the conversation would have gone if I’d used less inflammatory language – “ridiculous” in Portuguese has more of a pejorative meaning than in English, where it’s taken as the more innocuous “silly”. When disagreeing – even when disagreeing strongly – it is possible to do so respectfully.

Result: The following week, I surprised him by doing a light midweek cleaning that took me all of 20 minutes. I discovered that it really IS nicer to be able to walk around the house without feeling grit beneath my bare feet. He then surprised me by rearranging the furniture in the living room to optimize the space… and bringing home chocolate  🙂