In her tongue-in-cheek wisdom, Erma Bombeck set forth a mantra that everyone loves and no one implements. She prioritized those things that are of utmost importance and threw everything else under the bus. So if we do what she said, then from this day forth we will be set free from the bondage and the drudgery of chores. Well, most of them. Right?
Let’s dissect this theory a bit further.
If the item does not—
MULTIPLY. Bacteria. Germs. Flies. Mold. Gremlins. Immediately vanquish all of the above as soon as they rear their ugly little heads, or face dire consequences.
SMELL. Gym clothes. Old leftovers. Diaper pails. Garbage. Tuna. Deal with them.CATCH FIRE. If you don’t know what does or what will, I suggest you brush up on your safety skills.
BLOCKING THE REFRIGERATOR DOOR. Hot wheels cars. Tonka trucks. Green army men. Magnetic letters of the alphabet. Various pieces of children’s furniture. Random pets. Two words for these things: Step aside. Otherwise, you risk destruction underneath the feet of my man and offspring who frequently chant, “Need. Food. Now.”
But on the heels of these four categories of the theory come those words that make me blissfully happy…. "LET IT BE."
This idea is groundbreaking, ladies and gentlemen. Mostly ladies. But I’m not stereotyping, of course. What this means is that we now have a litmus test for housework. If the chore does not fall into one of the above categories, then forget it. Clutter? Harmless. Home improvements? Lowe’s stock will just have to take a dive. Toys strewn from one end of the house to the other? Just think of them as happy little reminders of busy children at play. Organizing closets? As long as the door shuts, no worries.
Ms. Bombeck’s sentiment is ridiculously funny, one that I would be thrilled to adopt as my own.
Ah, if only reality would permit me to do so.
I’ve read plenty of articles and books that embody all of the old clichés…carpe diem, take time to smell the roses, enjoy the moments you are given because they are fleeting. Let the laundry sit, they say. Let the dishes collect. Let the house go to pot. It’s all okay, as long as you are enjoying your family. One day your children will be grown…and all that.
It’s well-intentioned advice, really. One day they will be grown and, as people are fond of saying, they will not remember if their beds were made or if the living room was uncluttered. They will remember whether or not their dad and I were available to them and were active participants in their lives. That is an indisputable fact. Erma Bombeck put her thoughts about housework in more cynical terms: “No one else cares, why should you?”
The fact is, they do care, though they may not express it. To frame it negatively, if the housework didn’t get done, then everyone would care. Just watch one episode of that pitiful show Hoarders if you don’t believe me. If we set the bar at only these four litmus-test categories, then Social Services would be paying us a visit. Every parent knows that running a household requires much more than determining what’s unsafe, stinky, or standing in the way of food.
The bottom line is, as nice as it is to minimize the mountain of tasks that every family faces, the mountain obviously remains. And the clock is always ticking, forcing us to find balance between what we must do and what we want to do. There is no easy fix, no brush to paint over our obligations with broad strokes.
But if you do decide to adopt Erma Bombeck’s litmus test, let me know. I’d like to know how that works out for you.
Assuming Social Services doesn’t get to you first.