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Household Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

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When I asked my friend Anne how her transition from stay-at-home mom to fulltime work had gone, she said, “I didn’t open the mail for six months! Something’s got to give.”


It’s true. When you’re juggling job, kids, husband, pets, and house, often something does have to give. I’ve never given up on the mail, but I have played a game I call “Household Limbo: How Low Can You Go?”


It’s like being the anti-Martha Stewart. I’m always trying to determine how far things can fall without falling apart.


You’d be surprised.


For example, I have learned that you can go pretty much indefinitely without changing your children’s beds. (Post potty training, of course.) I get fed up after a couple of weeks of gritty sheets, but the kids just don’t seem to care. I have dispensed with top sheets altogether. They always ended up in a wad at the end of the bed anyway. (I’m not a big fan of daily bed making, either.) So, get a washable comforter and a well-fitted bottom sheet, and voila! Making the bed is a snap.


Until they hit puberty, kids can go quite a long time without a bath. I was always puzzled by my friends who had elaborate, time-consuming daily bath rituals for their babies. Babies don’t really get dirty until they start eating solid food. Until then, you can take care of most of it with a damp washcloth.


The dog can go forever without bathing, as far as I’m concerned. Yeah, she stinks, but she’s a dog.


I’ve never been a stickler for kids wearing pajamas, either. Who cares if they sleep in their clothes? I do require that they remove their shoes, but that just takes a sec. Confession—on more than one late morning, my children have been packed off to school in the clothes they slept in. My brother took this a step further and put on his clean clothes the night before to save time in the morning.


My family will eat pasta and salad without complaint every single day. My son loves the pasta trifecta—macaroni for all three meals. Ditto for pizza, but that gets expensive. Baby carrots are always in my fridge (though I wonder: can something that keeps so long possibly have any nutritional value?) and are pressed into service regularly as “the vegetable.”


And, while I wouldn’t recommend this as a daily practice, once as I was headed out of town for the weekend I put the dirty dishes in the refrigerator (as a temporary measure).


See, it’s always the house that slides. At work, I have a boss. At home, I am the boss.


But there have been times when I’ve let things slip too far.


I’ve had several cleaning ladies quit on me. One got exasperated with having the family underfoot. (We were trying to pick up the house one room ahead of her.) She exclaimed, “I can’t clean like this!” I’m thinking, who is she, Greta Garbo? Another time, unbeknownst to me, there was dog poop in the office when the cleaner came in. I was mortified when she called to say she couldn’t work for me anymore because my house wasn’t “hygienic.”


That seemed a bit extreme—as far as I know, nobody has ever contracted a disease.


You might think from all of this that I’m just a slacker and a slob. You would be wrong. I’d much prefer a tidy house and three square meals a day. But when life threatens to come crashing down around my ears, I think of Anne and the pile of unopened mail. And I know it’s time to play another round of Household Limbo.


By Sally Owen

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