No one has ever accused me of being a fanatical housekeeper. On the Good Housekeeping scale of good housekeeping, with zero being first cousin to a Collyer brother, and 10 being genetically linked to Mommy Dearest, I would fall somewhere around a 6-34.
The truth is, I’m comfortable with a certain amount of clutter. And for better or worse, I’ve learned to live with dog hair. But there are a few occasions during the course of the year when I am completely overtaken by a kind of domestic lunacy.
It has nothing to do with the full moon, and certainly no longer attributable to PMS; I haven’t been able to use that excuse in about twenty years. I’m not sure you’ll find the syndrome written up in the medical journals, though perhaps it should be. Since it is without an official psychiatric label, I will refer to it as “relocation madness.”
It is as predictable as the changing of the seasons. In fact, it is the changing of the seasons that brings it on, since I am one of those fortunate enough to be able to spend winters in a warm climate and summers in a cool one. However, the anticipation of moving brings on this irrational compulsion to leave the house in such a state of perfection that it appears no one has ever lived there. Not ourselves, not family, not friends, not two hairy dogs – no one! Household chores that have been neglected for the past six months suddenly take on a sense of urgency.
I no longer try to fight it. It’s hopeless. It’s been going on for years. Yoga and meditation have not been successful in keeping it at bay. So I succumb, knowing it will run its course. Under the circumstances, it seems like the only rational thing to do.
About a week before the designated move date, I awake one morning with an aura that I now recognize as the precursor to the malady. I think it only fair to warn my husband, since, for the next seven days, he will be dealing with my evil twin. I have long since given up trying to engage him in the process. He just can’t seem to get worked up over such things as the organization of the hangers in the guest room closet.
“Starting today, I’m getting the crazies,” I tell him as we are lying in bed.
“What are you talking about?” he queries. How quickly he forgets. And it’s been only seven months since the last attack.
“It’s time to start packing up the house.”
He is silent, but I note that underneath his golf tan, he has become quite pale.
A few days later, I am still reasonably under control and we have managed to get our clothes sorted, packed, and shipped. Each season I vow to minimize the amount of stuff I send off to UPS, but I just know that the shoes I decide to leave behind are the precise pair that I cannot live without. So, of course, I pack them. Along with everything else that I cannot live without.
“Okay,” my husband says, “that’s done. Now can you try to relax?” Relax? He is so clueless. There is still so much to do.
It is the middle of the night and he wanders downstairs to find me in the kitchen.
“Have you seen the mess in the container cabinet?”
“What’s the container cabinet?”
“You know, the place where I store the plastics for leftovers.”
“So what’s the emergency?
“The tops and the bottoms don’t match.” He doesn’t understand how I can’t possibly
leave them in this condition.
“What difference does it make? We’re leaving. Who’s going to see them?
“I don’t know. The alarm might go off. The police might come. This might be the first place they’ll look.”
How can I explain that it’s no different than when your mother told you always to wear clean underwear just in case you were in an accident? It’s all about other people’s perceptions.
I’m on a roll. Next day I refuse to have lunch with him because I have to reorganize the junk drawer. “It’s a junk drawer,” he says, “it’s supposed to be junky.” But there are degrees of junkiness and this one has reached the doctoral level.
After the junk drawer, I tackle the silverware drawer, making sure that no teaspoon has gotten mixed in with the soup spoons and that all the salad forks are facing in the same direction.
He proceeds to go to lunch on his own and is unfortunate enough to return just as I’m about to begin my next activity. “Get undressed,” I order. His eyes shine with a hopeful look. “No,” I say, “not that. I’m about to start a laundry.”
It is our last night in the house. I have finally completed everything to my satisfaction and have come to bed. Suddenly, I bolt upright.
“What is it now?” my husband asks, not in the kindest of tones as I have just awakened him.
“I have to go downstairs to the laundry room.”
“Why?” he asks, not an unreasonable question.
I realize as I speak the next words that I have reached the pinnacle of my craziness.
“I left lint in the dryer. I can’t go off with lint in the dryer.”
We are up early the next morning, lock up the house, and leave for the airport. I lie back in the taxi and sigh. I am finally calm. Due to my hard work, the spoons are nesting perfectly, the dining room chairs are in precise alignment, everything in the house that could possibly be washed has been washed. The guest rooms look positively inviting, there is not one single crumb in the food pantry, and the clothes and shoes that we have left behind are as neatly displayed as a department store.
For some bizarre reason, my orderliness standards for vacating my house seem to be higher than when I actually live in the house. I have learned that there is a certain satisfaction in returning to a place that is perfectly clean and tidy. And for a moment I can forget that it was my insanity that accomplished it in the first place. In that glorious instance it doesn’t matter that in very short order the plastic containers will once again be mismatched.