Clean Enough, Dirty Enough

By | 2016-04-04T08:58:44+00:00 April 4, 2016|Character, Parenting|

My mom had a plaque hanging in her kitchen that read “This house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.” It is one of my favourite sayings and one I quickly adopted as my motto after getting married and having a home of my own.

clean-house-2When life gets busy and I look around my messy house with exasperation, that phrase appeases the guilt that nags me. When my husband looks at me, eyebrows raised after stepping over multiple backpacks, shoes and coats to get in the door, it’s the perfect excuse. And when the odour wafting from the fridge smells more like rotten fish than fresh veggies, it’s the right motivation for doing a thorough clean out.

So it would seem that by following the advice on my mom’s plaque, household bliss would ensue. But after years of testing this theory, there appears to be a fly in the ointment. In the area of household cleanliness, whose happiness gets to be the gauge? 

The Rollercoaster

Should Drew have the final say on how clean our house is? He who is content to wade through knee deep clothing in his bedroom as he makes his way to bed at night?! I think not.

How about Aiden? He reminds me of Hansel and Gretel, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind them. Only Aiden leaves a trail of larger items that tend to trip a person up as they navigate the hallways of our home. Backpack, agenda, guitar case, barn boots, volleyballs, recorder…Have you ever stepped on a recorder lying on a hardwood floor?!! The resulting acrobatics are not for the frail or uncoordinated. Aiden’s happiness definitely cannot dictate cleanliness. 

What about Caleb? Should his happiness determine how clean our house is? Because then we’d ride a rollercoaster of obsessive compulsive cleanliness one day and all out filth the next. That’s more drama than I need in my life.

Owen and Levi’s cleanliness meter is still unreliable. They’d be happy no matter what the house looked like. They still haven’t mastered the art of getting the forkful of rice or oatmeal straight into their mouths without leaving a smattering of crumbs beneath their chairs. And since the foreseeable infestation of mice is definitely not staying within the parameters of “clean enough to be healthy,” we can count them out of the equation. 

So that leaves me and Steve. We both tend to air on the side of “neat freak.” But the resulting nagging that accompanies this need for tidiness doesn’t make our children happy in the least. And since we’ve already determined that our children’s stance on cleanliness leaves us feeling less than content, we appear to be at an impasse. One option is to rewrite the phrase to read “This house is clean enough to be healthy and neither clean or dirty enough for anyone to be happy.” But it just doesn’t have the same ring. 

Just look the other way

So, we chose a second option. I avert my eyes when the recycle bin has exploded yet again so Levi and Owen can happily cut and paste toilet paper rolls and cereal boxes on the kitchen floor. Steve steps over the mess in the porch in order to greet his boys and hear their happy stories from a busy day. Caleb puts his school bag in his room because he knows it pleases his dad to come home to a tidy house. Drew blitzes his room every once in a while, folding up all his clothes because he knows it makes his mom happy. And Aiden retraces his trail of ‘bread crumbs’, since unfortunately for him, our life is not a fairy tale with birds that clean up the trail behind him. He consolidates his stuff into one gigantic pile in the corner of the kitchen because he knows that it makes everybody happy. Nobody has it their ideal way, but by being a little flexible and living in harmony we find a happiness that satisfies us all. 

Clean enough.  Dirty enough.  Happy enough. 


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Joanne Siepman
Joanne Siepman

I liked this plaque because when I got married my housecleaning didn’t live up to my mother-in-law’s standards. Luckily Krista’s dad got used to my way of doing things so we did have a happy home. Krista’s house is way neater than mine so she got some of her dad’s side of the family’s neatness. Love your stories Krista.


I see you have learned the valuable lesson that neither constant nagging or completely ignoring works, and the most important is the harmony part. Bryan’s sign in his room “this mess is a place” taught me that everyone processes mess differently. As usual, enjoyed your post. Also, amazed me how much “neater” the boys all become after they were married. Ha ha


Love your real life stories and hearing how you are navigating life. Maybe you can make a plaque with the last three phrases….I like them!