My daughter is having some of her lifelong friends over this afternoon. Even though I have known these kids since they were four, I made her promise to tidy up the house before they came. Once upon a time, I would have run around trying to do it myself, unconscious of my underlying belief that anything less than a pristine house meant I was somehow failing at life. This summer, I am releasing all that. My mother kept a spotless house when I was growing up. Everything in its place and all places artfully arranged. I have recently realized that in some part of my brain, I judge myself for not being able to keep an HGTV home. I look around my house and I feel as if I am failing. The expectations I have internalized just from watching my mother, the way she staged elegant dinner parties with such poise, her impeccable presentation of self day in, day out, that is the tyranny. But no one has actually imposed it on me—not my mother, certainly not my husband and children. I have imposed it on myself.
So I'm about to get real. My mother worked full time as I do. Sometimes she worked late into the night, showing homes for the real estate business she owned with her brother. The only way she could possibly have achieved such spectacular upkeep of her home was with the help of the housekeeper who came every weekday. Not to mention we lived in a spacious house with closets everywhere and garages and outside storerooms, so our living spaces never felt overrun. I live in an apartment with too few closets. We have a storage unit for which we pay monthly rent, and it cannot hold another thing, not a piece of paper, certainly not the plastic bins and suitcases I am looking at in my children's rooms right now.
Next month, after my brother and I do our level best to dispose of, give away, store and adopt my mother's personal effects from her house in St. Lucia, I am sure there will be even more stuff proliferating in our already crammed New York City apartment. This is just the way it is. It is not an indictment of me as my mother's daughter. It does not mean I am a failure at adult life. It just means I don't have a daily housekeeper to help me keep order and I don't have enough storage space, and one day I will do a huge mind-freeing purge, throwing out all of the things in my apartment that are no longer needed or useful but until then, it just is.