Do kids care if your house is dirty?

If my mother hated cleaning, she never admitted it to me. But she didn’t research or think much about cleaning techniques, like she did with other aspects of homemaking.

She was fussy about guests, who were never allowed in the kitchen; she had me for serving and clearing. I didn’t mind much, except when I didn’t get soup because it had boiled away–sometimes she calculated too carefully. She kept the living and dining rooms, along with the front entrance, exclusively for company (a luxury most of us Israelis can only dream of). The family used the side door; she often complained about their previous house, where you had to bring groceries in through the living room.

My own friends were welcome in the house and ate in the “breakfast room” off the kitchen, with the family.

By the time I was born she could have afforded hired help, and did occasionally, but she was too private a person to feel comfortable with someone else working in the house.

I wonder how much of an issue housekeeping was for her. Was the house really dirty, even before my mother developed a chronic illness when I was twelve? Was she ashamed of the house’s condition? If so, I wasn’t conscious of a problem and chalked up her foibles to anxiety regarding guests. Maybe there is a lesson here: If your own house isn’t so clean, chances are your kids don’t care and won’t remember.


  1. aidelmaidel says

    Oh Ho Ho, you have touched a very touchy subject for Jewish women.
    Personally, my kids don’t care what the house looks like, or how dirty it is.
    My standards have changed over the years.
    Once I was pregnant, I really stopped caring how my towels and underwear were folded, so long as someone else was doing it.
    Once I had a toddler and was pregnant, I stopped cooking anything that had a recipe that called for more than two steps and opening the cookbook counted as one of the steps.
    Once I had a toddler, a newborn, and was working, I gave up all pretense of cooking. Cleaning up toys after Shabbos meant sweeping it all into a big pile in the center of the room and sorting it out.
    Once I was a single mother of two children under the age of three, I stopped caring what the house looked like and just spent my free time on my children.
    Now, I have a cleaning lady once a week to do the deep cleaning, and I just try to keep things straight. My meals are simple and I make a patchke shabbos maybe 2-3 times a year and on yomtov. We are working on teaching everyone how to clean up after themselves.
    Personally, my mother was a complete and total slob and her house was disgusting. I try to at least keep some semblance of clean and hire a cleaning lady to clean the bathrooms (my least favorite chore). My husband washes dishes. I still do all the laundry (that was after I had a shirt that someone else washed in hot water and put in the dryer came out looking like it would fit a barbie doll), but I usually have the cleaning lady fold it and put it away or I have a marathon folding session with the kids putting it away.

  2. mominisrael says

    “Oh ho Ho,”
    We don’t do Christmas over here 🙂
    “you have touched a very touchy subject for Jewish women.”
    I am just getting started.

  3. If my own kids are at all representational, it has far more to do with the kid’s personality than what they see in the house. My oldest is a Felix Ungar (of the odd Couple) type and keeps his room immaculate. He also has taken upon himself to distribute chores to his less concerned children. I am not a neat freak myself but cannot stand the state of the bedroom shared by 2 of my kids, and every once in a while demand a clean up to remove at least some of the massive mess that piles up in ther.

  4. There is a Ms. Maven piece on perception of messi n the winter issue of Kallah Magazine. It is posted online as a PDF now and accessible from

  5. I love clean 🙂
    But you knew that…..

  6. Yes, with working and kids, standards must be lowered. But my kid’s rooms drive me insane. I have found the best solution is to keep their doors closed, but I insist they straighten up for Shabbat. Also they have to throw their laundry in the hamper, I certainly am not looking for their dirty laundry. But I hate it when the common areas (LR, DR, Kitchen) are a mess and am always after them to put away their stuff. A never-ending battle, but one that must be fought!

  7. Well, this is a topic I could write an entire novel about. I grew up in a home with not one but TWO live in maids. And a nanny. Yeah. So our house was always spotless, never a cobweb to be seen. As children, we were required to keep our rooms straight. We didn’t have to vacuum or dust or anything, but we had to keep the floors clear of stuff, the beds made, and everything hung up. Our rooms looked like magazine stories, when you wonder just where all the toys and games are hidden.
    When I grew up, I had no inkling of how to clean. I mean, I was completely and totally clueless. I still am pretty clueless. I know how to do it, but I don’t do it well myself, and I really hate it. So I have a cleaning lady that comes weekly. IT IS NOT ENOUGH. I also have two teenagers that are, by far, the biggest slobs in the world. Living with them causes me more anxiety over cleaning than anything else. I can’t STAND it. The mess drives me nuts. The dirty dishes drive me nuts. The papers everywhere drive me nuts. The fact that they have no idea of how to put anything AWAY drives me nuts.
    See, told you this was an open wound!
    My kids have no idea of what it is to live in a clean house. Because I’m disabled, I can’t keep up with the mess and it’s really horrible. I would rather die than have people come over, it’s that bad. Or at least it is to me. My kids don’t seem to notice at all, nor do their friends.
    I can’t wait until they go to college and I can rent a steam shovel and get all this crap out of here!

  8. My mother kept the house spotless; we had to clean every week–we took turns cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming the house, dusting. And, of course, we had to clean, dust, etc. our rooms. Every day we had to straighten and tidy them.
    I always hated the mess at my Aunt’s house.
    So yes, I guess I cared.
    I can’t keep the same neatness in my home, and it bothers me somewhat, but my home is never DIRTY. Just untidy.

  9. Yes, cleaning…
    My husband and I always remark, after the cleaner is here or we straighten up for guests, how nice it is to live in a clean house.
    Then, within hours (after our two girls get to things) it usually returns to its natural state…
    I can’t stand true dirt, so I try to tidy the kitchen at least once a day. But only once. I have absolutely no trouble sleeping with dirty dishes in the sink (or next to it- our sinks in this rental are the size of doll sinks).
    With two preschoolers, being pregnant and working, it’s all i can do to crawl off the couch at the end of the day to get to bed. Cleaning just doesn’t enter the equation.
    Luckily, my husband is cool about things, despite coming from a home where his mother washed the floor MULTIPLE times a week (my floor is lucky to see a sponga (israeli for mop) once a week. ) My MIL is a fanatical floor washer. I’ll get out a mop a few times a week when I have a spitty baby crawling around (don’t you love it when they spit up and then drag around the gook while crawling?)
    I won’t even get into all the psycho emotional issues this topic brings up- being stuck with chores, feeling like i don’t get enough help, etc…
    I will throw out a question to MII and all commenters: Do you think a husband’s work outside the home exempts him from housework? Do you think a wife’s working status effects this decision?

  10. Regular Anonymous says

    I hate housework. I can deal with grocery shopping, cooking, laundry and straightening up but I hate washing floors and/or dishes.
    I’m fortunate to have help but basically all it saves me from is cleaning the bathrooms and one day a week of no dishes. My kids help a bit – they are responsible for getting their clothes to the washing machine and putting the clean ones away. They set and clear the table and sometimes wash dishes.
    Theoretically I would like the house to be neater/cleaner but not enough to make me actually do it. I like the living room/dining room to look nice when Shabbat starts and that’s about it.
    I mean, hey, there are books to read and the internet to surf.

  11. “I will throw out a question to MII and all commenters: Do you think a husband’s work outside the home exempts him from housework? Do you think a wife’s working status effects this decision?”
    I have been a SAHM for 17.5 years. Prior to that, I worked for 6 or so years of our married lives. My husband was first a student in the U and the Kollel, then a graduate student, and then a full-time salaried employee. At no time in our marriage do I recall him exempting himself from helping with the household work, besides periods in time when his work had him out of town for most of the week. What is the diff if the woman works inside the home or not – it’s not any one specific spouse’s “job” to maintain the cleanliness and order of the home. That is, theoretically speaking. In practice, it’s up to the woman to either get the job done, or do the delegating.
    As far as keeping a clean home: I think you should do what you are comfortable with. While I LOVE a clean home, and am willing to work for it and give up things (extra time on Fridays) in order to achieve it, I don’t think this tact is for everyone. Who cares what anyone thinks about your house, as long as you and your family are happy in it?
    That having been said, we do move the fridge and stove every week, and usually move the sofas as well….
    I learned how to clean from the Yemenite, Moroccan and Tunesian women that I taught while in the army. Those homes were CLEAN!!!!!

  12. Tamiri, your point is made in a book I just read about husbands. Most don’t notice mess as much as their wives do, which is in part why women jump up to clean even after a full day’s work while men may be able to relax. I am generalizing here, of course. There are many exception, some to be found in my own household.

  13. Whoa, you move the fridge and stove once a week? We’re lucky to get to those at Pesach.
    Our ozeret moves the sofas once a week. Otherwise, forget it, we’d never get to that.
    As for husbands helping, I think the key is that even when they are willing and able to help out, in the end, it is, as you said, the wife’s job to delegate or get the job done. It would never occur to my husband to do the dishes in the sink unless I asked him to specifically. He will gladly do them, it’s just that he is completely blind to the huge pile unless I point it out specifically.
    The problem for me ends up being that i’m not always so good at delegating or just outright asking.
    I do know men ( my FIL specifically) who think they are completely exempt from housework. But that just might be another generation.

  14. Abbi, as time goes on we are realizing that men and women are different. As annoying as it may be, they REALLY don’t see the dishes in the sink or the socks on the floor or the newspapers strewn all over the living room. However, after you harp on the subject for 15-20 years, you may actually see a slight difference. The dishes may get done without you asking, etc. Just be patient. One great pro of marrying young is that you grow together and learn together and grow together, including (hopefully) in the area of cleaning.
    And yes, I really do move the fridge and stove 1x week. It’s no big deal, especially in Israel, where the floors are tile and everything slides nicely. It’s a bit anal, I’ll admit, but it brings me real pleasure not to have accumulated dust bunnies.
    I don’t think it matters if the kids like the house as it is or not. If they like clean, they can help. If they like dirty, they have to abide by the house rules. Even if they don’t like clean but mom does… they have to help uphold the standards.

  15. Kids often turn out different than the parents if any trait is too much to the right or left. I try to maintain a clean, but lived in home. So, I clean as I go.
    When I move from one room to the next, I take something with me. And I clean in small increments and involve the children. Instead of attacking an entire bathroom, I take five minutes to clean the countertop or clean the toilet. When the kitchen floor needs cleaned (the biggest project IMO), I kick everyone out of the house or down to the basement and attach the project for 15 minutes.
    When the bathroom mirror needs cleaned up, I spray the mirrored closet doors too and my son gets to work. When I bring the laundry up for folding, even the baby helps put away socks (and love to do it). Three year olds can learn to put their own shirts on hangers and fold towels. Kids can be trained that they need to clean up spills immediately.

  16. What a topic. I don’t even know where to begin.
    My mom always kept a neat, tidy house. She was never compulsive about it, but the place always looked good. Except my room, of course.
    We also had a living/dining room that was for guests only. Come to think of it, it’s still for guests only! My parents never use that room, and I think it’s a shame. I’m glad we don’t have that silliness in this country. I think it’s a waste to leave those kind of rooms unused.
    And…I’m not that great at cleaning. As a SAHM, my house should be spotless at all times, right? Nope. It’s not TOO horrible, but you couldn’t eat off my floor. To the lady who moves the stove and fridge every week…I’m in awe. Our oven timer wouldn’t stop buzzing for days and when the guy came to fix it and moved the oven away from the wall, I wanted to sink through the floor from shame.
    I don’t think my kids care how the house looks, but after I make them tidy the living room or toy room I always ask “Doesn’t the house look nicer now?” and they have to agree. Most of the clutter is theirs (and the clutter is what truly makes me ill) and I’m tired of picking it up.
    I don’t usually ask my husband for help (he’s exhausted when he comes home from work), but sometimes he feels like pitching in on his own- and I really do appreciate those times! Sometimes after we eat Shabbat dinner and I’m semi-comatose on the couch, he’ll clear the table (with help from the kids), take care of the dishes, put the food away. What a guy! He also does the food shopping every once in a while- a chore which I’ve come to hate.

  17. westbankmama says

    When I was a kid I didn’t notice that our house was a real mess – I only realized it when I went to other kids houses and saw the difference. On the other hand my mother was very mellow and didn’t freak out at us, which I also only noticed when I was at other people’s houses! On the whole I appreciated a calm mother, and the mess didn’t bother me.
    I am a slightly better cleaner than my mother, but nowhere near as good as most of the Israeli women that I know.

  18. Being a SAHM does not mean you have to be a neat freak just as being a working mom doesn’t mean you have to be a slob. It’s a matter of preferance and tolerance. I prefer clean and don’t tolerate dirt and mess too well. It makes me antsy to come home to a messy house. That is me. If it doesn’t bother you – then don’t waste time on it, life is too precious.

  19. Mother of 4 says

    Cleaning isn’t that difficult. The hardest and most time consuming part is tidying the house so that it can be cleaned. The solution that I found is that every evening before the kids go to bed they must tidy the house. One sweeps the floor, one tidies the kitchen, one washes the dishes, and one checks the bathrooms and tidies the salon. It doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes this way. Every month they change over, and so benefit (hopefully) from the criticism they gave and received the previous month, such as – don’t leave your hair stuff in the bathroom, put your books back on the bookshelf etc.

  20. mominisrael says

    I’m reading all the comments–we all seem to have a lot of “baggage” regarding cleaning. I have the next post on the topic written in my head.

  21. This is such a loaded topic that we could all go on about it for weeks!
    It depends a lot on your personal mess tolerance level, and also on the ages of your kids.
    I find that my tolerance for mess is low because I grew up with an obsessively clean and neat mom. There’s literally never anything out of place, the telephone is wiped with Windex right after someone hangs it up, and every single room is dusted by about 5:15 every morning (my parents are very early risers).
    Granted, I can recognize now that that’s way overboard. I’m the youngest; I don’t think things were this intense when we were young, and there’s a significant age difference between my brothers and I (3.5 years, and then 4.5 years), so multiple little ones who are unable to help keep things somewhat tidy was not an issue my own mother faced.
    Here in the U.S., lots of people I know make the move from an apartment to a house, and many times, find that the bigger the space, the more shmutz-clutter potential there is. I’m glad that our space is compact enough so as not to require that much major effort to keep things clean, at least clean and tidy enough that if someone were to stop by unannounced, I could quickly stash a handful of things away and feel ready.