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I am married to 'Mr. Clean'

  • Story Highlights
  • Writer: Married to a man obsessed with cleanliness, yet chronically disorganized
  • Wife: Alphabetizes books, sorts clothes by color in closet
  • Husband: He's superior housekeeper; she falls short in scrubbing and scouring
By Sally Koslow
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Real Simple

(REAL SIMPLE) -- This morning my husband announced he'd had a dream about me. A sexual fantasy?

I am married to 'Mr. Clean'

Actually, a nightmare, in which I had deeply disappointed him. Had I neglected our children? Gained 200 pounds? Run away to Rome with Gabriel Byrne -- a predictable yet understandable choice?

Unless it was the latter, I decided, I did not want to hear about it --what good can come from such a conversation? But I had no other option.

In dreamland, he had walked into our kitchen and caught me washing the dishes with the sponge relegated, by our system, to wiping up grunge. This cleaning device is, in his mind, one molecule short of the Ebola virus, despite the fact that both of us sterilize it daily on the microwave's highest setting.

Dream Me vehemently denied my odious housekeeping. Dream Him waved the foul object in my face. "You're lying. I have evidence! The bad sponge has suds on it" were his last words before he woke in a cold sweat. Real Simple: 66 all-natural cleaning solutions

This nocturnal reverie came as no surprise. I am married to a man who is freakishly obsessed with cleanliness and yet chronically disorganized. After reading The New York Times, he will leave it not only out of order but also with sections crumpled and opened to whatever page last caught his fancy -- never, for the record, page one.

When he receives junk mail, he reads it, after which the torn envelope and its contents are strewn about, creating multiple piles of rubbish where there once was a conveniently disposable piece. The man rarely shuts the door of a closet, even after he has forgotten to hang his coat in it. Carbon footprints be damned -- he always fails to turn off the light or the TV in a room he has exited.

I choose not to discuss his boxer shorts.

And yet when my cleaning isn't up to his meticulous standards -- he notices a dog hair on the rug I've just vacuumed -- he reacts to my efforts with outrage and has even been known to wrest a vacuum cleaner from my hands to complete the task the "right" way. Real Simple: Easy storage solutions from A to Z

Then there's me. After reading the Times, I reorder its sections, which I daintily fold to prepare the newspaper for future users. I toss junk mail, unopened, into the recycling bin. I close cupboards. Closets, too, which I long ago discovered are handy storage nooks for clothes, which live on hangers. My undergarments land in a lingerie bag --the flowery one for light-colored items, black mesh for darks.

And yet my husband says he is the superior housekeeper. Why? Because I fall short in the scrubbing and scouring department, firmly believing that if the area behind the toaster gets sanitized only every six months or so, we will all live another day.

Glass-half-full people might think that our differences would complement each other. Hate to burst their bubble, but our housekeeping styles are often at odds. For example, I love to alphabetize my books and sort my clothes by color, while the big guy knows the best possible method for disinfecting the commode. My husband becomes unhinged at the sight of a poorly washed drinking glass.

On the other hand, I barely notice water stains and instead find considerable joy in fluffing and accessorizing. He is an alpha cleaner who has elevated everyday tasks to testosterone-driven, fun-sucking science and can't understand why I don't share his fascination. I like a home that is clean and pristine but have no desire to get it that way. Real Simple: 31 ways to makeover your closets

I trace my lack of interest in rigorous cleaning to many joyless hours spent in home economics, a required subject in my Fargo, North Dakota, junior high school. My classmates seemed to have popped out of the womb knowing how to darn and to de-ice, to hem and to hoe. I sprang from a different gene pool. My piecrust was dry; my dirndl skirt, lopsided; and my home-ec grades, middling.

I felt at home once I moved to Manhattan, where the rare woman who wants a hand-sewn dirndl finds a Fräulein to whip it up. But I hadn't counted on marrying a guy whose feminine side, as expressed through mops and Murphy Oil Soap, would be more highly evolved than my own.

I used to fret about our disconnect -- or, rather, how he might feel about it. Then I had an epiphany. It dawned on me that I could either let cleaning become an endless power struggle between my husband and me or -- I'm talking to you, Dr. Freud -- decide that a sponge is just a sponge. I realized, with a rush of liberation, that in most matters domestic, I will never get it right, and it was time I stopped trying.

I decided to let the chips (literally) fall where they may. While my mate buffs like Snow White, I will set a charming table and artfully arrange objects on the mantel. So be it.

My son and his girlfriend recently started sharing an apartment. I told him to think long and hard about the daily minutiae of living, because deal-breaking habits take root faster than bamboo. You start with "Darling, did you rinse those plates before you put them in the dishwasher?" and before you know it, you're yelling, "Moron, double-bag the stinking garbage -- it's starting to leak!"

Fortunately, I'm not worried about our son. If he has paid attention to his fatherly role model, he already knows how to concoct a poultice to remove red-wine stains from a marble countertop. And if his girlfriend is as smart as I think she is, she will sit back and let my boy knock himself out. When he gets dishpan hands, she will just smile and perhaps buy him a rich moisturizing lotion.

I will recommend a brand.

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