Column: If cleanliness next to godliness, God help us


The room was reportedly clean and the floor was indeed clear of rubble.

Thank you, dear Jesus, for I have been saved. The children have listened. The home is free of the sin of Disney clutter.

Then I opened the drawer. Such an innocent action. A mild move, really, to put in their proper place a pair of clean pants. That’s when what began as a wondrous accomplishment became so torturously routine. The room was not clean, unless you adhere to the guidelines of hoarders and swine. In my place, I prefer standards set forth by human beings with a hint of self-respect and an affection for Good Housekeeping.
The drawer was supposed to contain children’s pajamas.

Instead, it included the rudimentary contents of a sidewalk sale. Sweatpants that belong to a 9-year-old. A leotard, property of a 7-year-old. Two T-shirts, balled so tightly of course that by the time they become de-wrinkled the 7-year-old will have children to whom she can give what will then be throwback tops. One sock. Another sock. No, they did not match. A pair of my wife’s pants. How the — yeah, me either. A pair of cheer shoes. Yes, shoes. In a drawer. Squeezed into the cavity so snugly that when I extended the draw to its maximum depth, the shoes sprang forth like a Jack in the box.

The soundtrack of the moment of parental failure would not have been the musical dinging that corresponds with the classic children’s toy. What I needed was the “Price Is Right” loser horn.

I’d been had.

Instructed to clean their rooms, my three daughters scurried about their personal spaces with Amish efficiency. Less than five minutes. Done, Dad! They know what this means to me. Ask my 9-year-old what makes her father happy, and she’ll say two things: a) eating ice cream and b) clean rooms. Sadly, this is accurate. Organization — tidiness, structure, the complete and total absence of chaos — makes Dad happy. I create to-do lists merely to savor the satisfaction that comes with striking off tasks. Tie shoes. Did it! I’ll fly by the seat of my pants only if an appointment has been properly scheduled and an instruction manual is included in the price.

My coexistence with a third-grader, first-grader and preschooler makes achieving this peace of mind about as plausible as Cinderella working part-time at a place called “Night Moves.” There are socks in the vents, crumbs in the bathtub, textbooks in the toy box. Lest I try, because even if the dry-erase board doesn’t state that “CLEAN ROOMS” must be accomplished — and thus gleefully erased — by bedtime, the obsessive-compulsive mind mandates such regimen.

“When you’re on your own, you can live amid filth,” I tell the girls. “But as long I’m paying the mortgage, you’re not allowed to be slobs.”

(Technically, my wife pays the mortgage since she makes more money than me. But her side of the bed is lined with jeans and graduate school instructions and cups, so we’ll leave her out of this. That’s what these parentheses are for.)

My daughters often try to amuse their father — often when they’re bribed with Blizzards or threatened with being clubbed — by properly filing away their possessions. They let me discard artwork and 100 percent spelling tests and the occasional stuffed animal. But their claims of cleanliness must pass inspection, and they’re always looking for a loophole.

It’s not like the shortcuts are limited to their rooms.

They brush their teeth like most of us polish furniture. One swipe. Cleaning agent optional.

They certainly don’t read for the mandatory 30 minutes without pausing to daydream about cupcakes.
Wash their whole bodies? Yeah, right. A while back, I told my 7-year-old I was going to take a quick shower, wash only my hands and feet. She said, “Oh, OK” and let it go. As if it was normal. Hands and feet on Mondays. Torso on Tuesdays. One section per day, like when you follow a weight-lifting schedule.
With room cleanup duties, though, you can’t hide a lack of progress behind a curtain.

So they mostly unsuccessfully camouflage Barbies under the cover of size 8 tank-tops in the corners of the closet and blame the failed mission on their 4-year-old sister. Move quick, they urge each other.

“You throw away the pretzel bag,” one says.


“Whatever, major loser,” one sighs before squeezing a tennis ball into the thongs of a flip-flop then turning the footwear upside-down under a Magna Doodle and raising her hands in victory.

The other stuffs mom’s pants into the pajama drawer, grunts it shut and likewise thinks she’s done good.

“Finished, Dad!”

So long as I don’t open anything, the room is spotless and I’m halfway to happiness. All we need is ice cream.

Jason Recker is the news editor at The Herald. Writing this column was on his to-do list. His email is

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