As a child, I knew what that meant. My mom would put us to work picking up clutter, vacuuming the carpet, and cleaning the kitchen, while she ran to the pantry to survey our stores and choose ingredients for a meal worthy of visiting dignitaries. The house took on a shine that it never wore when it was just the five of us, and we gathered around the table to marvel at the pristine tablecloth and the regal centerpiece looking like some foreign piece of art sitting there, where, on normal days, we folded laundry, did homework, and played with Legos.
Now, as an adult, I also love to invite people over for dinner, and the ritual is much the same. I press Paul and the kids into service to clean the apartment from stem to stern, trying to see it through a stranger’s eyes and discovering dirt in places I usually overlook, like on the baseboards and inside the stove’s fume hood. I scrub the toilet, sweep the floors, eradicate the rapidly reproducing dust bunny population, clean the tub (as if dinner guests are going to take a shower while they’re here), and order all the kids’ toys confined to their room for the duration. I even light candles to make it smell as if I bake.
Then, since I used up all my time cleaning instead of cooking, we order pizza. But that’s another post.
The point is that while I enjoy special occasions and inviting new friends and acquaintances over to showcase my masterful housekeeping and pizza ordering skills, when it comes to socializing, my favorite moments are those I spend with my Dirty House Friends.
Dirty House Friends are the ones you call up on a whim to ask, “What are you doing? Come over and watch Phantom of the Opera with me!” And they come, despite the fact that you’ve made them watch Phantom of the Opera six times already (rewinding all the good parts with Gerard Butler.) They sit on the couch next to your unfolded laundry with their feet resting on the wooden blocks and puzzle pieces and Happy Meal toys that are scattered around the living room like shrapnel from an explosion in Santa’s workshop, and they don’t see a thing. You never say “Sorry about the mess!” to a Dirty House Friend, because they don’t care, and when you’re with them, neither do you.
Dirty House Friends let you glimpse their clutter, too. I always rejoice when a friendship crosses the boundary of company clean into the intimacy of Dirty House-ness. When I walk, invited, into a friend’s house to see crusty dishes in the sink and stacks of papers scattered over the dining room table, I smile inwardly, knowing that I have stepped into the inner sanctum of my friend’s genuine living space, her real and disheveled and authentic life.
And that’s what I love most about Dirty House Friends. A friend who’s not put off by my messy house won’t be scared away by my messy life. A friend like that can take it when you lose your keys, lose your temper, lose your mind. A friend like that will be around when you’ve really screwed up, passing over recriminations in favor of a much needed hug and some help in picking up the pieces, knowing that you’ll be there when the pieces are hers. A Dirty House Friend won’t think you’re a bad mom when you drop the kids off at her house just to get an hour or two alone. She isn’t freaked out when you burst into tears, and the word “overshare” doesn’t apply to her. She’ll take you seriously when you tell her to call anytime, and the resulting conversations will cover everything from peanut butter brands to deep spiritual struggles.
A Dirty House Friend sees the clutter in your home, in your mind, and in your life, and loves it all. Loves you, the you that lies beyond your Yankee candles and your clean baseboards.
So if you’re thinking of inviting me over, do me a favor. Don’t bother to clean. Let’s just clear a space in the mess, pull up some chairs, order pizza, and talk.
Let the dust bunnies live to see another day.
*Dedicated to my own dear Dirty House Friends. You are such a blessing to me!