Empty nest? Not a chance
Saskia Sarginson’s kids refuse to clean up after themselves, so she downs dusters and goes on strike
Afriend mentions that both her twentysomething daughters have returned home for a few months and wonders if she should be charging them rent. I am expecting the “discuss and compare” conversation about the joys and annoyances of living with adult children, when she adds: “Of course, they do contribute £10 each to pay our cleaner.”
I choke on my wine. “They do?” Although I have employed a cleaner at times, months pass with me cleaning the house myself. The problem is that, while tidying, dusting and shoving the vacuum under the legs of my oblivious offspring, I become progressively more and more bad-tempered. Red-faced and cross, I end up snarling at everyone.
Ed begs me to hire a cleaner again. I am resistant, because we once had a perfect cleaner and I can’t see how we will replace her. Each week, Maria transformed the place from hovel to home. It was bliss. Then she moved. Ever since, the mounting mess has left me feeling murderous towards my family. After my friend’s startling revelation, I suggest the kids might contribute to a new cleaner’s wages. They look confused. “But we’d never employ a cleaner if it was up to us,” they protest.
“I didn’t ask to have my room cleaned,” Megan says.
“Yeah,” Jake says. “And I don’t like people touching my stuff.”
“Well, dirt doesn’t magic itself away,” I retort.
With four young adults in the house, the obvious solution is that they all help officially with the housework. It just needs to be organised. I call a family meeting and show my children a list of essential weekly chores I have drawn up, then divide the jobs. The arguments start immediately. The girls point their fingers at Jake. “He should be the one who does the bathroom. He’s the one who makes it filthy.”
“Oh really?” He rubs his cropped scalp. “So how come the sink is blocked with long hair all the time?”
“But who flooded the floor, then left soaking towels in the linen basket?”
“Who leaves underwear hanging over the bath? And,” Jake says, getting into his stride, “who stains the bath every time they dye some bit of fabric? It has been blue for months. And it comes off. Parts of me have gone grey.”
“Shut up!” I shout above the racket. “Maria had to deal with all that. And she didn’t make any of the mess.” “But she got paid.”
“If you don’t help me, then we’ll just have to live in a squalid dump, because I’m not doing it on my own any more,” I say, but this doesn’t get the response I had hoped for. My children seem happy to live in a squalid dump. It feels like a challenge. “OK, then,” I say. “I’m on strike. And so is Ed.”
Who stains the bath every time they dye a bit of fabric? It has been blue for months. It comes off on me. Parts of me have gone grey
My list, pinned to the noticeboard, is ignored. The vacuum cleaner stays in the cupboard. Washing up piles high. The carpet becomes matted with dog hair. I retreat to my bedroom – the only space I am keeping clean. I restrain Ed from doing housework, too. Naturally tidy, he is finding the mess difficult to cope with.
He reminds me how undomesticated I used to be. “Did you help your mother with the housework when you lived at home?” he asks. My mother told me to enjoy myself while I was young; there would be time for cleaning later, she said. As a result, I was shamefully lazy. But times have changed. I left home at 18. My children are still living with me in their mid-20s and I am determined they should help.
It takes four weeks before I come home to find the draining board clear, sounds of vacuuming upstairs, and Jake emptying the overflowing bin. “Nobody else ever does this,” he snaps.
Megan, red-faced and cross, lugs the vacuum into the room. “Zac had better not drop food on the carpet,” she says. “It took ages to clean.”
“Is Maria ever coming back?” Lily asks wistfully.
“No,” I say, “But, luckily, I still have my list.”