I'll come clean: When turning attention to housework, I would just as soon keep turning. I like to keep things tidy, but I'm not exactly a houseworkaholic.

Still, with the approach of autumn and the changing colors of the trees, maybe I can turn a new leaf. Some people spring with enthusiasm into spring cleaning, so I'm trying to keep my chin up and not tumble down into a funk about fall fastidiousness.

After all, what's the use in moping about mopping, or getting sucked into complaints about vacuuming? I don't want to drone on like a beleaguered worker bee.

I also don't mean to make sweeping generalizations, but when wielding a broom in my hands I'd say I'm pretty good as far as men go.

My siblings and I were raised with the understanding that we would need to do various household chores to earn a modest allowance. Sad to say, now, as a grownup with a full-time job, I don't get an allowance any more (although my wife and I occasionally allow ourselves a treat for work well done).

But somewhere along the line, another form of incentive for housework soaked into my consciousness like soapsuds in a sponge - the possibility of avoiding utter humiliation.

Nothing prompts me to grab a dust cloth quite so quickly as the imminent arrival of guests. Sure, a lived-in look and a certain amount of disarray is natural and comfortable. But even among long-time friends, I want to make a pleasant impression.

It's not that ordinary conditions are grungy, with sty-like floors or shelves caked with toxic waste. In fact, I'd go so far as to say my apartment is not even slightly slovenly.

We do keep things clean ... but with guests on the way, I'm keen to notice things I had not seen. "How long has this pile of papers been here?" "So this is where that missing sock has been hiding." "Why did I put my Firesign Theater tape here under the bathroom sink?"

It's enough to make me wonder if, in cleaning, I might find other long lost objects - the Holy Grail, say, or the goggles of Amelia Earhardt.

This process of discovery I undergo is distracting and time-consuming - qualities not favorable when cleaning chores linger and the arrival of guests is nigh. I have a job to do, but it's tough to stay on task. The situation is like having a homework assignment due for school, but to get to it you first need to devour a wall of marshmallows.

This analogy begs a question - not "What do marshmallows have to do with anything?" nor "Has this guy finally lost his mind?" but a more pressing issue: "Why is cleaning house known as housework while completing assignments for school known as homework?"

Maybe my dread of homework explains my dread of housework. In school I tried not to procrastinate, but doing so presented a challenge.

Homework, like housework, looms with a seemingly unfair consumption of time. As work, by definition, homework and housework pale to other activities sounding more fun, such as watching a movie, or even rummaging through a closet.

Furthermore, both homework and housework never seem to go away. Even once this task is done, eventually more arrives and must be done again. Why?

Life presents few tidy answers, just as it presents few walls of marshmallows. But I do know this - if I were asked why I left an assignment for school undone, I would not shirk responsibility and use the age-old explanation, "The dog ate my homework." And as for leaving housework undone, I can only say I have no real dog - and therefore, once again, I have no real excuse.

Brad Bolchunos adds that in some cases, if one owns a real dog, one must "work like a dog" to keep a house clean - or else run the risk of finding oneself in the doghouse. But even with two cats, he says, keeping a place clean can get rather hairy. So when guests are due and he feels he must take responsibility for some measure of housework, he does not sweep it under the rug.


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