Q: My parents’ house is a horrible mess. There are piles of crap everywhere, some of which hasn’t been touched in 20 years, and going home actively causes me anxiety. Every time I go home for a holiday, I end up doing nothing but 45/15s — and they THANK me for it, but I just don’t want to go home anymore because I’ve become The Cleaning Lady. What do you suggest?
A: First, before everyone asks, a 45/15 is 45 minutes of cleaning followed by a 15-minute break. (A 20/10 is the same, but shorter.)
OK, to the problem at hand. You are not your parents’ cleaning lady. You don’t live in that home, and except to the point where what bothers your parents bothers you, their mess is not your problem. If going to their home causes you anxiety, either don’t go, stay in a hotel if that’s feasible, or get yourself mentally prepared to ignore the mess except as it directly involves you (clearing off where you sleep, washing dishes that you use, etc.). The fact that you go home for holidays tells me that you love your parents and your parents love you, but they’re becoming dependent on you to clean up their mess when you’re at their home. At this point, if you’ve moved out, you’re a guest. Cleaning their house is not your duty.
Still feel bad about the mess they live in? Get them a gift certificate for a cleaning service for the next gift-giving holiday. Offer to help, if you want, but set boundaries. In this situation, like in all situations, talking it out can only help. Let them know you feel taken advantage of, or that, while you don’t mind helping them out, they need to pitch in so it’s not you as the cleaning lady while they watch. To be totally honest, in your situation, if they wanted help with a clean-out, I’d probably ask for money. Not because I’m a cheap jerk (although…), but because the work you do in their house has value, and if you attach a dollar amount to it, it stops being something that they take for granted.
Long story short, their house is not your house, their mess is not your mess, and if you’re at the point where you’re feeling shitty about going home, you need to change your behavior or how you view those visits, otherwise you’re going to end up resenting your parents.