It’s almost embarrassing how frequently the topic of “housework” (and especially dishwashing) seem to crop up in Narcissism Meets Normalcy. Now that I think of it, my very first article for the Huffington Post was also about housekeeping. But then again, this can be a very volatile topic, even a weapon, in the hands of narcissists. So let’s just deal with it once-and-for-all in Three (Not Very Easy) Steps.

  1. They are going to judge you by your house and housekeeping.
  2. You cannot pass their judgement no matter how hard you try.
  3. Give up and go No Contact, if at all possible.

That’s really the only solution.

I was inspired to write this article when a Facebook friend wrote about their narcissist’s attitude about mops. That’s right. You heard me correctly:mops! Those fuzzy, floppy things used to clean a floor. My friend wrote…

My [narcissist] mom never believed in mops. She scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees. When I left home, I bought a Bee Mop. I mopped floors at work, so why shouldn’t I use a mop in my own home? She said I was being lazy. I had lots of arguments like that over the years with my mom.

Another friend wrote…

NM martyred herself with housework like this. She would never have an electric vacuum cleaner, scrubbed the floors on hands and knees, and expected this to be part of what we would do as adults. When I bought gloves to do the dishes (no dishwasher, she didn’t believe in them), she called me weak, and pathetic. When I announced I was thinking of getting a cleaner to help out in my home, I was a failure, couldn’t keep a clean house, was typical of the weak character person I had become. I think she was secretly jealous.
If you think that something so workaday, pedestrian and innocent as washing dishes or mopping a floor is immune from narcissism, you and I need to have a chat about that bridge in Brooklyn! If narcissists can weaponize food and sex, they can certainly weaponize dish-washing! Especially dishwashing.
Once upon a time, oh, I must’ve been sixteen or seventeen, my parents were having a minor fuss. Dad had this brilliant idea to sit me down on the living room futon to observe their conversation so I could learn how a married couple resolves minor disagreements. Marriage 101, if you will.
Now, I thought this was a spectacularly terrible idea because, well, I knew all about their “conflict resolution skills” (insert snort of derision here) and had the PTSD to prove it. My mother also didn’t want to have a marital discussion in front of me which shows good boundaries. But we were overruled by the Head of the House…of course. “No, no, no, it’ll be fine,” he said.
It wasn’t “fine”!
Half an hour later, he was dredging up old hurts from the 1970s. And this is where “weaponized dishwashing” comes into play.”Well! Back when we were first married,” he lashed out at my mom, “you’d let the dishes stack up and only wash them once a week!”
In the only blip of feminism my mom ever showed, she retorted (after he’d stormed out of the room, unfortunately), “Well, he worked full time just as I did and he didn’t wash ’em either. Why was it just my job!?” Bravo, Mom.
But let’s face it, Ladies, the housework does tend to fall to us. Sneer if you will at “traditional gender roles,” but the past treads heavily on the heels of the present and narcissistic mothers and grandmothers will judge us by their role in life, especially if they were a homemaker. For narcissistic women, the state of your home IS how you’re judged and judged harshly. We all know that.
Personally, I embrace and enjoy my role as homemaker and self-styled personal chef for my husband in addition to entrepreneur and writer. How we perform our jobs, at home and at work, forms a part of our self-esteem. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. I think that’s a good thing. If it didn’t, what would inspire us to do well and dissuade us from being slobs? So it makes sense that, to a degree, we only feel as good about ourselves as the state of our carpet and kitchen sink.
But on the other hand, as narcissists use any and all failures, real or imagined, important or utterly nonsensical, to make themselves feel superior to others, why would house-and-kitchen work be out-of-bounds!?! They will give us the “White Glove Test” and we will come up lacking. They want us to. They need us to!
You can bust your ass and lose your sanity cleaning window frames with Q-tips (true story!!! my mother’s dental hygienist’s mother used to do this) so you can’t be criticized, so you’re narcissist will be impressed, but I’m telling you…you’re wasting your life and your precious time!!! They’ll find something to criticize because theywant to. A house, even a tiny hermetically sealed house, has too many corners, too many ledges, too many surfaces for one sane person to keep all of them surgically clean at all times especially if you want to have any kind of life, or joy or career or hobbies besides cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.
That’s one of the best things about going No Contact. The people who liked to judge us by our house are now denied entre to said house. The people who changed into their “dirty clothes” when they arrived at my house just because I…horror! had a dog, are no longer welcome! We’ve removed the fodder for their criticism, taken away their ability to do the White Glove Test. Simultaneously, we’ve removed their power to make us lose our minds plying mop, vacuum and feather duster.
I remember watching my mother turn into Someone Else when the threat of her (very judgmental, inhumanly-clean, narcissistic) mother visiting our home reared its ugly head. She would lose her shit, in the nicest possible way and for the best possible reason: to live up to her mother’s insanely high standards for housekeeping. To not give her very judgmental mother any fodder for gossip. After all, her mom responded to the request to “call first before coming over” with a very haughty retort, “Well, my house is always ready for company” or words to that effect. Grrrrrrr.
I caught that bug from my mom. Even though my mother and I had a solemn pact to not hyper-clean before visiting each other’s homes, and we never judged each other’s housekeeping, I have a hunch we both freaked out before visits anyways. My husband can testify I’d hyper-clean and get extremely tense before my parents came over. I just couldn’t help it! It didn’t help that Mom made me take a video of my whole house to show to her mother. And when I moved again, oh! Everybody wanted pictures of the new cottage, even though I hadn’t had a moment to clean or repaint. It all felt like an invasion into my privacy! My home, my castle, buzz off.
The final straw that broke this camel’s back was when my dad twitted me
about not having a dishwasher at the cottage. With a huge guffaw of snarky laughter he hooted sarcastically, “How’s that workin’ out for ya!?! Ha, ha, ha.” I never really spoke to him again. It was just one so-called “tease” too many, out of thousands of teases, most of them containing a kernel of truth cruelly couched in humor. To this day, my parents have never set foot in my home and they never will.
That’s why I love No Contact so much. Like Giovanni assured Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, “Listen here, Joe: er, nobody is come, nobody is go; absolutely nobody.” And nobody means no more judging!
Narcissists will judge you for your housekeeping. You can’t win. Even if you are winning, they’ll never admit it. So just go through the motions. In my world, that generally means trying to wash dishes every day (except Saturday), vacuuming and dusting once a week, scrubbing the toilet once a week and changing the sheets every week or so. I’m not dogmatic. Changing the sheets can get a little hairy when you have to unload three half-chewed bones, two soggy teddy bears, two snoring dogs, one somersaulting kitten, one kitten who’s trying to eat your hair and a dry oak leaf (that somehow migrated its way into bed) to change your bedsheets…so forgive me if I’m a little “round cornered” on the whole cleaning thing. I’ve got better things to do and bigger fish to fry. But if I see a cobweb, a dusty surface, a cloudy window, a sticky floor or a grayish-looking wall, I’ll grab a Lysol wipe and make short work of it. Screw diamonds! It’s Lysol wipes that are a girl’s best friend!!!

Take comfort! On page 34 of Julia Child’s autobiography, My Life in France, a photo of her stove in France shoes a thick layer of dust where stove-met-floor. I find that terribly comforting!

But hey!!! You and I would much rather have a rich life full of cluttery hobbies, houseplants dropping leaves and happy pets wildly scratching dander from behind their ears than a perfectly clean house and a perfectly antiseptic life. (I lived that life for thirty years. It sucked!) Think about it from the perspective of gratitude. Dirty dishes mean you have delicious food to eat. Dirty laundry means you have sheets to rest your body, towels to wash and dry your body and clothes to cover your body. Dirty floors mean you have a shelter. And a dog vomiting up unchewed macaroni at 3 a.m. in your bed means that, well, um, it means that when they’re not barfing they have their nice, warm soft furry back leaning up against yours as you sleep.
And now, go! Go live your nice happy life. Don’t waste time on hyper-cleaning. You’ve got better things to do and only one life to live. Don’t be the crazy Q-tip lady! Leave that to the narcissists. You can’t impress them anyway so why try? Haven’t you given them enough of your precious time?
As my neighbor and I once reassured each other to great shouts of laughter, “We’re mop ladies. If it can’t be cleaned from the end of a long stick, it can just stay dirty! We refuse to get up-close-and-personal with dirt. It’s not worth it.”

Photo by Daniel M. Hendricks