How to Clean Your House: A Passive-Aggressive Guilter's Five-Step Guide

by Maia Butler

It's finally summer, but there's no time to lie in the sun with a cocktail in your hand. There's a pile of publications on your desk just waiting for your article submissions, and now is the time to get this work done. But the house doesn't clean itself, and your family members are tap dancing across your radar like they don't have anywhere else to be. So how do you get your work done, and rope your family into cleaning the house? With passive-aggressive guilt, of course.

1) Be in your zone, minding your biz

Isn't this how all the best horror movies start? It's summer, so you're writing. Your kid wakes up and guilts you into watching a Redbox movie that really needs to be watched before the free coupon code from inside her cereal box expires. See how guilting begets guilting? Just wait, you'll see. You manage to watch with half an eyeball while moderating an online writing support group (read: cheerleading and sharing motivating Pinterest pins), and outlining some writing tasks of your own. Just about the time you can't think of a way to procrastinate with metapreparation any longer, you get into your zone, starting to make revisions to a piece you've been working on. This is when your husband comes downstairs and gets passive-aggressive about all the couch sitting your kid's been doing this summer.

2) Get caught up in the passive-aggressive cross fire

Husband fixes his breakfast and cranks up his audio book at the kitchen table. Are you the only one who lives here? And recognizes how "cozy" our little townhouse is: too small for a movie in one room and an audiobook in the next? While you're writing? You let out a few huffs and sighs, cross and uncross legs and arms a few times. Toss down your writing implement and shuffle your papers on the TV table that holds your writing work, summer themed "tropical pens" (because writing paraphernalia is no joke), and rapidly cooling (third) cup of coffee. Exchange a brief glance with Kid, who totes notes what's going down. (If she don't know me by nowwwww...) Movie goes on pause as you tromp into the kitchen to reach around Husband for broom and dustpan. Since your concentration is shot, you may as well rage clean. Old habits, and all that.

3) If you don't have the energy to beat 'em (in either sense of the word), join 'em

Now the fun begins. (Are we all having fun yet?) After sweeping around Husband, back to the living room to give Kiddo the motivation she needs to switch her laundry over. Stopping to pee, you just can't, because the three cups of coffee are just what you needed to finally get sick of peeing on a toilet bowl that looks like that. Huff and puff when the downstairs bathroom cabinet is empty of cleaner (slam the cabinet door over the noise of the audiobook) and tromp upstairs to find it, and clean that toilet bowl while you're at it. Instruct Kid, who has emptied dryer to move her sheets over, to FOLD the towels that she emptied. You can tell by her defeated sigh that she knows what time it is — the surprise quarterly house clean, whether it needs it or not. There's a lot they'll do that will get on your nerves, but they'll be so guilted about your them-inspired rage-clean that they won't let you clean alone.  

4) Realize with glee that your passive-aggression skills trump those of your opponents, and see the results roll in

After doing the toilet, sink, and mirror in the downstairs bathroom, and listening with satisfaction to Kiddo tromping around upstairs in her room (now hanging up laundry, now vacuuming cat hair), exit the bathroom to find Husband has moved his audiobook-playing phone to rest on the top of the coffee maker and is doing!!! dishes!!! Quick, back to the living room to conceal your smirk. If you can't get your writing work done, there are other things needing doing that coffee helps you to achieve. And, if your irritation vibes seethe out in a wide enough vicinity, there are helpers at the ready.   

5) Sit back and enjoy your work

This circle of family life ends where it begins: on the couch, in your writing spot. With a fresh cup of coffee, look out into the garden where birds twitter and lizards hop, and a satisfying Southern storm is brewing. The rain will come, and with it, wash away all the guilt and passive-aggression of the morning. Your house is clean(er) and your dear husband will soon be off to work, and when Kiddo finishes her room, you'll be back to your movie, and hopefully your writing mojo. 

Maia Butler is an academic who reads and writes about black women's literature. When not teaching and researching, she is an avid Netflix watcher, moderately successful gardener, and an especially brilliant overthinker of social interactions. She lives with her beloved husband, teenaged daughter, and cat in Louisiana. You can find her writing about diaspora, literature, and academia at