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Diane Tarantini: Confessions of a former neat freak


By Diane Tarantini

Living room as haven. (Photo by Diane Tarantini)

Confession: I peeked inside my daughter’s diary once.

I didn’t intend to, but there it was, wide open on her bedside table. Instead of disclosing her crush-of-the-moment, it read, “I wish Mom didn’t care so much about how the house looks.”

Her secret ran me through like a skewer. The constant clutter in our home -- a shoe or three here; 17 Beanie Babies and their dress-up outfits there; 30-something, stepped-on-then-cursed-over Legos -- was a never-ending annoyance to me, but I never realized my frequent requests to tidy up might be hard on our kids.

I didn’t want our children to remember me forever as a demanding slave-driver, so I let my older daughter’s words extinguish my desire for domestic perfection. “People say they’re going to stop by when they’re in the neighborhood,” I reasoned, “but they never do. I may as well stop being a spazz about it.”

Other events helped me relax with regards to the home front. Years ago, Tony Bear told me, “If you ever have to make a choice between cleaning the house or playing with the kids, by all means, pick the kids.” Those are quite possibly my favorite words of his, besides, “I love you, Sunshine.”

Once a week, I used to drop our son at a friend’s house for a few hours while I ran errands. That kept me from having to get him in and out of his car seat at every stop. One time my mouth dropped open when I glanced at my friend’s heaped-high kitchen sink.

“Don’t judge,” she said. “I only do dishes once a day. If I washed them after every meal and snack, nothing else would ever get done around here.”

Her philosophy made sense, so I made it my own.

At one point I had a brain blast. The living room was the first room anyone saw when they stepped inside our home. If I made sure it always looked presentable, if people did stop by, I could seat them in there and to heck with the rest of the house. That would allow me to relax and not wonder if they were analyzing my dusting and vacuuming skills.

It took a few weeks to get each surface of the living room, plus the artwork on the walls, “just right.” I leafed through design magazines and copied the arrangements of knick-knacks and framed photos on our mantel and coffee table. In one corner, Tony Bear tucked my favorite house plant, an impressive “corn plant.” I’d stolen a hand-sized start of it from my office when I worked in Washington, D.C., and now, 30 years later, it’s over eight feet tall.

Nearby, on a tiny occasional table inherited from my Aunt Lo, sits a pretty lamp I never turn off because its golden glow makes the room cozy and inviting. Plus, I love the shadows cast on the wall by the corn plant’s stalks and leaves.

At least one afternoon a week, I take my kitchen timer into the living room, set it for 20 minutes, and lie down. As I thumb through a magazine or read a book, one of our cats -- Bonnie Agnes or Boots Louise -- usually joins me. More often than not, I’ll doze off only to wake when the timer begins to bleat.

I love my living room now. It is my haven, no matter the mess that might exist elsewhere in the house. Now if a guest needs a bathroom, which, in our 1910 Sears kit-house, means a trip to the second or third floor, I point to the stairs and wish them luck.

This mom learned from her daughter. And no longer worries so much about how the house looks.

Lifestyles columnist Diane Tarantini is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Morgantown. Check out her blog, “Lessons from a Life Half Lived,” at She can be reached at


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