I posted this on a message board for the show Hoarders in response to the question "why can't the older kids clean up the cat shit?" but I really wanted to share it here too.
The house I grew up in was unpleasant in many ways, and from an early age, we kids learned not to rock the boat, or to do anything that might rock the boat. Survival behavior, I guess. My mother was married to an emotionally abusive man who wore her down during their thirty-year marriage, and when my disabled brother died at 15, my mom pretty much threw in the towel on caring for us, for the house, and for herself. She had never been a great housekeeper to begin with, but by then she'd given up the ghost. I was the youngest and 13 at this time, so old enough to fend for myself, but in no state to care for a house with four adults who didn't clean up themselves. My mom had never cleaned up stains on the carpet or couch, so I honestly believed that stains were just part of owning things, and had no idea that other people made efforts to make sure no permanent stains ended up on their things.
Fast forward a bit to my senior year in high school, when we got a dog. The dog, unfortunately, had a habit of marking its territory by pushing its rear end up against a wall and defacating. At one point, the dog did this against my grandmother's gorgeous antique cherrywood full-length mirror (part of an eight-piece set). No one cleaned it up--somehow, inexplicably, cleaning up the dog shit entered "rock the boat" territory, and while I hated looking at it, I was too scared to actually do anything about it. Doing something about it--cleaning it, in other words--would just have opened some kind of can of worms. I just passed it in the hallway on the way to my room and pretended not to see it, and tried not to think too much about it (in addition to other things).
Fast forward again to Christmas break during my first year of college. I'd been home about a week. I headed upstairs to my bedroom and caught sight of the dog shit on my grandmother's mirror. At that moment, having been out of the house for three months solid, something snapped. I was filled with rage that my grandmother left us something so beautiful and we'd actually let dog shit sit on it--at that point, for more than a year. My grandmother would have been so angry! I ran downstairs and grabbed some Windex and a roll of paper towels. Back upstairs, I scrubbed, cried, and scrubbed some more. At that point, the dog shit was stubborn, so I sprayed Windex and let it sit for a little bit. Then I went downstairs on a cleaning rampage. I grabbed old newspapers, used cups, random household detrius and throw it in the trash can with flourish (think of Darcy throwing glass stuff into the dumpster). My mother asked, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm cleaning up, that's what." She asked, "Why?" And I said, "I don't know how anyone with any self-respect can live in a house like this."
When I said that, she didn't respond (I never really said anything like that to her before, and she had learned not to rock boats too). Later, when driving me back to school, she asked, "What did you mean when you said that?" I told her that people who respect themselves respect their homes--this was something I learned in the college dorm, of all places--and didn't let dog shit, used tissues, old microwave-meal containers, etc. get all over their living space. None of this seemed to surprise her. She shrugged and said, "I don't really think of it as my house anymore, or home. It's just a place I sleep."