Archived Opinion

I’m grateful for the fleas

I’m grateful for the fleas

It’s important for us to name that which brings us gratitude. This week, I’m grateful for the fleas that invaded my home like a tiny insane army. 

One of my favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, often speaks and writes about a concept called outer order inner calm. In the introduction of her book with the same name, she says, “In the context of a happy life, a messy desk or a crowded coat closet is a trivial problem—yet getting control of the stuff of life often makes it easier to feel more in control of our lives generally.” 

She continues by saying, “When I’m surrounded by a mess, I feel restless and unsettled. When I clean up the mess, I’m always surprised by the disproportionate energy and cheer I gain, plus I’m able to find my keys.” 

Even though I fully believe Rubin’s theory and have felt that elation myself after cleaning the smallest of areas, I don’t follow her lead enough. 

I live in a cabin-like house in Maggie Valley. It’s a perfect size for my boys and me. It’s cozy and full of character, nestled amongst many trees on the shady side of Soco Road. While my home is quaint and comfortable, there’s not a lot of room for storage. 

Pair that with the life of a busy working single mom and clutter becomes the norm. It’s exhausting to get ahead of the backpacks, toys, shoes, papers, books, toys, mail and other items that constantly make their way into the floor or on the dining room table. 

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My older son craves order. He’s never been one to ask for tangible things; he would rather play outside or do something experiential, so other than his prized model airplane collection, he would be fine with zero toys or trinkets. In contrast, my younger son loves toys and can play with absolutely anything. He’s imaginative and creative, and toys serve as a catalyst to release all those ideas waiting to burst forth. His toys are everywhere and as much as we try to put them away, they’ve become permanent fixtures.

My older son routinely asks to get the house more organized. He offers to help and contributes suggestions. The clutter doesn’t appear to bother my younger son, but I know an organized home would help him also. Single moms feel guilt about everything so this is another thing I feel guilty about: the inability to get my house tidy. 

Last week, the boys were with their dad at the beach. I decided to clean up their bedroom and playroom while they were away. The first couple of days I put up a few books and took a box of toys to a local thrift store, but each time I entered their room, it mostly looked the same as before. 

Enter the fleas. 

When the boys had been gone about three days, my boyfriend went upstairs in my house and came down with a look of trepidation. 

“You have a major flea problem,” he told me. “We’ve got to do something.”

Not having had a cat since childhood, I wasn’t even sure how bad a “flea problem” was. I was also confused because I’d been diligent to apply my cat’s flea medicine each month; however, the last time I tried to spread the vial of flea meds along his spine, he ran off. Apparently, not enough absorbed into his blood stream. 

Over the following days, the fleas grew in number. My frustration was at an all-time high. Here I was trying to clean my sons’ room and instead, they were going to come home to fleas. When my anger reached a boiling point, I had to do something physical to get it out. 

Within one hour, I pulled every single thing out of their bedroom except the bed frames. I now understand how people can lift cars in dire situations. I was slinging mattresses and box springs like they weighed nothing. Once everything was removed, we could vacuum, spray and bomb the room more easily. 

After performing all the flea-destroying tactics we’d learned, I carefully and deliberately put their room back together, donating numerous items to the thrift store. Upon completion, all that was left in their room were beds, book shelves, and a few items on their dressers. Nothing on the floor and nothing under the beds. I moved all the toys into the neighboring playroom and organized that room as well. 

While doing all this, an occasional flea would jump on my foot or ankle, but I tried to ignore them. In fact, I started saying, “Thank you so much, fleas.” Had it not been for them, I would never in a million years cleaned in the way I did. 

The look on the boys’ faces when they returned home was irreplaceable. They were so happy and have spent more time relaxing in their bedroom than ever before because, like Rubin says, the outer order offers them inner calm. 

Further, the boys were not overly concerned about the remaining fleas. My older child has become my vacuuming/spraying partner. And even though the fleas have decreased significantly, we decided to hire a professional. It’s just not worth the nuisance or worry that more pests are lurking among the carpets and baseboards. Pest control is coming this week to get rid of the fleas, once and for all. 

It’s funny how God works sometimes. I think he knew how badly I wanted a clean house but also knew it would take something extreme for me to slow down my chaotic life and clean in a deep thorough way. 

I would never wish a flea infestation on anyone but for me, it’s what I needed to get my jets going. And for that, I’m very grateful. 

(Susanna Shetley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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