This is, somewhat obviously, a story I would rather not have the qualifications to write. Discovering that we had bed bugs, and the ensuing chaos was one of the worst experiences of my life, but there are lessons I learned that I needed to learn.
1. Having a clean and organized home needs to be a priority.
Having a plan, a routine to keeping the house in good shape means that when something like this happens, you will be able to adapt your routine to include the new requirements for this issue. I had always been a lackadaisical cleaner. If it looked dirty, usually really dirty, I would clean it. Dishes would get washed when we ran out, same with laundry. The floors got vacuumed and mopped when they were disgusting, same with bed linens. I had better things to do with my time than housekeeping. This means that when I found the first bed bug, it was about two weeks after my sheets had been changed. If I had a routine of changing them every week, I might have caught the problem earlier. If we did laundry more regularly, it wouldn’t have been such a task as well. The lack of organization of the closets, and the house in general made this more of a disaster than it needed to be.
2. I still have more stuff than I need.
My house was not disgusting, I was not a candidate for the show “Hoarders”, but I grew up in this culture of materialism. I did not start my minimalism journey because of bed bugs, but it certainly sped up my pace. A couple of years ago, I had cleaned out my closet, getting rid of nine trash bags full of clothes in one swoop. Thank you Marie Kondo for the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. Praise the Lord for all the help it provided! But despite all my efforts, my possessions were still overwhelming. Even now, after a recent reorganizing of my bedroom, I have a tote full of books and things that I haven’t opened in a month. If you don’t need anything out of a box in a month, it is probably not important to your life. How do we go against the messages all around us, and stop acquiring things?
3. I am able to do so much more than I think I can.
Because of the bugs, every piece of clothing and linens had to be washed. I don’t know if I mentioned, but I have five children. That’s a lot of stuff! It’s been about two years ago now that the drama started, so I don’t remember all of the details clearly. Most of the time, I just want to forget it ever happened, but I know my story can help others dealing with this problem. Anyway, it took maybe a week, and everything in the house was washed and bagged up. The areas where the bugs were detected were quarantined and treated. Being a single mom with so many kids, I could not afford an exterminator, so I treated the house myself. We vacuumed every spot in the house, vacuumed again every day. I rewashed my own bedding every day for many months, and the children’s when they were at my house. Getting up every morning, early enough to strip all beds. Staying up late every night making sure that all methods of treatment were in place. It was exhausting, but I was able, by the grace of God to do these things. I don’t know if I thought house work would eventually kill me if I did too much in one day, or if I really just didn’t know how much I could handle. Going through these routines for months, feeling like this horror would never end, stretched my understanding of what I was capable of. Maybe that was part of the purpose of it.
4. Children, even young ones, need to participate in the household.
My youngest was not quite five when we found the first bug. Even he is able to strip his bed, load laundry, push a vacuum, and comb through animal fur. If I had not gone through this crisis, I may never have realized how much of a disservice I was doing to my children by not requiring participation in the upkeep of the house. Only when I was forced into a position of needing their help, did I step up and start to delegate to them what needed to be done.
I’m a very laid back parent. I regularly let them handle their own arguments, let them pick their own chores, let their rooms stay messy, as long as it’s not flooding over into the communal space. This is not all bad, they have learned for themselves what they are good at doing, and what they enjoy doing. With the new lifestyle we had to adopt, I could not keep up on my own. Forcing them to step up and participate in what was going on around the house took a huge weight off my shoulders. Even just the feeling that I wasn’t in this alone was a help. I try not to burden the kids too much, I blame myself that they don’t live in a two parent home, and I don’t want them suffer any more than necessary because of my mistakes.
All people need to feel needed, and kids in particular need to learn early that having a home requires upkeep.
5. Anyone, at anytime, is at risk for bringing home a bed bug.
Bed bugs do not care how clean you are. They don’t worry about what kind of neighborhood you live in. Your education level is no deterrent to bed bugs. There is no force field that you can surround your home with.
I had no idea. I had seen bed bugs on patients, I knew it was a growing problem, had been warned about going to cheap motels, read the news articles. It still seemed like someone else’s problem. This infestation shocked me to my core. One of my fundamental beliefs, though, is that everything that comes my way, God will use for good. So even in this, I had to find the good, the lesson I was meant to learn.
No matter what problems you are facing today, no matter what the struggle, it has a purpose in your life. God does not send evil your way, but he does allow it. It is your choice how you respond.