“Housework, if it is done right, can kill you.” John Skow
Around the time I decided to stay home and raise my children, I bought a book called Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. It’s an impressively weighty tome, with 884 pages of tiny, law-school textbook type with shockingly few illustrations. The author, a lawyer (why doesn’t this surprise me?), certainly sets a high standard of cleanliness and order.
In chapter two, Cheryl lists her idea of daily chores:
-Put soiled clothes in hamper and hang up other clothes
-Clean sinks and tubs after use (including drains and traps)
-Check soap, toilet paper, other supplies in bathroom; change towels if necessary
-Prepare meals and clean up afterward
-Put out fresh kitchen towels and cleaning utensils [My note: what exactly are cleaning utensils?]
-Clean floors in high-use areas (kitchen, entryway) by sweeping, damp-mopping, or vacuuming
-Refill vaporizers and humidifiers (and clean if necessary)
-Neaten; put away newspapers, magazines, and similar items
-Do interim marketing when necessary
-Empty trash and garbage containers (evening)
While some of Cheryl's advice seems, to my mildly AR/OC personality, quite good, I have never, even in my wildest flights of obsession, lived up to this list, much less to her list of weekly chores, which includes, among other things, dusting light bulbs, washing out and sanitizing garbage cans, vacuuming lamp shades, and washing “all” combs and brushes.
This reminds me of Heather Armstrong’s blog and all the pictures she posts of her dogs on pristine hardwood floors. According to Heather, “People often write me and ask how I keep my wood floors so clean when I live with a child and a dog, and my answer is that I use a technique called Suffering from a Mental Illness.”
My own OCD isn’t clinically significant (thank Heaven!), and when I bought Home Comforts, I hoped it would help me streamline my housekeeping and make it more efficient so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time cleaning. Instead, just reading the first few chapters made me feel like a filthy, no-good, dirty rotten loser. I was already spending far too many hours in fruitless search for a clean house (baby, pack-rat husband, two dogs, four bathrooms…ohmygosh I was so incredibly doomed to fail!). So I quit reading Home Comforts to preserve my sanity. Honestly, if a person kept house at this level, he or she would spend most waking hours cleaning: who would want to do that?
Well, my grandmother, for one. She kept house at the level recommended by Home Comforts, so I know it’s possible. She had very few hobbies outside the domestic sphere, plus her house was maybe a smidge over one thousand square feet, with one bathroom…small enough to be manageable by one woman on a mission. When she finished all her ordinary household chores, she would invent things to do or carry ordinary tasks to extremes of obsession. For instance, I have vivid memories of her using a pair of tweezers to pick through the contents of her vacuum cleaner bags looking for anything useful that might accidentally have been sucked into it, like rubber bands or loose change.
Does anyone else do this routinely? I mean, I can see tweezering through the disgusting contents of a vacuum cleaner bag if, say, you suspect you sucked up your diamond engagement ring. But to do it in the off chance you’ll find a rubber band?
I could wax poetic about the Greatest Generation’s saving ways, their frugality, and their June Cleaver pearls-and-high-heels wardrobe for vacuuming. Those things are admirable (well, not the June Cleaver thing…that's just kinky), but these days, I’m happy if my toilets and kitchen are clean and I can still see my reflection in the bathroom mirror despite toothpaste spatter.
Is that too much information? Sorry about that.
Some household tasks inevitably fall to the bottom of the list, simply because they are so very easy to overlook or ignore. It’s hard to ignore dirty toilets (though I am quite capable of it) and positively dangerous to let your kitchen go. But it’s very easy to ignore the state of your windows. I simply don’t think about them very often, which means that, by the time I do notice, they are appallingly dirty.
Having Miss Daisy Doolittle in the house brought windows to my attention. You see, at puppy-nose height, our bay window and door window had become opaque with snot. Seeing that caused me to look higher and realize that all the windows were completely nasty. My grandmother is in heaven shaking her head in disgust at my lack of housekeeping finesse. She loved clean windows and kept hers sparkling.
Oh, relevant and funny tangent time! Jack asked if he could clean this sink the other night. I said sure because there was finely chopped mint and cilantro all over it that needed to be wiped out. After a few minutes, I checked on Jack’s work. “Jack, you need to clean the green stuff out of the sink, dude!” He replied, “Mommy, that’s gross! I’m cleaning the not gross parts. Aren’t I doing a good job?”
Back to windows. My children have washed the downstairs windows in the last few months, but their idea of washing has more to do with wasting as many paper towels and as much Windex as possible on the center of the glass. The fact that windows have sides and corners is completely lost on them. So last week, I cleaned every window in the house. Even the garage-door windows.
I LOVE IT!!!!! Oh how wonderful to see, really see, out the windows. I swear the house is brighter now. I break out in giggles of joy when I open the blinds in the morning. I vow never again to let my windows get so filmy and dirty!!!
But I will. You know I will. In the messy business of life, I will become distracted. I will choose to read novels, poke around on the Internet, blog, craft, help children with homework, scrub toilets and wipe kitchen counters, volunteer to shelve dusty books at the school library, take my mini-laptop to Barnes and Noble for the afternoon and sip mochas and eat scones and blog, and the windows will, once again, most certainly get nasty.
For now, however, I’ll revel in the sparkling clarity of my windows, and comfort myself with the following wisdom from Erma Bombeck: “My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”