Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Clean Windows

“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?”



  1. Erma Bombeck's theory follows the same lines as mine and if that means there is some dust somewhere but I have time to play with our grandchildren then that is not wasted time and as long as the dust is not disturbed who is to know how long it has been there?
    With windows how come that when I clean all the windows in the house and they are all clean and sparkly do grandchildren press noses against them on one side whilst the dog presses her nose on the other side?? It can only be seen when the sun catches the marks!

  2. 884 pages of how to clean house? Seriously? My Mom could have written that in her sleep. Growing up in a perfectly sparkly 3000 sq ft home has instilled in me some neat freak compulsion. However, growing up with a mother who freaked if there was a "gasp" water droplet in a clean sink has instilled a little bit of "who cares". I like my house clean, but I hate actually cleaning...feels like punishment. I do, however, like clean windows. My best tip: Norwex microfibre cleaning cloths. Seriously, google Norwex Enviro Products. Makes cleaning almost easy. Now, if only I could afford one of those robot vacuum things to follow the kids around.

  3. Priceless! This had me laughing out loud at times-your grandmother picking through the vacumn bag was one of the funnier things. Thanks for the great post.

  4. great! don't you just love erma, my idol always! lol! a sense of humor, a happy face, these things truly last, dirt comes and it goes, and then it comes back, bummer. we live out in the country and i swear our house is really a tent with windows, there seems to be so much dust and dirt inside, especially during harvests....sigh. but we don't get wet, we always have food, and we love each other always no matter what, so it is all good! i am just sayin'.............

  5. Just for the record, there is no Bible verse that says cleanliness is next to Godliness--I checked. So enjoy your children while you have them (and the dog) and schedule your housekeeping brilliance for when they are away at college and the dog has slowed down with age (like us!)

  6. Thank you so much for a bright start to my day! I had to jump up and close my office door because I was laughing so much. I can't wait to share this post with my colleague because SHE'S so proud of herself...she found someone who DOES windows (inside and out) and he only charges $25. She's been smiling from ear to ear because he's scheduled to come out next week (on a saturday to boot).

    Your post today brought back so many memories. I was raised with those cleaning rules and the tasks specific to each day of the week. To this day, I hate scrubbing the tub because that was my chore on Friday's after school, on hands-n-knees... but I'll tell you what, when I do scrub now, in my own house, that porcelain is mighty shiny :-> Another tactic I've adopted is that over the years I've migrated to lighter and lighter shades of wood throughout the house too. I've just recently purchased a few white pieces. Now the dust really doesn't show - heheheh.

  7. Toothpaste spatter - yes! I think that is how my kids mark their toothbrushing success, by how much toothpaste doesn't make it down the sink.

    My husband's cousin is a neat freak who blogs. I had to stop looking at her site because she kept incidentally showing these spotless, tidy closets with shoes all matched and neatly grouped. I couldn't take it anymore.

  8. When we were going through my mother's house getting ready for an estate sale, my son-in-law found this plastic baggie full of string with the note "too short for anything" :>) Now I wish I had seen that when mother was still alive. I would loved to have asked her why on earth she did that. I don't know that she ever went through the vacuum cleaner with a pair of tweezers, but maybe that's where she got her string that was too short for anything :>)

  9. This is a great post, Susan! I have Home Comforts also, and it made me feel pretty slovenly even though my house is usually fairly presentable. I just feel happier and freer if things are clean and tidy. I can't stand an unmade bed, so I used to make it in the very process of getting up--but then Home Comforts advised me I should be letting it air out (read how much sweat gets on the sheets--yuck!!), so I changed my habit and now fold down the top half of the sheets and covers, so it looks like a turned-down bed in a hotel.

    I also wanted to share my favorite quote about housekeeping, from Joan Rivers: "I hate housekeeping--the cleaning, the laundry. And six months later, you have to do it all over again."

  10. Great comments, everyone! Sharon, that Joan Rivers quotation is priceless! Wanda, Oh. My. Gosh. Too short for anything? Nicole, that's why I write a blog about my imperfection...it helps all the rest of you feel better about yourselves! Karftyaunt, $25? Does this person live in the greater Dayton area? Doris, excellent advice! Liz a., excellent perspective. My in-laws live in the desert and fight dust constantly. Bev J., you're welcome! Lorrinda, my sympathy for your pristine upbringing. Will try the microfiber thingies. Lynn, know that as I was cleaning the outside of the deck door, Daisy was rubbing her nose on the other side, curious to see what I was doing.

    This post certainly sparked a lot of feelings!

  11. "as I was cleaning the outside of the deck door, Daisy was rubbing her nose on the other side, curious to see what I was doing." Haha! This is too funny! I hope you had not cleaned the inside yet, but I have a bad feeling you had. Sorry for laughing at your expense!

    Years ago in a book catalog, I saw a memoir written by a grandson about his grandparents' farm in New England. His grandmother had a box neatly labeled, "String too short to be saved"--so that was the title of the memoir. That resonates so much with me, because my grandmother (a farm wife) saved everything also--glass jars, twisties from bread sacks.

    But I confess the thing I am bad about saving is cardboard boxes. I guess I'm part kitty-cat in that I love a cardboard box--except I don't try to sit in one that's four sizes too small for me. Actually, I don't try to sit in them at all--really, I don't--I stack them up in my utility room in case I ever need a cardboard box. And meanwhile I spend my life looking at a 5-foot stack of PTI boxes.

  12. As I say to my mother, who is a tad like your grandmother was, the more grime/dust/smudge there are the more satisfaction you will get from eventually cleaning it.

  13. Susan, This post absolutely made me smile. My mom keeps at immaculate house. She has light beige tile in her kitchen and the grout is perfect. Me...well, not so much! It has definitely been an evolution. I have become much more laid back about things realizing that I'd rather relax a little bit more. That was probably one of my biggest adjustments when my hubby started staying home with my boys. I wanted to hire a cleaning person when he was at home. Made him pretty mad (and rightfully so!) and finally I learned to relax. Now we're trying to teach out four boys to clean toilets...somehow they can't quite aim :)!!


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!