I love reading about how to clean things around the house. I could spend hours reading instructions for the correct way to vacuum lampshades, suggestions for cleaning solutions for hardwood floors, and tips for how to clean baseboards. I’ve read books like “Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook,” and “Home Comforts” from cover to cover, both books about how to clean, disinfect, and maintain home furnishings and finishes. Magazines like Real Simple are a joy to my heart, because they do comparison tests of cleaning products and supplies, and write up detailed explanations of their methods and findings.
Part of it is that they make it so appealing. They make new brooms
and cleaning cloths as sexy as a new sports car, and their descriptions of
cleaning methods are so soothing; they sound so orderly and efficient. The
process of mopping the kitchen floor sounds as graceful and effortless as the
Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. They use phrases like “a few drops of liquid
castile soap” and “a little squirt of dishwashing detergent.” They talk about
gently buffing, lightly rubbing, swishing.
Just like articles on parenting that make diffusing a raging
tantrum sound like picking daisies (“Simply repeat, ‘I understand you are
disappointed. This is my decision. When you calm down, we can get on with our
day.’” Because, yeah, that’s exactly what I say. I’ve never shouted at the top
of my lungs, “YOU CAN JUST STOP YELLING BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT GETTING IT AND IF YOU KEEP THIS UP, I’M GOING TO SELL YOUR
WHINY LITTLE ASS TO THE GYPSIES!!”), cleaning articles make keeping the house
clean sound so simple. Stash containers of wipes in each room, they
suggest. Every now and then, you can use
one to wipe down the doorknobs and switch plates. It sounds so logical.
My obsession with cleaning products and tools is only
slightly less than my obsession with office supplies (which could be charitably
described as “boundless”). Those little parenthetical comments about suggested
products after cleaning instructions (e.g. “[Such and such brand cleaning
product], $3 for a pack of 50, Target”) are as tempting and dangerous to me as
the siren’s song was to Homer. They call to me to seek them out, to purchase
them, to stash them under my sink (because let’s be realistic, shall we?).
They offer instructions for cleaning things that I would
never in a million years think to clean (and probably never in a million years
bother to clean). Sliding-door tracks, the refrigerator coils, the vacuum
cleaner. In twenty plus years of keeping my own house, it has never occurred to
me to clean the vacuum cleaner. I pay a little attention to the bristles on the
attachment when I’m done vacuuming, but wiping down the canister with a damp
cloth? I’m about as likely to do that as I am to invite my children to make glitter
and glue collages on the dining room rug.
The truth is that reading about all this stuff is far more
appealing than actually doing it. Oh, I’ll do something now and then—make
vinegar “ice cubes” and occasionally toss one into the garbage disposal and
grind it up, but that requires so little in the way of effort. The only things
I have to do are pour vinegar, and toss the frozen cubes down the drain. The
freezer and the garbage disposal do the majority of the work. (If you do this,
maybe label the Ziplock bag they’re in so your husband doesn’t use them as actual
ice cubes in his iced tea. He will not thank you for your efforts at keeping
the drains fresh. Not that this happened to me or anything.) When it comes to using
that rubbing alcohol-water-dish soap concoction to actually clean anything, I
am a failure. I buy the products, make the mixtures, and they sit quietly on a
shelf, sad and forgotten.
But surely, I can hear you say, you clean your house. So
wouldn’t you use those things? In theory, yes, but my mental image of the
cleaning that these books and magazines talks about is intense, dedicated
cleaning. My cleaning consists more of either forcing
my children to pick up the dog toys and vacuum the various rooms, or
seeing something that’s so repulsively filthy that even I can’t bear it anymore
and cleaning it (like the baseboards, or the windowsills). In my fantasy world,
I devote an hour or two to cleaning the house every day, using these
ecologically responsible, non-toxic cleaning solutions. I swish, rub, and
buff. I wear an apron to keep my housedress clean.
In reality the only thing I would use an apron for is to
help me work the cork out of the fucking wine bottle.
Every now and then, I’ll get a free weekend and go on a
marathon cleaning spree, and then I remember--I actually hate cleaning. This past weekend was just such a weekend. I spent two and a half hours
cleaning out the refrigerator. Two and a
half fucking hours. It progressed from being no big deal to being
completely disgusting. The top shelf or two—no big deal. Toss some stuff that
was expired, pop out the shelves, wipe them down. Then I got to the cheese
keeper drawer, and that son of a bitch
has to be completely emptied to even be removed. The vegetable drawers
were just repulsive (when you can’t tell if it was celery or scallions, I think
it’s safe to say it’s been in there too long).
Probably the fact that I can never remember how to take the
pieces apart when I’m cleaning it is an indication that I don’t do it often
enough (combined with how nasty the vegetable crisper drawers were). But here’s
the thing: I swear to god the people who design refrigerators (and toilets) don’t have to fucking clean them. If
they did, they wouldn’t make them so hard to take apart, and have so many
little crevices out of which dust and crud need to be wiped.
After I finished with the refrigerator, I was pretty well
spent, but I decided to do a bit more. Can anyone explain to me just how filth
gets into the space between the drawer and the piece of cabinet under it? Like, when the drawer is
pushed in, and you look at the ledge immediately below it, in my kitchen it’s
caked with crud. How the hell does that happen? And speaking of gathering dirt,
here’s a word of advice if you’re planning on remodeling a kitchen, contemplating
an island, and thinking of having it have shelving. Put fucking doors on the shelves. Even if they’re just simple glass
ones. I do my prep standing at my island, and the amount of just downright
disgusting shit that collects in the shelves under my island is mind boggling.
And soul-killing. Because the amount of time it would take to remove all the
cookbooks, magazines, and small appliances that live on them, wipe them out,
and return all that stuff is probably another two and a half hour task. So,
you’re welcome. Please benefit from my suffering.
The worst thing about the whole process was that every chore
led to another one – as I cleaned out the fridge, I had to empty the trash to
get rid of the stuff that I was throwing out. When I took out the trash bag
out, I realized the inside of the trash can needed to be rinsed out. As I went
outside to hose out the trash can, it occurred to me that the flowers needed to
be watered and deadheaded. When I walked back in the front door I realized the
door was filthy and should be wiped down. It sucks when you’re ADD and OCD. I
finally stopped trying to do things and just started a list.
I wish I was the sort of person who had two hours every day
to apply all the wonderful cleaning ideas I read (which is to say, I wish I was independently wealthy. That's it--next time I'm marrying for money). I wish I was the kind of person who cleaned her vacuum cleaner.
I wish I was the sort of person with a container of wipes in every room, and
that I wiped down my doorknobs regularly. I am none of these things. Instead I
am the sort of person with one container of dried out cleaning wipes under the
sink in the kitchen who walks around thinking about how disgusting sticky