Thursday, 13 December 2007

Clean-up Woman


Today is a red-letter day: I've just cleaned under the bed for the first time in about eight months. I'm not techno-savvy, so I cannot take a picture of this, but I happen to have found about two hundred somewhat expertly-folded origami cranes. Want them? They are yours! Just be among the first five people to comment on my blog; tell me what cleaning chores you particularly like -- and which ones you loathe -- and I'll send you a couple dozen cranes if you send me your address. Made from the finest washi, these cranes could easily be crafted into a mobile or other decoration. Add some glitter and shellack and you've got Christmas ornaments! Go on -- do it, for pity's sake! Take them off my hands! I'll even dust them for you!

A few years ago I remember reading an article about women who were addicted to cleaning. When questioned, these women admitted that they often cleaned their houses several times a week, even when they realized it wasn't really necessary. I found myself reading with a sort of horrified fascination that cleaning, for these ladies, was almost a raison d'etre -- that there was nothing they would rather do in their spare time. To this day, I can hardly believe it. What in the world causes that sort of neurosis?

Although I hardly ever stop cleaning, for me it is merely a means to an end. When I lived on my own, I hardly ever did it because I hardly ever needed to. I am good at keeping things clean: I endlessly put stuff away, bundle up letters, discard trash, tidy up corners. I don't do this because it gives me pleasure, though; I do this because I want to avoid having to do a major job. I am a One-stitch-in-time-saves-nine type of person, whereas my husband tends to let everything go until it has to be cleaned. This has caused some lively discussions in our family particularly because our children, for the most part, follow their father's lead. At some point, I give up in despair. I leave the coats over the back of the chairs, ignore the dirty gym kit left in the stairwell, stop nagging the kids to bring down their empty sandwich containers and trash. I let the blue dye my eldest uses build up in the shower stall instead of scrubbing it out, allow the errant pillows and slipcovers to remain where they were thrown, and fail to collect the scattered newspapers. After a month or two the house is even too awful for the others to bear, and my husband clicks into action. And he is wonderful to behold.

As the one person in the household who consistently hangs up her own clothes and makes up the bed, who puts the lid back on the toothpaste, discards the empty toilet paper core and replaces the roll, picks wet towels off the floor and hangs them up to dry, removes clothing from the kitchen table and nags the slob who left it there to put it away; who wipes away the crumbs, scrubs the counter of spilt water, catsup, pickle, milk, and butter; who screws the lids back on jars, re-refrigerates the forgotten carton of milk and tidies away the cereal box that has been left out and gaping open; who engages in daily sweeping, wiping, discarding, and dusting -- in short, as one who does her level best every day to pick up after others and encourage them to develop more hygienic and socially acceptable behavior -- I feel that my role in the occasional all-hands-on-deck housecleaning performance does not have to be so central. On the rare occasions this gargantuan feat takes place, I tend to take a deep breath and go off to indulge myself in tackling a particular task that has long been left: cleaning underneath a bed, perhaps, or sorting out a box of photographs. It is not that I do nothing; I will spend the entire day quietly tidying some corner while the rest of the household slaves. After my largely unrelenting and concerted daily efforts, I feel that I have earned the right not to race about the house with dust-rags and cleaning fluids.

Not without a pang of guilt I listen to the energetic scrubbing, the vacuum cleaner being plied over carpet, the rustling of plastic bags as mounds of trash are collected from the kids' rooms. I do a bit of cleaning that I might otherwise have been too busy to do, then I walk around the house and admire how beautifully clean it is; I am proudly shown the sparkling hearths and debris-less hallway, the neatly hung-up coats in the closet, the practically-glittering kitchen floor, the gleaming shower stall free of its smears of soap and tiny wads of teenager hair (my husband maintains a shaved head; I deal with my own sullied locks).

But there is a price -- there is always a price. Whenever people come to visit, one of my kids is bound to say, quite truthfully: See how clean the house is? I helped my Dad do it.

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23 comments:

debra said...

#2 daughter makes paper cranes all the time--in assorted sizes. We love them.
Cleaning is one of those jobs that remind me of painting the Golden Gate Bridge: as soon as you get to the end, you have to back to the beginning and do it all over again.
And the dust bunnies and dog hair and pawprints.......oh my.

Carolie said...

Don't count me, Mary, as I have a lovely selection of cranes here from which to choose (though I'm sure yours are lovely, too!)

I'm one of those who cleans as she goes, as I can't face a giant mountain of cleaning. I don't mind doing dishes, don't even mind scrubbing the bathrooms. Polishing silver is lovely, as one can see such a satisfactory difference...and I actually find that task sort of fun (I think my mother turned it into some sort of game-slash-"only-grownup-types-can-do-THIS-job" and I used to beg to be allowed to polish the silver!)

However... I HATE to vaccuum. It's like dragging a dead pig around on a rope. When I finally drag the damn thing out and turn it on, and the cat freaks out and dives for cover, I always think "yeah, me too, Koimo! Me too!"

I also wish someone would invent laundry that would come out of the dryer already folded. Enough already with the folding of eight bazillion white tee shirts (says the wife of the man who, when at sea, can't find time to actually WASH his regulation white tee shirts and briefs, so he just buys MORE from the ship's store -- and then arrives home from a deployment triumphantly bearing a smelly net bag stuffed like some sort of disgusting, mutant greyish sausage he's hunted down and ground and bound himself). *shudder*

Note to self: Leaving the house for five weeks, with only a four-day stop in the middle to repack between countries, AND planning the journey's end within 48 hours of Fearless Husband arriving home with said smelly sausage is definitely NOT a recipe for a tidy house.

Brave Astronaut said...

My mother used to say that her mother was so "nasty neat" that "she was going to get up out of her coffin to empty the ashtrays at her funeral." Needless to say, my mother was at the opposite end of the spectrum. One year, my sister (who like me), who swung back to the cleaner side, made a sampler for my mother that read "Housework is a Bummer" All the while, as she stitched, her husband, who was still new, kept saying, "Are you sure your mother will like this? Won't she be offended?"

My mother loved it and it hung for years at the end of the hall from the front door, as she said, "So people can understand why the house looks the way it does."

My wife and I bought a house in September. Unfortunately with the holidays and other responsibilities, we have been reduced to saying, "Well, the house was clean when we bought it, how dirty could it be?" :)

Christy said...

I loathe housecleaning of any sort. I am militantly anti-clutter because having more stuff just means more stuff to clean. I prefer to keep my environs tidy so I don't have to clean, but my family conspires against me. I'm still naive enough to believe that I can change that. This week, we're working on putting our dirty laundry down the chute. I'm pretending that we haven't been working on this goal for an entire month already, for the sake of my sanity.

Once a month, I wake up in a nasty mood. That's when I deep clean. Why ruin a perfectly good mood by cleaning? It's best to start with a day that's ruined already.

Carole said...

I am not aware of this thing you call housecleaning. Is it a function of Scottish households? I tried looking it up in the dictionary but it isn't there. I can't be of any help to you so please keep your cranes.

I did accidently turn to the page where endangered species are listed. There was a picture of a man in an apron with a dust cloth. Make sure you tenderly guard yours with your life.

Katie Alender said...

Mary, I would take some cranes, but I hate to make you pay for overseas shipping! Is there a charity or children's home near you that would make us of them?

I am a fair cleaner. I hate folding laundry, although I love sorting it. I'm really more of an organizer. I'm trying to go through the house and rid us of extra clutter, but in the process of doing that, I have to haul out a bunch of junk and spread it all over the place. Then I get bored/tired and move on, usually leaving half the stuff sitting out.

But I've improved. When I was little, my nickname was "Hurricane Katie".

Katie Alender said...

By "make us of them", I mean "make USE". But apparently the Diet Dr. Pepper- and two coffees'-worth of caffeine aren't enough to really get me competent.

Kim Ayres said...

Well of course I would be helping around the house, hoovering, dusting, cleaning, washing, ironing etc. Unfortunately I have this fatigue thing. Perish the thought that I would ever use it as an excuse though...

The Quoibler said...

What is cleaning?

Is it something I can do while writing?

I hate to admit it, but I usually clean when things get really, really bad. Really.

Really.

I'm not kidding.

Really. Bad.

Mary Witzl said...

Debra -- I had a sneaking feeling I wouldn't be able to palm those cranes off on anyone, but I figured it was worth a try.

Cleaning is a lot easier if people just make an effort to keep things tidy. I suppose I ought to give up the idea that this will ever happen in my family, but I continue to dream the impossible dream.

Carolie -- I figured that sending you cranes would be coals to Newcastle, but maybe someone out there will be interested and I won't have to use them as tinder...

Polishing silver was my very favorite chore as a kid too. We had a dozen silver spoons in a display case, all of different states. My favorite was Missouri: the handle was a foreshortened mule.

I quite like vacuuming, though I wasn't so crazy about it when I was in charge of vacuuming a three-storey Victorian house with twelve bedrooms, four reception rooms, a cottage, utility room and a hallway the length of Chile. The stairs were my most unfavorite part. Your description is very apt: it is a lot lot like hauling around a dead pig on a rope -- a dead pig that manages to maul your toes and ankles -- and our cat finds it even more traumatic than I do. I love your cat's name: 'little potato' -- perfect!

I suspect there are a number of men out there who would do what your husband does and 'just buy more.' My kids would definitely do this, and I suspect my husband might too if he weren't so concerned about finances just now.

Brave Astronaut -- My father-in-law would definitely have emptied the ashtrays at his own funeral. He was even more obsessively tidy than I am, and I fear he is to blame for my husband's 'Just leave it' attitude. I once spilled a teaspoon of water on his kitchen counter and failed to tidy it up as I was looking after a baby. You'd have thought it was plutonium from the way he fussed over it, bless him.

I love the idea of your sister's sampler and wish someone would make me something similar. Or failing that, perhaps, "I'm tidy, but these bums I live with aren't" would be a suitable message.

Christy -- We sound like we have very similar philosophies. Why, I wonder, don't my kids see the light? I hate going to the dentist, so I take very good care of my teeth. I loathe housework, so I do my damnedest to keep up with it. How I wish I could get them to see the wisdom of this.

I want to tell you that when your kids are teenagers, it will all get easier. And you never know: it might! But I have been working on mine for the past ten years, and they are still pretty far behind. I fear for their future housemates and partners, and plan to tell them not to blame ME.

Carole -- You should have met my father-in-law. I had an aunt who was a serious cleaning fanatic and spent hours of every day going over flawlessly clean surfaces. He made her look positively sluttish by comparison. Although he was definitely an endangered species, I could never have lived with someone like him. My father-in-law took it to an extreme. I'd be more thrilled with my husband if he could just contrive to be the sort who didn't create messes, but you are right: I guess I should tenderly guard him. He'll be delighted with your comment.

Katie -- The cranes are light- weight, and I can even send them sea-mail. Don't you dare say that you don't want them now -- they are yours!

I don't mind washing, hanging out, folding or sorting laundry. What I really hate is doing all that and then having to beg my kids to come and put it away. Another thing I hate is when they leave socks bunched up or put their shirts and trousers into the basket with one leg inside-out, the other inside-in, etc. Picky, picky me, they claim. Lazy, lazy them, I counter.

Kim -- The real test of a marriage is when one spouse gets ill and the other is left with the brunt of the labor. I am betting that you don't leave Maggie with all or most of the work! Tell me you don't! Because if I were you, I have to tell you that the temptation would be pretty strong...

Quoibler -- I'll bet I could give you some serious competition, but this is something that neither of us could air publically, could we? I am hoping to post some real 'Cleaning Experiences From Hell' stories soon, and I would be pretty impressed if you could top them. Though in all fairness to my family, these are nothing to do with them.

Cleaning and writing don't go together very well, but gardening and writing do. There is something about wrestling with weeds that helps me work out plots. Doing dishes just makes me feel surly and resentful.

Brian said...

In my mining community hometown, long ,long, ago, many of the tidy wives were examples of those North of England fanatics whose doorstep had to be a whiter whitewash than anyone else's in the street. That kind of doorstep did not translate well into our hometown , but then...

Just two doors below us in the street was a lady with the unremarkable name of Mrs Brown. What was remarkable about her was that if you went to their place she would meet you at the door with a duster in her hand , and follow you up the hall in case you stepped off the carpet runner onto the highly polished floor. Intimidating to a pre-teen who only wanted to discuss some school work with her daughters.
She passed on her trait to the younger daughter, who, when my wife and I both had to work, became our cleaner Very useful, and she was indeed a very good cleaner. Nice lady too .

patterjack

A Paperback Writer said...

People LIKE to clean? What kind of psychotic trait is that?!
If I ever get rich and famous I'm going to hire a cleaning service. My house is clean, but dust bunnies creep in if I don't sweep every day -- and I don't sweep every single day.
sigh.

Merry Jelinek said...

First, what an interesting way to pass on that challenge, Mary, I love it!

I would love to say I'm born organized, but I'm not... I would also love to have a neat and clean house because I can't concentrate when there's work to do and, as I'm the mom, housework left undone makes me feel guilty. Somehow the other four people living here don't have the same problem... I have to have a clean kitchen table though, it's a must and I never, ever leave paperwork on the kitchen table - I even make the kids put all of their school work back in their bags the minute it's done... it's a pet peave of mine...

I think you inherit these traits from your mother, so I'm trying desparately to get on a good routine, so my kids don't wind up disorganized and moody, too. My mother was not a good housekeeper (shhh, don't tell her I said so... though I doubt she'd be all that annoyed about it) Though knowing her the way I do, it wasn't cleaning up after herself, it was cleaning up after the three of us!!! Now her place is tidy as a pin and always smells of scented candle or something pretty... Mine on the other hand smells of playdoh in the radiatore grate.. but perhaps I'm telling too much.

My Aunt, on the other hand, was one who took great pride in her cleaning and she had a regular routine. She was done with her housework by sometime mid morning, walked to the grocery store to pick up dinner supplies and any odds and ends, and started dinner by noon or one so that it would be ready and on the table by five sharp... this all sounds really regimented, but the actuality of it was that she built a routine that made each job simple and easy, because they were never neglected, and she was probably the least stressed person I knew... and three extra people could stop at her house for dinner without telling her in advance and for some reason she never fretted it and always managed to make enough...

She taught me a lot of her tricks, and the first years of my marriage I really tried to model her, but after the second baby I slacked a little, and by the third, well, I was my mother all over again... so we're trying to change that pattern...

By the way, the thing with the clean kitchen table - my mother had her paperwork spread all over our kitchen table constantly when I was a kid... she was a writer, too... perhaps it runs in the creative jeans...

To the person with the sampler - my favorite plaque in the kitchen reads "Cleaning and scrubbing can wait til tomorrow, For babies grow up as I've learned to my sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep, I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep"

Though, now that my youngest is five I suppose I'll need to find a better excuse.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Laundry was thought up in hell by a hellish hellion. I hate it. Strangely, I don't mind ironing other people's clothes but I loathe doing my own.

Shower and bath cleaning similarly repel me.

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- Our former next-door neighbor is just this type. She kept her huge house so spotless that one day a visitor complimented her on her cleaning lady, and to her credit she admitted it was herself. She now cleans HIS huge house in addition to her own, and at one point was making a greater hourly wage than my husband. As you can imagine, her visits to my house are a source of some embarrassment. She can't understand what in the world I am doing that is more important than cleaning my windows every week or shining my brass door knocker. Several times she has hinted broadly that she knows of a place that is hiring other cleaners. Coming from her, I know I ought to take that as a compliment.

APW -- I don't sweep every day either: life is too damned short as it is. You'd have to see my and Brian's former neighbors to understand the type of woman -- person, really -- with this fetish. Although women are the ones mainly afflicted, I know several men who also have this problem. I have heard it argued that some got it from their mothers, but I suspect it is in their natures. My father-in-law had it bad: he wore the pattern off his china, over-washing it, I kid you not.

Merry -- Just for you, oh wonderful woman who wrote me an ode, here are two replacements for that lovely sampler of yours:

Ironing and sweeping can wait for a while;
Laundry can sit in a great nasty pile;
I've got some children who want me to play;
Housework will keep for a cloudier day.

Yes, those are dust bunnies under my bed;
Yes, those are cobwebs there over your head;
No, my whole house isn't tidy or clean;
When was the last time you talked to YOUR teen?

In fact, this is making a virtue of a necessity; ideally, I'd like to have your aunt's system -- and with a supportive husband and kids, I would. But since I don't have that, I'd rather have a house that was happy, even if there is play-dough on the radiators. I comfort myself with your mother's story: someday my kids may note in wonder how neat and tidy the house is without them around.

Sam -- Wish you were here. I could do all your laundry, and you could do all my ironing. I quite like pegging out the sheets on a sunny, windy day, or festooning the radiators when it is wet and cloudy. But ironing is the biggest, silliest waste of time I can imagine.

-eve- said...

Heheheh... that's a good punchline ;- ) Having a maid at home (they're cheap over here) who sweeps every day and mops and vacuums the whole house every other day, I'm beginning to appreciate how a family will have to work together to keep the house clean without one...

> I found myself reading with a sort of horrified fascination that cleaning, for these ladies, was almost a raison d'etre -- that there was nothing they would rather do.
LOL! I'm fascinated to...heheheheh

Ello said...

I am turning into a hunchback because my life is spent hunched over picking my kids and my husbands crap off the floor all the time. I know I'm not 5 but if anyone in the top 5 didn't want their crane, send them to me instead please! They are so pretty!

Mary Witzl said...

Eve -- I am torn between feeling jealous of you for having a maid and feeling horrified at the thought of someone handling our dirty clothes, or seeing our kids' rooms. My kids think having a housekeeper to pick up after them would be great. I think it would make them even worse slobs than they already are. Good thing we will be spared that particular dilemma: we would never be able to afford a cleaning lady. I've been a maid before, and found it a humbling, but extremely useful, experience.

Ello -- Those cranes are YOURS!! Yay -- I don't have to throw them out or use them to light our stove! Just send me your address and I'll pop them into an envelope and send them your way. And half of them go to Katie Alender, if she is still interested. Otherwise, you inherit the lot -- plenty of good karma there, I should think, and perfect for someone who is writing about Nagasaki circa 1945.

Kara said...

i want cranes! am i too late for cranes?

Kanani said...

I hate cleaning. Mainly because this is such an old house. Even the doors have little panels and crevices where dust collects. I'm lucky if I get to it once a year.

I'd have to say, my cleaning is perfunctory. I do it because I hate a dirty house, not that I do it well! For instance, I can go ages before I dust.

I guess the only chore I like is vacuming. And that's because it's something else doing it and I can see the results right away. Well, I do have hardwood floors, which makes it a lot easier.

The other extreme is much worse though. My now-dead MIL never cleaned. Lived in squalor. Stuff everywhere. I understand now that it was a serious sign of depression, and the hoarding was a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder. But the filth was so bad that I ceased visiting at all during the last year of her life.

K8 the Gr8 said...

Did you have the very sexy Wentworth Miller from 'Prison Break' give you Origami lessons?

Lucky.

Umm.. I think I might have accidentally tagged you. Sorry. It won't happen again.

Eryl Shields said...

I hate cleaning but I love the results so I devote every Tuesday to it. That way I don't get distracted from my real work the rest of the week. Laundry is a different matter though, I can't stand ironing so just don't do it unless it is absolutely necessary, and I only do my own. I figure clothes are personal so if my family want clean ones they can wash them.

Mary Witzl said...

Kara -- You're not too late! And once I find wherever the kids put the shoebox, I will start sending them. It may end up being after Christmas, but catch me losing a chance to give away something I was desperate to find a home for...

Kanani -- I know someone who lives like your late mother-in-law, and you are right: it can become absolutely unbearable. After a while, people who live in such conditions get used to the smell. People who are overly fussy about cleaning are a pain in the neck, though, and view us normally clean types as we might view those who live in squalor. My in-laws would have a fit if they had to live with my kids, say, or my husband. I can still remember my father-in-law moaning about the mess left in the kitchen one day; the 'mess' was in fact about a tablespoon of boiled water, spilt on the counter top. A newspaper left on the sofa drove him to distraction.

I'm not crazy about vacuuming, but you're right: there is something very satisfying about the lovely rattling noise you hear when you hit a particularly rich seam of dirt.

Kate -- No, I had Mrs Shima and Mrs Tomita sit down with me and patiently go over it, step by step. Good, long-suffering women that they were, they would not give up until I had managed my very own crane. I actually lived in Japan for sixteen years without learning this, and once they found that out nothing was going to stop them. To this day, thanks to them, I can turn out cranes like nobody's business and it has become almost an obsession when I am nervous or thoughtful. Hence the large number of superfluous cranes...

Eryl -- I suspected that you were an inherently tidy person! I used to be taken for a slob, but the truth was that I was lazy, not untidy. Once I saw that keeping up with the clutter actually meant less arduous work in the long run, I became very tidy. If anything brings out my laziness, though, ironing does. I will iron for weddings, job interviews, graduations and funerals. I won't iron for my kids anymore, though, especially when they just leave their clothes on the floor.