Monday, February 20, 2012

A Long Line of Anti-Martha Stewarts

It's time to clean the house. Make that waaaaaaay past time!

House cleaning is the bane of my existence, the chore I put off as long as possible, the activity I happily forgo in order to take care of all else, the last item on my priority list, the energy zapper that pushes me over the edge . . . or causes me injury. Seriously, I hurt my back last winter cleaning the house for a playdate. That's how much work lay ahead of me.

I abhor house cleaning. The doing of it. On the flip side, I adore house cleaning. The results of it. I just don't enjoy those results often due to my lack of interest in taking the time and exerting the physical effort necessary to bring about said results.

Have I always felt this way? Hell, yeah! It could be hereditary as my late mother hated house cleaning also. More likely, my attitude toward it is a by-product of my environment -- i.e. growing up with a mother who hated house cleaning. I suspect that was my mother's excuse as well. You see, she was raised in a hotel. My grandfather, after losing his stockbroker job at E.F. Hutton (and much of his and his clients' money) following the crash of '29, moved into the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan where he went to work for The Canadian Club of New York. (Both he and my grandmother came from Cornwall, Ontario.) My grandmother didn't have to clean as that is what hotel staff are for. So it must have been a big shock for my urban mother when she and her husband, my father, bought the only house they ever owned in the 'burbs. It was not large -- a '50s-style ranch with three bedrooms. But it was a house, and it came with no hotel staff.

The nerve!

I have memories of Mom dusting knickknacks on the mantelpiece, wiping off tables with Lemon Pledge, and such. But when it came to heavy cleaning -- vacuuming the living room carpet and washing the kitchen floor, for example -- she hired the big guns. The "cleaning men," we called them. I remember being uncomfortable at the thought of these strange men, who came over very seldom, going through my bedroom when I was at school. I suspect she also felt uneasy with them occupying her house in later years while she, by then elderly, supervised alone. So she hired a fellow Christian Scientist she knew from out of town to do the job. The two ladies were not exactly friends, and they squabbled often. Again I felt uncomfortable with this arrangement.

Are you sensing a theme here? Bingo. I experienced a lot of discomfort of one sort or another in my earlier years.

Indeed, Mom and I clashed in many respects, but domesticity was not one of them. The city girl and the girl raised by the city girl both despised/despise keeping house. You can call us "The Anti-Martha Stewarts." What the heck, throw my grandmother into that category as well! However, the difference between the three of us is this: For me, a 24/7 single mother with no steady paycheck, the option to hire experts is really not on the table. In the four-plus years I have lived in my present home, I have hired professional cleaners probably twice; carpet specialists, a little more often.

Right now I am in desperate need of professionals. Granted, the downstairs is in pretty good condition except for my bathroom, which I won't get into here. That's because I hired an environmentally friendly company a few months ago. The two men cleaned the relatively new wall-to-wall carpets in my bedroom and a long room next to it. The flooring had gotten wet in May when a hose broke off a toilet upstairs in the middle of the night during a once-in-a-lifetime freak incident. Don't cha love it?! The hose shot clean pressurized water (praise the Lord it wasn't the alternative!) all over the bathroom, into the hall, through the hardwood floors, and onto my bed and the two carpets downstairs. When the duo stopped by a few months ago, I banned them from the upstairs carpets because they were not (and still are not) ready for primetime, er to be steam-cleaned. Why? There is too much junk all over them.

You see, house cleaning is no one-step process. For a single mother -- and any other kind of parent, as a matter of fact -- it is at least a three-parter. First, toys and other items (miscellaneous papers, food wrappers, dirty clothes, etc.) must be picked up and sorted or thrown away. What's being kept must then be stored on shelves or in closets, laundry hampers, baskets, or other containers, thus freeing up valuable floor space. Lastly, the room must be cleaned.

Sounds rather simple, but the reality is far from it. On top of everything else I do in the way of parenting my two young boys, the first two steps not only exhaust me but also take much longer to complete than expected. That leaves me with zero strength or time to finish the job of making the house presentable. I clean only when both boys are out of the house or occupied with an activity inside the house and, therefore, not in a position to disturb me. I refuse to clean late at night, and I refuse to clean early in the morning. I try not to let it cut into my work day. But once I decide to tackle the project, it always does. Typically, I will spend up to three weeks whipping the house into shape or, at least, reaching Part III. At that point, having had enough, I may succumb to calling in the experts. The former happens rarely; the latter, once in a blue moon.

I chose to write about this topic in the hopes that it would spring me into action. I need to make my house decent-looking as soon as possible because I am terribly indebted to so many people in my town for playdates, sleepovers, and child-care favors when I've needed (mostly) or wanted (infrequently) to do something without my boys in tow.

Think how much picking up, organizing, or cleaning could have been accomplished in the time it's taken me to write about it! Gadzooks. Well, it's now on the brain, front and center. The mop will come out tomorrow.

Yeah, right!

How do you cope with house cleaning?


  1. Ahh, house cleanning. I should be vaccuuming right now since the dog hair is swirling around my feet, but I'll post instead.
    I discovered flylady last year. She advocates dedicating 15 minutes a day to cleaning, and establishing new routines, etc. I haven't put it all together yet (all those 15 minutes add up). However, I do manage to "swish and swipe" my bathroom every day, which I consider a near-miracle. It takes only a couple minutes and I love the results! Of course, if certain boys had better aim, that would help, too:)

  2. I don't envy you! Now that I am an empty nester, my house stays relatively uncluttered. Whenever the kids come home from vacation, they turn the house upside down and leave their stuff all over the place!