Wednesday, September 06, 2000

Keep it clean

My house is a mess. This is nothing new. I've been housekeeeping-challenged for years. You figure there's a job around the house that's hard, disgusting, and endless, and I'd be right on it, but you'd be wrong. I hate cleaning. I'm bad at it. And so, I ignore it.

I guess I'm lucky my husband isn't a neat freak, though if he was, my whining for a cleaning lady might have been more successful. But he doesn't notice dirt much, and if he does, it doesn't seem to bother him. The food caked on the stove, the mildew darkening the shower, the dust caking every surface--well, we don't need help with that, we'll do it eventually. Never mind that if eventually takes too long it's virtually impossible to get this stuff clean. Worse comes to worse, we'll move.

What bothers him more is clutter, and that's something I've long ago learned to live with. It doesn't help, to be sure, that our son is developing into a packrat, too. It used to be just little cars that he kept scattered around, but now he's into a heavy cycle of recycling play, in which he goes around the house filling bags with junk and then moving those bags back and forth between his play schoolbus and his room and the middle of the living room floor. None of the recycling actually leaves the house, because this is pretend play, which is every so healthy but not a real boon to home decor.

The papers that he doesn't get around to stuffing in his bags gather on the dining room table, their own personal dumping ground. It's gotten to the point where we give parties every now and then just so we're forced to clear the table off, because otherwise the stuff would have hit the ceiling by now. Summertime's not too bad, because it's just junk mail and old newspapers and church bulletins and lost bills piling up. But with school starting now, we'll have the daily backpacks-full of school papers, and those get out of control fast. My husband would just scoop them right from the packs into the trash. I can't do that--my babies worked hard on this stuff. I prefer to wait and weed things out bit by reluctant bit, until by the end of the year I have it down to a crate or two for storage.

At least with the clutter, when you do pick it up, it's picked up, and the place looks better. Often you've only moved it someplace else, but the decluttered spot is much improved. If only actual cleaning were that satisfying. Most of the time, whatever magical new cleaning fluid I try, I can't really make much headway with dirt. Maybe I'm low on muscle. Maybe I give up too quickly. But rather than feel a glow of satisfaction after a hard session of scrubbing, I mostly feel the shame of incompetence. I can't do this. I'd rather take on extra work in a field I'm good at to pay someone who likes to clean to come and clean for me. Isn't that how the world should work? But somehow, we're all expected to be able to keep it neat.

There is one area in which I do shine, and that's cleaning the inside of sinks. A little Comet, a little scrubbing, and man, those things sparkle. Now, the faucet may always have mysterious uncleanable parts, and the metal trim around the outside of the sink always has some unscrubbable yellow gunk around it that might be dirt or might be the cement that's holding it on--but the inside of the sink, the inside is a slam dunk. Scrub that sink to brilliance, spray a little Murphy's Wood Soap in the air, and you might almost have the illusion that my kitchen is long as you don't notice the coffee grounds on the counter, the spaghetti-sauce stains on the cabinets, the sticky spots on the table. Hey, maybe I should move some of the clutter in here off the dining room table to cover this stuff up. Isn't that what all those school drawings are for?

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