If you’d peered into my kitchen window yesterday afternoon, you would have seen me sitting on the floor with a moist rag and a bowl of Ajax cleanser, wiping the dirty fingerprints and random food stains off the cabinets. Prior to that, I was dusting the wainscoting in the dining room, as well as the base of the pedestal dining table. I also cleaned between the countertop tiles using a grout brush.
A few minutes ago, I was busily cleaning the kitchen island and spraying the living room with Febreze “Meadows & Rain”-scented air freshener. According to the manufacturer, it is supposed to smell “like a grassy meadow misted in early morning dewy freshness.” I actually find it quite pleasant, though its main selling point is that it effectively masks the smell of dog.
Intensive cleaning is not something I just do for the fun of it. I only clean like this for one reason: people are coming over. If you are reading this and are upset that you aren’t on the guest list, don’t be–I didn’t decide whom to invite. Occasionally, we volunteer to host a cocktail party for supporters of a nonprofit we are involved with. There is no hard sell, or any sell at all for that matter, at these events, but hopefully they will make people feel warm and fuzzy and inspired to make a donation. A couple years ago, someone at one of our parties made a $10K donation shortly thereafter. Joe and I don’t have that kind of money, but we do what we can to help. In my case, that is to make sure the house is tidy. (I will note here that Joe does help, but he doesn’t obsess over the details like I do.)
Even when our house is spic-and-span, though, I still feel like it is biding its time to return to its natural state of clutter. Have you heard of a “dry drunk”–someone who still has an alcoholic’s mindset despite the fact that they no longer imbibe? One of the reasons I was so obsessed with the now-canceled TV show “Hoarders” was because I sometimes felt like I was a few stacks of newspapers away from becoming one myself. You just give up that vigilance for a little while, and the next thing you know, you’re making your way through your house via an elaborate network of goat paths.
A few years ago, I tried out a few methods of keeping your house clean. One of them involved index cards–you were supposed to record all of your household chores on 3×5 cards, and then do a certain number of them every day. Fly Lady is another popular resource, though her command of “dressing to your shoes” even when you’re inside the house is a deal-breaker for me. (Scandinavians, like the Japanese, simply don’t wear street shoes in their homes. We are a slippers-wearing people. For events like tonight’s, I don a pair of simple black flats that I have never worn outside. And no, I don’t ask visitors to remove their shoes.)
The only method I’ve found that is completely foolproof is having people over. Now that we have a house-sitter, I spend the day before we leave on a trip in a cleaning frenzy. (She always leaves the house tidy, though coming home from vacation always seems to require a week or so just to put away everything you brought back with you; I spent part of last night alphabetizing my Playbill collection.) But there’s something extra-intimidating about having people you don’t know in your home. I don’t want anyone to drive away asking their spouse, “Did you see the size of those dust bunnies?”
Of course, no one ever notices the absence of dust bunnies. That’s one of the things that makes cleaning a thankless task. Plus, no matter how well you do it, you’ll have to do it again in a few days (or, in the case of dirty dishes, a few hours).
As I was writing this entry, I received an email from an East Coast friend who is in the Bay Area for work this week. He’s coming over to visit us on Saturday. That’s good news: it means the house will stay clutter- and dust-bunny-free for a little while longer.