Monday, November 16, 2009

The Missing Gene Update

I have been canvassing the opinions of my favourite clean queens, and here are my highly unscientific findings. No-one I have asked actually owns up to liking cleaning. They just say that they hate mess more than they hate cleaning, and also, that they would rather clean little and often than occasionally tackle an enormous mess. They do stuff like wiping down the oven every time they use it, so they never have to face the appallingly charred remains of the hundred baked dinners that I do whenever I open my oven...

Apparently they suffer from an overwhelming urge to remove anything that conflicts with their inner vision of how a space should look. So, toys in the hallway, dust bunnies under the couch, crumbs on the table, they all have to go before inner harmony can be achieved. I have had some fascinating conversations on this subject with friends this week. I am starting to feel like those women in TV ads who are forever popping up over the fence to recommend washing powder to each other. It sounds like such a sad sally thing to do, forever banging on about housework - I feel like I am disgracing the feminist sisterhood. But I also feel like I have to face reality. I am going to spend much of the rest of my life looking after a house, a garden, a family, and I may as well do it with efficiency and as much grace as I can muster. For the last eighteen years my approach to housekeeping has been mainly: if I ignore it, it might go away. Well, call me a slow learner, but eighteen years is probably enough time to disprove that theory.

I love reading vintage housekeeping manuals that instruct women to regard housekeeping as a career worthy of their highest attention and endeavours. I do have very ambivalent feelings about my place in society. My heart tells me that I am doing the best I can possibly do, being at home with my family, and I am very grateful to have that opportunity, but it is sometimes difficult to sustain a sense of the value of what I do while I am cleaning the kitchen (or failing to clean the kitchen). And regarding housekeeping as a career is just not something that the modern girl does - it is the one area of life taken least seriously by nearly everyone. So for me to take it seriously, and to actually devote myself to its mysteries, well, that is still taking me some effort to get my head around. Still, the conversations I have been having recently about cleaning with those of my acquaintance who are actually good at it, have been fun and insightful, so I am considering them in the light of networking, and I am amazed that in the years of knowing them I have never picked the brains of these lovely clean queens to find out exactly how they do what they do so well. So here are the top tips from discussions this week:

Cleaning the oven as above - wiping it down every time you use it. Who would have thought (obviously not me)?

My clean queen neighbour keeps the sink constantly full of hot, soapy water and washes up whenever she uses anything so she almost never has a full sink of dishes to wash.

Another friend with six children has an empty cupboard in the loungeroom that she scoops clutter into when she has visitors, or needs a clutter free space to drink a glass of wine in at the end of the day (she is also disciplined enough to clean it out afterwards...)

A trip out isn't over until the car is emptied and baskets/bags/lunchboxes etc are emptied, and no one is allowed to watch TV or otherwise escape until this is done!

A phone call is an opportunity to tidy, file, or put a load of washing on.

Chores and household projects need to be scheduled into your diary and treated with the same urgency as dental appointments.

Children can be bribed with chocolate/TV or computer time/trips to the park, to do just about any household chore, especially (for young children) if you are doing something alongside them.

Schedule chore free time into every day otherwise available work will chew up all available time.

These are the gems from this week. I am going to incorporate some straightaway and work on others. Let me know if you have some housework gems of your own...

And a last thought. Today at lunch a dear friend was telling me how excited she was about her newly decluttered and cleaned home office, and then we laughed about how tragic it is that these are the highlights of our week, and then we were just grateful that we had each other as a mutual appreciation club. We truly do need the encouragement and support of the domestic sisterhood.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Missing Gene

It has taken a long time but I have finally worked out why me and mine are all so untidy. We have the wrong genes. I know this sounds suspiciously convenient as an explanation, but bear with me for the reasoning. I have plenty of 'clean queen' friends who are tidy as well as charming, and whose houses all look like they are being photographed every afternoon for Home Beautiful. They seem to be naturally tidy, have married tidy men who like to spend their weekends manicuring the lawn, and give birth to tidy children who come to my house and say things like, 'Did you know there are dirty handprints all over your fridge?' and, 'Why are there toys all over the floor?', not spitefully, you understand, but merely in a helpful spirit of observation and inquiry.

'But how do you know,' I hear you ask, 'that this inclination for tidiness is genetic, and not merely the result of careful training and habitual hard work?' Well, dear reader, it has come to my attention that there are many people who simply cannot abide mess. It makes them nervous and agitated and they cannot sit still until everything in sight is clean. Anything out of place affects them physically, and they can no more walk past a stray object on the floor than fail to stop at a red light. Needless to say, there is no-one living here with any such impulses. For days now I have been walking past a decapitated Barbie head under my wardrobe, vaguely wondering how it got there, and worse, severa days ago Posy came and took the waste paper bin out of my room. 'I need it,' she said solemnly, 'for a project.' I have no idea what she did with it, because it has disappeared completely, but ever since then I have been throwing rubbish on the floor where the bin was, assuming she will bring it back sometime... It was this piece of sluttish behaviour that convinced me once and for all that any state of tidiness I might achieve will only ever be fleeting. I really do have to pay constant attention to stop the house sliding back into a state of entropy. I do appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a clean and pleasant house. It's just that I don't rate them highly compared to about two hundred and fifty six other more interesting things I might be doing instead. So, a cleaning routine approached with academic determination, holding an inner vision of a clean and pleasant home firmly in my mind, and eternal vigilance is my best line of defence against encroaching clutter and appalling filth. I really don't want to end up like the old ladies walled into cottages by piles of newspapers and a lifetime's collection of old clothes and china knick knacks.

But there are consolations. I get to lie on the couch among the glorious confusion that comes on our house by about four in the afternoon. I will be drinking tea and reading 101 Dalmations to the children while the Clean Queens have to vacuum and clean dirty handmarks off the fridge..