Monday, July 23, 2007

Eight Hours

I spent eight hours cleaning my husband’s revolting bathroom, split over four days. I still can’t believe the amount of work it took. Scrubbing the hideously filthy floor was probably the worst, so much yuck was caked on it was like removing the glazing from pottery. Urk.

I did find that one part of the cleaning went easier than I thought. Since this was an afterthought bathroom, the shower/bath stall was installed as a unit and had fiberglass walls and tub, not the tiled walls of the main bathroom. I was looking at that stall, all gummed up; the type Aggie and Kim would definitely want to have words with the owner about, and I thought, “You know, a brush is probably not going to work as well or with as much effect as it would on a tiled stall. I wonder how the scrub mop will work?” So, I got out the mop – one of those mops with a squeeze bar, and the head has a sponge side and a scrub side, KABOOMed the stall and scrubbed with the rough side of the mop. It worked great! In fact, it probably worked better than just using a scrub brush. I only had to use the scrub brush on corners and indentations and around handles and such. I also had to wait for the cleaner to eat through the crud, but still, it didn’t take the 3 hours I was expecting, only two hours from start to finish.

One of the nastier surprises was cleaning the window, which has two panes that crank open and screens. Aside from the amazing dust level on the sill, the screens were congested looking. I popped them out, sprayed them, and wiped, and they were still nasty looking, so I put them in the tub with a little “washing up liquid” and filled the tub until I could mash them up and down in the water. After the occlusions were gone from the screen mesh, I hosed them with clean water until it ran clear and set them aside to finish drying. The cleaning water was unspeakable. I hadn’t realized it, but I’m pretty sure that what had happened was that when the hard water from the shower turned into steam and clung to the screens, then the talcum powder cloud arose, the two things combined for a smaller version of what was going on with the floor. Boy, that hard water leaves some nasty looking stuff behind.

I laundered the shower curtain, handed it back, still damp, to hubs and said, “That’s it. It’s all sanitary, gleaming, and fresh. Please try to keep it that way. I’ve put a bottle of all purpose cleaner on the counter where you can’t miss it, along with a stack of dishtowels, and I expect you to tidy up after yourself—especially when the talcum powder gets to flying.” He looked exceedingly sour, and, much like the dream team of cleaners; I have my doubts as to how much he’ll actually do.

I think this is one of those things where he thinks it’s my job to clean up after him, and he gets to be as dirty and thoughtless as he wants to be. I’m not going to let him get away with that this time, the house is too big, there are too many creatures living here, and it’s unreasonable to expect one person, possessed of a good mind, to willingly spend 6 or more hours a day cleaning everyone else’s filth. I can keep up with it if everyone picks up after themselves, gets the laundry where it’s supposed to be, and pitches in if a big job arises, but expectations beyond that are nuts. Besides, I’m no longer a spring chicken, and I have plenty of other things to do, too.

So, I watched “How Clean Is Your House” yesterday, smug in my happiness at having cleaned my house’s worst nightmare room. I had a lot of sympathy for the cleaners going into different filthy households with hostile, reluctant homeowners who don’t like cleaning, think “washing up liquids should be BANNED”, or who are obvious hoarders and clutterbugs. While my house, or even individual rooms in it, are not as bad as the ones on the show, I encounter smaller versions of the same problems, so I do like watching for tips, for motivation, and for the vicarious malicious glee of listening to the costars give the stinkers a good dressing down and lessons in bacterial science.

Anyway, all this cleaning and watching the show makes me think about a lot of different things. It makes me think about how my house isn’t that bad, even though I’m not one of those house-proud people who won’t let you in if you’re wearing shoes and make you wear slippers on their white Berber carpet. It makes me wonder why so many British people seem to have houses that need to be condemned – eek! And how many Americans are probably hiding behind ordinary front doors with equally horrible piles of crud and encrusted floors. And it makes me wonder if I’ve done a good enough job of teaching my kids why it’s important to be aware of home hygiene and the importance of tidying up on a regular basis.

I also wonder why it seems like no one really teaches the poor clients on that show how to clean, and then I wonder if I’ve taught my kids how to do so adequately. One year I made each and everyone of them help me, over the summer, with a top to bottom cleaning of the house. We did each room as a team, and I used the speed cleaning system of the “Clean Team” in hitting each room like an organized tornado. They were reluctant at first, but after we’d done the first couple of rooms, they were proud of their work and joined in like real troopers.

I rewarded them with special field trips to movies, parks, public swimming pools, and allowance bonuses. It worked well one year. It hasn’t worked as well since then, but I know at least one of them, Bunny, does remember how to deal with a room. Doodle’s memory kicks back in with a short reminder lessons, and Spawn’s so busy wanting to be independent that we can barely speak any more, so I’m not so sure of him. I’m pretty sure no one taught my husband how to clean a room, really clean one, without resorting to putting things in boxes and hiding them elsewhere.

Then I wonder how I learned. I know my mother used cleaning as punishment, and her usual practice was to hand me a toothbrush and something caustic and tell me to clean the toilet. Aside from burning the skin on my hands and doing a lousy job, the only thing I learned was to detest my mother. My step mom had a good rule for taming clutter – “If you haven’t used it in two years, get rid of it.” That worked really well, and taught me the first rule of cleaning, which was, you can’t clean well if there’s too much crap around.

When the kids were little, spewing effluvia around the way kids do, dumping purple Kool-Aid by accident, and being little whirlwinds of crud, things got out of control. I used the Clean Team methods for a while. Then I burnt my right hand really severely in a cooking accident while the Doodle was still a baby in diapers, and couldn’t do anything at all, not even change his diaper, while my hand was healing, and we hired Merry Maids to come in every other week and clean. I watched them carefully to see how they did it, since they seemed to be able to clean my whole house in two hours, in a team of two.

We moved to a bigger house, my hand healed, and I switched to the Fly Lady’s method of cleaning. I haven’t followed those recommendations religiously, but I do like the idea of “you can do anything, even things you hate doing, for 15 minutes.” I found I could do a lot of cleaning in 15 minutes. Just not my husband’s horrible bathroom.

I have dreamt of a self-cleaning house and asked for a Roomba for my birthday a few years ago. It went insane after two days, and so did the replacement. It kept going in little circles, mumbling and hiccupping to itself before the power ran out. That was kind of discouraging. I wish it had rolled over to me and popped open its crud compartment lid so I could clean it out, give it a pat, and send it back to work. I’m not a cruel person, really! It’s just that every member of my household seems to be like Charles Schultz’s character, Pigpen.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the mean little thought that as my kids get older and move out, I’ll have them each clean their rooms to a state of pristine perfection before they go, then put locks on the doors and not let my husband store more of his crap in them. I’ll just shut down the house, room by clean room, until we’re down to the common rooms, one bedroom and a shared bathroom. I think I might be able to keep up with a lesser amount of space, AND be able to pursue my own interests and hobbies guilt free, while having a clean house.

I’ll bet a lot of people could tell me it doesn’t work out that way. A gal can dream, though.


Brigitte said...

I need cleaning lessons. The few times I find the opportunity to really deep clean a room . . . well, I KNOW it's sanitized, and it SMELLS clean, but somehow it usually actually looks worse. All streaky or something. And of course, it all needs to be done again in (what feels like) mere moments later.

BoS said...

Cleaning is tough duty. It's so hard to keep up, which is probably why I need inspiring TV shows to get me started. The Clean Team I referred to has a set of books that actually teaches you how to clean, so I highly recommend them -- available in paperback, short, and cheap.