It's a clean, clean world

Friday, September 6, 2002
Ronda Graff

I don't know why it happened or how it happened, but I remember exactly when it happened: I started making my bed everyday. It was right after I had my first child and I was home all day long. Every day, I had to look at an unkempt bed, the covers tossed to the floor and the sheets scattered across the top.

Until that point, I had sound reasoning for not making the bed every day: You just messed it up every night, so why make it every morning? But I soon found myself kicking my husband out of bed early so I could pull the sheets up and fluff the pillows. If I was up, the bed was ready to be made.

So began my quest toward cleanliness. I realize it's a lifelong quest and a goal that I'll never completely reach, especially with my standards.

What is the best way to get me (and most other people) to clean their house? Invite people over. Why is it that we will clean when guests are coming over, but don't have those same standards for our own family? Probably because our families grow accustomed to that scattering of crumbs on the dining room table or that layer of dust on the living room chair.

It should be noted that "cleaning when company is coming" has a definition of its own. While it would be ideal to  scrub the corners of the kitchen floor and put every last toy neatly in its assigned place, the cleaning frenzy always ends the same way: As the first guest pulls into the driveway, all out-of-place items are frantically thrown in the closet to be dealt with at a later date -- usually six months later.

Even if you did manage to get that two- month-old piece of pie removed from the bottom of the kitchen stools before company arrived, do they really notice? Usually, the guests are satisfied if their feet don't stick to the floor as they walk from one room to another.

I rely on the arrival of guests so much as motivation to clean, that I began having parties just to get my kitchen floor scrubbed. True, the clean-up afterward was usually greater than if I had just cleaned in the first place, but that's what dishwashers were created for.

I am so dependent on company as cleaning-motivation that I'm not really that disappointed when no one shows up. I recently planned a dinner party, when at the last minute, everyone called to cancel. Was I upset? Not in the least. My kitchen counters were clutterless and the floor spotless.

The problem with cleaning is that until you start scrubbing and dusting, you don't realize how dirty everything really was.

For example, consider bookshelves. As long as you don't move a book, the shelves look relatively clean. Take the initiative to actually read something and there will be evidence that your feather duster hasn't seen daylight in three months.

Toilets are another constant reminder that you should keep on top of your cleaning. After scrubbing the toilet, the sparkling white bowl reminds you that it was so dirty before that the dog wouldn't even drink out of it.

Other times you know how dirty the house is, but are just overwhelmed (can you be underwhelmed?) by the task and continue to put the inevitable off. It's not until you see veggies sprouting from the corner of the room that you take it upon yourself to clean.

After having the windows in my house open sporadically throughout the summer, I knew it was time to sweep the wooden floor and dust the bookshelves. I actually moved the furniture from their original spots, only to find things that would have been better off not being found, and removed all the books from the shelves.

The dusting and sweeping began and the dirt was piling up quickly in the middle of the room. By the time I finished (or so I thought), I literally had a pile of dirt laying the middle of the room. Part of the dirt road running in front of my house has somehow made its way into my house. I could fill up several divots which has developed in the road just with this pile in my library.

But looking around, the bookshelves gleamed, the floor shone and the pictures sparkled. The room was immaculate. As I turned to leave and return the cleaning supplies to their properly hidden place, a deep dark corner in the basement, I glanced at the desk out of the corner of my eye. What was that sitting on top, the top which I had just wiped clean three minutes ago? A fresh, pristine layer of dust.

Fortunately for the dust, it's just a two month reprieve.

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