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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cleaning Quandaries


Of late, I have been assiduously adopting a laissez-faire attitude to the dust bunnies breeding in the corners, ceiling cobwebs, pasta sauce and chocolate stains on the floor.
What is life, but a giant round of cleanup, followed within minutes by dirt from the muddy outdoors, spilt milk and cookie crumbs? Cleanliness may be next to godliness, as my mother likes to say, but it also is even more ephemeral than a passing cloud.
The law of Household Entropy states that
"Anything that was just cleaned will get dirty in a time duration in inverse proportion to the effort required to clean it" Copyright- Sujatha 2007

(if that hasn't yet been trademarked, I claim first dibs on it!)

I'm sure that the law of Housecleaning Entropy will prevail, no matter how much we try to order things by tidying up. Dirt and Chaos Reign Supreme!

I tried getting out of the apathy to cleaning by signing up with FlyLady, the internet group that will even hound you by email to get up and do your cleaning chores ("Shine your sink", "Get ready for the 10 minute clutter buster") if you have been too long at the keyboard. The constant e-reminders were annoying, so I switched to a daily digest. A few days later, I unsubscribed from the list.

I've found one method that works is to "Invite friends over to dinner". This ensures that at least some basic cleaning gets done, at least to assure them of the 'good hygiene' in the house where they eat. But with all the activities that I juggle, it doesn't always work as a device to encourage frequent cleaning.

Another is to harangue my teenager about his room and threaten to go in with a trash bag, unless he cleans up by himself. But he always manages to do literally what I tell him and no more, taking the definition of 'literally' to new heights. For instance, I instruct him to pick up the clothes tossed on his floor and take them to the basement for washing. He will promptly take the clothes downstairs, where they will remain in the laundry basket, unwashed for 3 days till I happen to see them and ask him about whether they were washed. " You told me to take them down, and that's exactly what I did!"

As for my younger one, the less said the better. She is showing all the aversion to cleaning up her toy messes that I used to display at her age. I would shriek for hours if my mother happened to disturb a carefully elaborate setup of toys and have been repaid by heredity and genetics with the same blessing in my daughter. As to getting her to 'clean up' after play, that's a task best left to swearing mommies at late bedtimes with a crankily sleepy little one nodding off on the side of the bed, of little help.

I used to wistfully collect the junk mail that arrived promising "Clean houses at affordable prices", "The WRONG person is cleaning your house- it shouldn't be YOU", until I discreetly enquired about them from a few friends who had the cleaning services come in once in a few weeks. Apparently, the secret to all the cleanliness in their dazzling homes, lies in the frantic precleaning that goes on before the cleaners get there, because we are too ashamed to show what lousy housekeepers we are by leaving the house in shambles before the outsiders arrived.
In all, the same effect as inviting friends over, but with more regularity, plus you pay them to spray your house with all kinds of cleaners and stuff and can live in an asthmatic haze till the fumes clear out a few days later.

The key to surviving all of this is what I describe as a New Zen approach to cleaning. Not to be confused with experiencing the cleaning moment by moment, as described by other avid practitioners, this method borrows from the Just-in-Time management mode and uses the following basic tenets.
1. Never clean until you find your actual work surface covered with dust.
It will not get covered with dust if it is a well-used surface.

2. Never clean anything that is out of sight.
You can get professional cleaners to deal with that when you are moving out, anyway.

3. Never clean anything when other people are around.
See Law of Household Entropy for reason.

4. Develop an extreme reverence for all life forms (a la Jainism).
This will give you the perfect excuse not to destroy poor Charlotte the spider's web in the corner, or kill Thomasina the dustmite's home, or even Millicent mildew's habitat in the bathtub grout.

5. Leave the burnt on mess on your stove burners for long enough, and they will become an industrial grade teflon burner replacement, without the carcinogenic properties.

6. When the weather is good, spend all time gardening outside, so you don't have to see the dust in the house.

7. When the weather is bad, take up a hobby that will precede cleaning in priority.

8. In other words, don't lift a finger until you have to.
You will be much happier for it!

This is the new Eightfold Path towards a happy if very occasionally clean house.


There, I've now managed to almost talk myself out of the 'cleaning attack' that was threatening for the last two days, but need to get up and clean. Visitors are expected for dinner on Saturday, so ciao!

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