Cleanliness is next to impossible

One of Chuck’s uncles was in Texas last weekend, visiting Chuck’s dad and stepmother. The really cool thing about this is that it’s his mother’s brother. I love it when a family can stay family even after a divorce.

But I digress. Chucks’ father (also named Chuck; it makes for interesting conversations with my mother-in-law sometimes) and Uncle Allen dropped by on Sunday. Thankfully I suspected that might happen, because I was way behind on housework and needed at least eight hours to get the house presentable enough so that I could say, “Pardon the mess” with an air of confidence.

Presentable, not actually clean.

I am an excellent housekeeper, which is why my house is always at least a bit unkempt. You laugh at this? Let me explain.

When I really truly clean house, I operate under the theory that, if things started out in pristine condition, they can–and should–be restored to that condition. I absolutely despise burnt-on spots on pots and pans, grunge in any cracks and crevices, coffee stains on grout (kitchen counters; I’d have completely different issues if I had coffee stains in the shower). My cleaning supplies include wooden toothpicks and cotton swabs (I’m serious) in addition to three kinds of rags (terry, microfiber, and “floursack”), two mops and a floor brush, and four dusters. I keep my toilet brushes (one for each bathroom) soaking in pine oil cleaner at all times. I have owned as many as three working vacuum cleaners at one time.

With an arsenal like this, even my carpet should be squeaky clean. But one thing–the most important thing–is missing from my arsenal.


It takes a freakin’ HUGE amount of time and energy to clean a 1900 square foot house with toothpicks and cotton swabs. The results are fabulous, of course. Run a toothpick around the seam of that metal rim thingy around your kitchen sink and you’ll see what I mean. (If you don’t have a metal thingy, try the toothpick on the edges around the hinges on your toilet seat.) But after about four hours of this self-abuse, you get to where you start asking yourself if the floors really need to be clean enough to eat off of when you have a perfectly serviceable dining room table (we actually have three, but who’s counting?) so you quit. To be honest, I rarely get in four hours of this but I can go for about two as long as there isn’t something more interesting to do. Two hours = one room. On a good day.

At this point I switch to Plan B cleaning.

Step One: Hide things. For us, this includes empty boxes from online purchases, clean clothes that are folded but still sitting on top of the dryer (usually my underwear),  full trashcans, crochet and crafting projects, receipts (don’t ask), and the potty pads we keep down for the dogs (one is a puppy with an attention span of milliseconds, the other is an old and irascible chihuahua; we need potty pads). This can be fun, since the trashcans and recycling bin both live down a four-foot flight of stairs and across two driveways. Extra steps mean extra seconds. And there is only one closet in the house (in the office) and it doesn’t have a door, so there is no hiding stuff in it. Oh, and as you are picking up unused napkins and taco sauce packets from the coffee table, use the napkins as makeshift dust rags, but only on surfaces where the light might show the fine layer of “memories” (aka dust).

Step Two: Make the floors look like they might be clean. This involves picking up the fiberfill that Brigid (the puppy) has eviscerated from her indestructible (ha!) toys, hitting the high spots of the carpet with the vacuum (hoping the bag isn’t too full), and running a broom or dust mop around the edges of the rooms that have hard surface floors where the whatever-that-stuff-is gathers. Definitely not clean enough to eat off of, but then again, I’m now in panic mode prepping for guests and I doubt I’ll have time to go get anything to offer them to eat, anyhow.

Step Three: Bathrooms. Unless I have an ironclad agreement that states nobody will ask about using the facilities, or opt to hang an Out of Order sign on every bathroom door, I just suck it up and go to town, sans toothpick. I’ve tried using those pre-soaked disinfectant wipes, and they do work, but they also pick up any stray hairs that you might not have gotten on your preliminary  wipe-down. We are a family of two people with glorious manes, two dogs, and two cats. We have stray hairs. In any case, I generally spend more time trying to get the &!@*(^)^ wipes to let go of the )(%#^@!* hair than it would have taken to break out the rags and spray bottle.

Step Four: Empty trashcans. This is actually a part of Step One, but I always forget it. I suspect my in-laws and quite a few of our friends think Chuck is a fanatic about emptying the trash because they usually knock on the door mid-empty. And I’m usually in the bedroom frantically finishing the toilets or else attempting to put on my bra without taking off my shirt (to “save time”) so he has to get the door, trash in hand.

All in all, while I love a clean house, and I am quite capable of having one, it just doesn’t happen. The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak. Or maybe, in this case, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. So I spit-shine my way through, knowing that, if cleanliness is next to godliness, I took a wrong turn somewhere and am not quite able to get back on the right path. Even for Uncle Allen.


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