Cleaning the House

I have been told that I lack follow-through.  I don’t agree.  Let me clarify: I DO lack follow-through.  I just don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Follow-through, also known as the ability to complete something one has started, is over-rated and widely misunderstood.  Taking a singular project from beginning to end, without digression or scope-creep, lacks both imagination and flexibility.

To say one has vacuumed the carpets without first moving every piece of furniture out of a room cannot be considered a job well done.  To say one has cleaned the bookshelf without removing all of the books, cleaning the shelves, then dusting each book before replacing them in order of height and then again in alphabetical order and then again by color cannot be considered complete.

Since most people are not capable of bringing the vision that I am blessed with to their cleaning projects, they compromise.  They straighten their garages without completely re-designing them with new cupboards and shelves.  They clean their desks without re-organizing all of the cables and, incredibly, without replacing anything currently using a cable with something wireless.

I am not other people.  I understand that digression and scope-creep are inevitable parts of any well-conceived project and, therefore, avoid projects at all costs.  Most of the time.

Sometimes, I am forced by circumstance to tackle something or other, like straightening the house for company, but don’t have time to do a proper job of it.  I tell myself to do a superficial job.  But it’s like watching a tornado approach a mobile home park.  You think that, this time, it will miss.  But it never does.  This time, I think, I will be able to quiet the screaming of the toothbrushes that are dying to get out and clean the quarter-inch ledge on the top of the floor molding or the pictures that want desperately to move from the living room to the dining room.

I am expecting a guest today, a casual friend who has never been to my house.  I’ve noticed that most people like to welcome their guests into clean, tidy houses.  I have never been afflicted with this particular neurosis.  Nevertheless, I decide to attempt a normal, non-obsessive cleaning and straightening of my house

I start by taking a critical look around and try to view my house as someone seeing it for the first time would. 

  • Furniture arranged nicely.  Check. 
  • Shades up and windows open, providing view of newly-landscaped back yard.  Check. 
  • Floors clean.  Would be a check, if not for the mulch sprinkled liberally throughout the house.  Another note to self: mulch outside + dog = mulch inside.  Will sweep it up, but not right now.  Would vacuum but this is just the sort of task that has a tendency to trigger obsessiveness as I struggle to vacuum corners, under rugs and couches, and that impossible 90-degree-corner at the intersection of stairs.
  • Kitchen island clear.  Most definitely not a check. I don’t think I’ve seen the entire counter since the early 2000’s.  Mail, keys, newspapers (most, sadly, unread), items which will never be returned to the stores from which I purchased them, reading glasses, pen for doing crossword, half-finished crosswords that can no longer be finished because they were written in pen and who knew that China produces more rice than India?  Answer: everyone but me.

I start with the kitchen.  There are brown, squishy things where the bananas normally live.  On closer inspection, they are bananas.  They should be perfect in smoothies.  I will cut them up and freeze them.  But not now, as that would distract me.  I put them in the fridge, leaving some sticky evidence on the counter.  I decide to collect all of the dirty dishes from around the house and put them in the dishwasher.  I then decide to put away the stuff on the drying rack.  A week ago, re-organizing my bathroom cabinets had sounded like a good idea, so bits and pieces of plastic shelving have been sitting on the rack since then.  I grab the pieces and head to the bathroom, noticing, again, the mulch on the floor.  I will definitely sweep it up next time I go back to the kitchen.  No question about it.

When I started the bathroom project, which had began innocently as an effort to put away some of the stuff that had accumulated on my bathroom counter, I’d gotten as far as taking everything out of the cupboard and removing the plastic rack, which I’d then noticed was dirty, which explains why it was in the kitchen drying rack.  Deciding, rather too late, that that project was more time-consuming than I had originally calculated, I had shoved everything back into the cupboard, without benefit of the plastic shelving unit. 

Now would be the perfect time to rectify that.  When I get to the bathroom, I empty everything out of the cupboard again.  Much is no longer useable.  There is a bottle of mouthwash which appears to have died a desperate, lonely death as the fluid evaporated, leaving a sad coating on the inside of the plastic bottle.  A half-finished bottle of multi-vitamins expired four years ago.  Yet another note to self:  Don’t buy vitamins in bulk ever again. You know, by now, that you don’t take them.  Since I will need a bag for everything that should be tossed or recycled, I head back to the kitchen, noticing the mulch again and resolving to grab the broom.

Once in the kitchen, I realize I’m thirsty.  Opening the fridge, I notice all of the things that are taking up space that I won’t eat because I never liked them to begin with (too healthy) or have gone bad (also too healthy).  I decide to clean out the fridge.  I pull out two different containers of hummus (one moldy, one unopened, but afraid to look), wilted and somewhat swampy lettuce that looked appetizing until I got it home and realized how much work making salads is, cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving (it’s now Spring), moldy grapes and mushy apples.  I spread all of these on the island, thereby adding additional clutter to the area I wanted to clear.  It would further delay me to empty containers and clean them for recycling so, temporarily putting my environmental consciousness aside, I decide to throw everything away.

While outside throwing the trash away, it occurs to me that I haven’t picked up dog poop for a while.  I go back inside for newspaper bags.  After picking up the poop and putting it in the trash can, I return to the kitchen, where my attention goes to the stack of newspapers on the island.  Lamenting that I haven’t gotten around to reading them all, I nevertheless take them to the recycling bin in the garage.  Showing tremendous discipline and resisting the powerful urge to turn this into a garage-cleaning project, I decide not to sweep the garage floor and go back inside to resume the bathroom project, which has now superseded the kitchen island project.

While walking through the mulch again (darn, I had promised myself to bring the broom this time, but forgot and don’t want to go back to get it as it would destroy my rhythm), I notice, much to my surprise, that the sheets which have been covering the couch in the living room have both mulch and chocolate stains on them (dogs 1, me 1).  By the way, having sheets on the couch is my bargain with the Devil: I agree not to use plastic couch covers and He makes sure that I don’t spill an entire blue Slurpee© on myself while sitting there. 

As long as I’m going to wash the white sheets, I may as well do a load of laundry.  I go into my closet to grab the basket of whites when I notice that my shoes are piled in careless disarray on the floor.  I organize them neatly on my shoe racks and head back into the bathroom to continue organizing my cupboard.  I put the rack back together inside the cupboard and start organizing it.  I find a couple of plastic baggies with folded papers in them – presumably from medications of yore. Clearly the paper instructions should go in the recycle bin and the bags should go in the kitchen to live with the rest of the baggies.  I grab the baggies and paper and head back into the kitchen, noticing that the sheets are still on the couch.  I vaguely think about the mulch.  I recycle the paper and put the baggies away when I notice two more slats for the bathroom shelf in the kitchen drying rack.  I take them back to the bathroom and grab the sheet while I’m headed in that direction.  I put the slats on the living room table and take the sheet off the couch and put it in the washer.  I then go back into my closet to get my basket of whites, which I get safely into the laundry room and even into the washer.  I start the wash and then head back into the bathroom, when I realize that the slats are still in the living room.

Going back to the living room, my stomach grumbles so I decide to grab a quick bite to eat.  I will finish the bathroom and sweep up the mulch as soon as I eat.  I grab a bag of chips and eat some on my way into the living room, sit on the couch, turn on the TV, wipe my greasy, salty fingers on the couch and put my feet up on the ottoman. 

Twenty minutes later, the doorbell startles me awake.