I recently read somewhere that the average home should be deep-cleaned twice a month, with things like floors and bathrooms getting a weekly wash.
Once I stopped laughing, it occurred to me that some people might actually clean that often and immediately grew concerned that my Only-If-The-Health-Department-Is-Coming regimen might be inadequate.
It’s not that I don’t clean.
I’ll open mail and, like, load the dishwasher. The rest of it, however, feels a lot like housework, which I generally avoid.
Not because I’m not lazy or anything. I just don’t see the value.
Shortly after vacuuming the kitchen, someone eats an entire bag of pita chips without bothering to use a plate and it’s like the whole thing never happened.
I wash clothes and later find them being used as ad hoc carpeting in someone’s bedroom.
I scrub the toilet and within a day or two some desperate family member pleads that they just can’t wait any longer to use it.
At one point I mentioned the futility and my disdain of housework to a therapist friend who helped rationalize it by asking if I minded doing other repetitive-but-necessary chores, like getting a haircut, trimming my nails or brushing my teeth.
Once she put it all into perspective, I realized that I do, in fact, mind every single one of those things, along with any other task that doesn’t involve shopping or eating, and subsequently felt much better about it.
When I do clean it’s usually because we have company coming over, leaving me no choice but to make it appear as though it’s safe to enter our house without a tetanus shot.
Typically, the amount of cleaning required depends solely on who the guests are, creating a cleaning rating system.
Hoping to gain a better understanding of the potential work and stress involved, my husband usually asks for the classification well in advance.
Though unspoken, he’s really hoping to gauge the degree of irrational behavior he can expect from me, including shrill accusations over him not being helpful enough, despite repeated reassurances that I don’t need help.
He also wants to assess how much money I’m liable to shell out on new placemats and votive candles in order to feel good about it all.
For the most part, cleaning falls into three distinct categories.
Close friends committed long-term despite knowing our flaws, as well as family members, obligated by DNA, typically warrant the Cursory Clean.
This involves taking out the trash, closing doors to messy rooms, spraying Febreze and giving the toilet a once-over with a disinfectant wipe.
If I happen to notice that there’s more food under the kitchen cabinets than in the refrigerator, then I’ll sweep only that area before calling it quits.
Group gatherings including holidays, birthdays or neighbors require the Serious Clean.
More labor-intensive than the Cursory Clean, the Serious Clean can take up to several days and requires actual work, like washing stuff and running the self-clean cycle on the oven, followed by an immediate airing-out-of-the-house after acrid smoke pours out of the oven for three hours.
(It’s not uncommon for the Serious Clean to coincide with Attempting a New Recipe; a direct result of bingeing on the Food Network and overestimating my culinary skills. It’s a lethal combination and the outcome is almost always the same: a mutant version of coq au vin or baked Alaska, if prepared in a cement mixer, while blindfolded and using none of the correct ingredients.)
Finally, there’s the Company Clean, reserved for brand new guests and that one friend who organizes all the water bottles in her fridge so the labels face the same direction.
Far from an ordinary clean, the Company Clean is nothing short of DEFCON 1.
Not only does everything in the house get scrubbed down and assessed for replacement but undertaking a massive home renovation project isn’t out of the question, like adding on a screened-in porch because we don’t have an outdoor entertaining space.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because inevitably I forget to do the one critical thing that only becomes apparent after it’s too late.
Like the time we had guests over for a dinner party and one of them kicked off her sandals, only to step in cat vomit camouflaged by the rug under the dining room table.
On the upside, after that, the coq au vin didn’t seem so bad.