Thoughts on Cleaning

I find it very soothing to read organizing and housekeeping related books. I’ve read many over the years. One of my favorites is Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. I suspect I like it for the same reason Constance Grady relates in Why a manual by a control freak is the best thing to read when the world is out of control. My main regret is there isn’t an audio version available. Though, at 896 pages long, I can’t even guess how many hours that would take. As a result, the book I currently listen to the most is One Year to an Organized Life by Regina Leeds.

I particularly like listening to these type of books while I’m cleaning house. One day while browsing the library audiobooks I stumbled across How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis. This book is radically different from the ones I usually read. The book gives permission to do the bare minimum you need in order to have a house that is safe and comfortable for your needs. While it is very different from how I usually think about cleaning, the concepts discussed really caught my attention. I bought both the audiobook and ebook versions so I could listen and review again as often as I wanted1.

I am definitely happiest when everything in my house is perfectly clean and everything is in its place. This will probably come as a shock to Jaeger as early on in our marriage we had to have a discussion of what “clean” means. To me, clean means there is no dirt but for Jaeger it means there isn’t stuff laying around. So he would be upset about how dirty the house was and I would be very confused because the toilets had been bleached, the mirrors sprayed, and the furniture dusted even while our stuff lay around the house. However, when I pickup things, everything has to be picked up2. I lean towards an all or nothing approach when it comes to clutter.

While few things make me happier than sitting down to read in the evening in a perfectly clean and organized house, it’s not something I realistically have the time for if I want or need to do anything else. In my ideal world, I’d have a three day weekend that consists of:

  1. A rest day
  2. A house project day (paying bills, installing shades, organizing cupboards, etc) and
  3. A cleaning day

Sadly, I do not regularly get three day weekends. I almost never get three day weekends where I don’t have to account for how the rest of the family is occupying themselves.

These days even though it feels like I should have enough time to fully clean our house on Sunday, I don’t. At least, I don’t for the way I’d prefer to clean the house (in strict top to bottom order starting with the master bathroom and ending in the kitchen). This is true even though Calvin is responsible for the kids’ bathroom, our half bathroom, and the family room and Jaeger is responsible for all the floors3.

So, back to How to Keep House While Drowning. Since first listening to it, I’ve started tinkering more with my house cleaning routine. When I have a limited amount of time to clean, I try to focus more on what will have the most impact rather than going sequentially through my checklist. This is a hard shift for me but I’m slowly getting better at it. When I enter the bathroom I now ask myself what will make me happiest to have clean. While theoretically I would like to cobweb dust the ceiling every time, unless I actually see cobwebs, it’s usually not worth my time. On the other hand, the toilet and shower are two areas I want to clean every time4. My priorities in the bathroom are pretty consistent but I tend to have less consistency in the kitchen. One week I might really want to clean all the finger prints off the stainless steel appliances whereas another weekend I might choose to deep clean the sink5. The living room . . . well, it hasn’t been dusted in a while.

I feel this is a more balanced way to approach cleaning and, while it’s not prefect, I think it’s a reasonable approach for now. My Sundays still feel too full but when I sit down in the evening I feel better about the overall results.

  1. In completionist mode, I also want the physical book but I haven’t decided yet if I’m actually going to buy it
  2. This mirrors how I cleaned as a kid also. My room would gradually get extremely messy and every so often I’d stay up all night cleaning and it would be absolutely prefect for a couple of hours.
  3. An alternative option, which I have used sometimes in the past, is to hire house cleaners. However, I find managing everything that goes with hiring house cleaners to be even more stressful than cleaning myself. As Davis notes, another favorite suggestion people have is to clean while you go or to clean a little bit every day. This doesn’t work at all for me so I found the part where she talked about how it also doesn’t work for her to be very validating.
  4. Normally the shower wouldn’t be so high on my list except for some reason this shower starts growing mildew at an astonishing rate. Also, for the record, I really, really hate clear glass shower doors.
  5. Another hate I’ve developed is for built-in Corian sinks. Yes, there’s no annoying caulk lines to clean around and I do like that. However, our current off-white sink stains at an unbelievable rate. The only way I’ve found to deal with it is to take baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and leave it to soak for hours and even then it doesn’t always work.

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