2008.06.25 Reading about cleaning

Written by David Green.


I’m leafing through this book that my wife has through the library’s state interloan program. It’s actually overdue. Stair Public Library’s new director is abusing the interloan system.

The book is called “How to Cheat at Cleaning” and I’m convinced there’s a page in here somewhere that leads Colleen in her cleaning efforts.

It has to be in chapter six: Spouse, Kids, Friends and Hired Professionals.

Her rule goes something like this: When beginning a major cleaning effort, focus on your spouse’s stuff. The discussion of the approach would say something like this: It doesn’t matter if 95% of the problem is yours; point out that small pile of magazines that your spouse has on the kitchen table.

If your dining room has become the home office and is covered with bills, tax forms and a checkbook, talk about the neat pile of items your spouse has next to his laptop where he writes news stories from home.

If your spouse points out there are a thousand letters in your e-mail in-box, quickly find one that was addressed to him and make this the focus of the problem.

Cleaning has been a topic of concern at the Green/Leddy house as of late due to a bridal shower (now passed) and a wedding (approaching soon).

It’s also been a great challenge in the Green/Leddy household because one child has been in Wyoming chipping rocks and another child was in her future home of New Orleans. Ben is in Abu Dhabi. He’ll probably never again be called upon to clean up the dust collectors he’s left behind, from sports trophies to CD covers to a package of edible larvae.

With me and my usual Observer busy-ness—the nights without a meeting are rare—and Colleen doing her marathon planning sessions for the library’s summer reading program, I suppose we really need a book about how to cheat at cleaning. And besides, sitting in the sofa with a book about cleaning is a heck of a lot more fun than actually cleaning.

Author Jeff Bredenberg starts off by listing 10 things you can quit cleaning right now. I’m guessing that I never started in the first place, but let’s take a look.

Sneakers, grill grate, soccer balls, shower curtain liner, pillow, stove drip pans, ventilation ducts and fireplace walls. No, I’m not going to save any time there. I’ve never washed a soccer ball in my life.

The final two items on his list aren’t exactly cleaning. No. 9: Stop waxing the car. No. 10: Stop making the bed.

If you must make your bed, at least take some amusement in the task, he says. He reprints instructions from a Scottish newspaper for making your bed while still in it. It tells how to smooth out the duvet, then slowly slip out the bottom of the bed without mussing things up.

Bredenberg also has some things to say about gender and genetics.

For example, in the traditional stay-at-home mom role, women became the cleaners of the house. Now, as many women have a job or two, they’re still regarded as the cleaner of the house.

Not a fair situation, obviously, but Bredenberg says it’s improving. More and more men are involved in the task now than in the past, but this leads to the genetics consideration.

He quotes another cleaning author, Sandra Beckwith, who points out that men don’t see dirt in the same way as women.

“I think it’s truly a genetic thing,” she said, “their brains aren’t wired to see it.”

“Clean and tidy” isn’t a priority of the same magnitude for many men. They don’t read instructions, they approach the task like a military assault, and they truly might not know the location of the mop—that sort of information has been filtered out.

Beckwith writes about the importance of lowering your standards. Criticize your spouse’s efforts or redo his work and he’ll probably quit helping.

I saw the genetic divide at work as early as 7:30 a.m. Sunday when a neighbor down the block has his leaf blower out to remove every bit of storm debris from sidewalk and driveway. I heard leaf blowers throughout the day and I’m sure there were many driveways clean enough to eat off.

If only those leaf blowers could be used on the kitchen floor. Now there’s a man’s way to cheat at cleaning.

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