Friday, March 20, 2009


Big weekend coming up--we're having an out-of-town guest. It's going to be the minimal-est kind of visit you can imagine, though; my friend from graduate school is participating in a small bike race nearby, and needs a place to crash the night before. As she is leaving a husband and one-year old behind, she'll be getting here Saturday night, and leaving early Sunday for the race.

So, really, no pressure to wash the windows or steam-clean the drapes. But there is something about having overnight guests that activates our Clean Genes.

Miss Chef and I are not the best housekeepers, but we're not complete slobs, either. We both came from families with a parent bordering on obsessive-compulsive, so when we clean, we do it right. It's just that it's stressful to hold yourself to such a standard, so we end up putting off lots of household chores.

It wouldn't be quite so bad, but we have a dog with long, black hair, and we do enjoy gardening. Our light-colored carpet could use a lot more frequent vacuuming than it gets. In the kitchen, we're often surprised by large dark hairballs drifting across the yellow linoleum. The living room couch, which is strictly off-limits to the dog, mysteriously grows a fine network of black fuzz.

(Don't let me blame it all on Rosie, though; Miss Chef and I clomp in from the garden with plenty of Carolina clay and other goodies stuck to our shoes. Though, as Miss Chef has bigger feet than I, she clearly is responsible for more dirt than I am. Right?)

So, when my parents, for example, arrange to come stay for a week, we feel the need to spring into action. Not only do the everyday chores need attention, but lots of infrequent cleaning jobs seem appropriate. I have to give Miss Chef an enormous amount of credit here; she usually spends a morning/afternoon doing major cleaning and small repairs before heading to work.

As the two of us strategize over our list of chores neglected, I always wonder: are we gross, or lazy, in that we have to wait until someone threatens to eat in our kitchen and bathe in our shower before we'll get it together to mop the floors? Do other people put up with doggy tumblehairs and gritty bathroom floors for weeks on end? I feel like I stop noticing the dirt, until I try to look at it as a visitor would, and then I think "How can we live this way?"

On the other hand, I also wonder, "Am I being ridiculous? Would anyone else freak out over a hairball?"

I suppose the answer lies in who "anyone else" is. For parties, we do mop the floors and super-clean the kitchen, but our master bathroom is often still cruddy, and we end up with clothes-drying racks in the bedroom. If we're having a close friend for dinner, I might just make sure they won't get furry from the couch or nauseated from the bathroom.

On the other hand...there's Mom.

Now, my mother is the kindest of souls, and she loves her children dearly. However, she was also the clean freak in our family. She stayed at home while we were growing up, and she took her job seriously! She had a schedule of vacuuming, dusting, watering plants, washing windows, etc. She did once acknowledge to me that "most people don't have standards like mine." Meaning, most people know when to stop. Most people don't re-wash the pots and pans because "I felt something on it."

Naturally, the first time Mom and Dad came to visit the new house, I was a mess. Everything had to be perfect! Drapes vaccuumed, baseboards dusted, kitchen drainer bleached, dog shaved (well, no, but only because Rosie hadn't joined us yet). I even worried about the way things smelled (you may remember my Supernose post from a few months back). It is to Miss Chef's credit that she helped with all of the above, without complaint. Or maybe the carpet cleaner was too loud for me to hear her.

Anyway, when my parents arrived, they were very complimentary about the house in general, impressed that a small house could feel so large, etc. And several hours later, when everyone was pretty much settled in, my mom stood at the entrance to the living room and said "Everything's so clean!

Angels sang, the clouds parted, and a golden ray of heavenly light illuminated us both. My mother could not have given me a better compliment. It was like having Einstein say "Wow, that was really clever of you!" or Aretha Franklin admiring your rendition of Respect. I wonder if she had any idea of the strength of her comment? Probably not; parents often don't realize their power over their children. At least, mine don't. I should probably mention it to her, but it's a memory I hold dear, and I don't want it to lose any of its power through analysis.

So I guess I can calm down a little when it comes to cleaning for visitors. Except...the last time this particular friend visited, I was embarrassed when her husband commented on a cookbook on display in a niche about six inches above the floor. Not only was the book dusty, but the floor of the niche was rich with dog hair. In the kitchen! Aargh!

Friends are forgiving, but I'm not. So I've already dragged out the carpet cleaner, and Miss Chef has already bleached the kitchen drainer. But you know, it's really not for our visitor. I have to admit, it's also for us. She's just the catalyst. Because after she's gone, Miss Chef and I will revel in the bliss of a clean, neat home.

For a few days, anyway.


  1. Great post! I am the same way, not that my house is dirty but there is nothing as motivating to really clean house like company!

  2. My mother worked away from home during the week, so on Saturdays, I couldn't go out to play until I helped her with house cleaning. I always thought it was strange that my Father was never expected to do any house work. Mike sure is expected to do housework.

  3. I totally understand the motivation required to clean up some of the areas - and piles of stuff - that you get used to living with!


  4. I like to keep a clean house, but not obsessively like some people. Clean enough is clean enough.

    My house gets a once over every week, but when I have the chance to cheat and skip a week and go to our river place instead, I always feel happy - like I got away with something.

    I have a secret weapon tho.. my husband loves to vacuum! He helps me a lot, with a lot of things, so in reality, I have it pretty good.


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