Saturday, September 7, 2013

Five steps to "good enough" clean

I dreamed last night that I was standing on the stairs that lead up to our second floor, with a bucket of cleaner and a large sponge, scrubbing the walls to remove fingerprints. I felt pleased as the fingerprints disappeared, but then looked down at the floor: The cleaner was dripping down the walls and soaking the carpet with blue spots. So I scrubbed harder on the walls, trying to mop up the drippy cleaner, but it just got soapier and drippier, until the wall was covered in bubbles and the floor beneath me was stained blue and soggy.

I woke up panting and sweating. It must be Saturday morning. Time to clean.

No matter how hard I try to stay on top of the dust bunnies, finger prints, and sticky floors, this is what I'm working with: One child who thinks it's fine to stomp the mud clumps out of his sneakers as he walks across the hardwood living room and that aiming for the toilet bowl is optional. One child who delights in dropping cereal, pretzels, Goldfish crackers on the floor or couch cushions and crushing them to oblivion. One cat who obsessive-compulsively kicks litter across the room and pulls her food out of the dish before she can eat it. And one ancient, confused cat who thinks the world is his toilet. Luckily, I have a husband who is a clean freak, and he keeps us all organized and tidy.

But a clean house ain't gonna happen. At least not this year. This house is lived-in, I like to say. And I've come to grips with it, mostly (or at least I thought I had, until that nightmare last night). We've been so busy the past month that this joint had gotten out of hand. To the point that maybe dropping a match and walking out the door might have been the best course of action. Yet there's always the aspiration of cleanliness...or at least the pressure of daytime visitors.

I woke the troops this morning and gave everyone a job. We knocked it out in about 4 hours...which doesn't sound great, but really, I was impressed. And I'm looking around now at the smudgy windows and mirrors, and thinking, oh well...good enough.

I think that's the secret, isn't it? Not just to housekeeping with kids, but to life with kids. Good enough often is the best we can hope for. Our home is tidy and neat, but don't recommend eating anything off the floor. It doesn't bother me that I can't really see my reflection through the kid-prints because I love to hear Zippy's giggles when he dances and smooches in the mirror. I don't mind lint-brushing Happy's rear at the school bus stop because his cat loves him so much she won't leave his side. And the sofa only smells a little weird because we like to cuddle up on Friday nights and eat pizza in front of a movie; sometimes stuff spills, what can I say?

So next time you trip over a psycho website like this one with a weekly chore schedule that actually made me laugh so hard I spit coffee out of my nose (seriously...she says "The rule of thumb for carpeted rooms with high traffic... is to vacuum once a week + one additional time for each household member"..ha!), remember how it goes here in a lived-in house:

(1) When it's all-hands-on-deck time, all hands are on deck. I'm not the only one who made this mess, so I'm certainly not the only one who cleans it! The little one gets a wet washcloth and has to scrub the fingerprints off the walls and the dust off the baseboards. The medium one gets a dry mop and a dust cloth and has to pull the fur and dust bunnies from under the sofa, piano, bed, wherever the vacuum doesn't reach. The daddy has to strip all the sheets, start the laundry, and scrub the kitchen. The mama follows behind them all with a Dyson, then a wet mop, then the steam cleaner. Mama and daddy draw straws (or make bargains that have to do with sexy undergarments) to determine who cleans the bathrooms.

(2) Set a time limit that allows plenty of extra room for whining, chasing, snacks, diaper changes, and phone calls from friends. And stick to that time limit, no matter how much doesn't get accomplished. After all, it's not like you'll never clean again...mostly.

(3) Alternate start rooms/levels. One week start in the bedrooms, the next week start in the downstairs. This way if the cat runs out the door and you all have to chase, or if you have to stop everything to extricate a favorite toy from the belly of the vacuum, then everyone's too traumatized to go on, you can just pick up in that spot next week.

(4) Only entertain in the evenings, so you can keep the lights low. Candlelight does wonders to hide dust and smudgy walls.

(5) Be satisfied with "good enough" clean. If your kids are helping, you don't want to nag and make them hate cleaning. So just let them do their best, and that's that. Then, just make sure nobody gets close enough to your air vent grates to see the dust between the slats, and certainly don't let them into that laundry room that's been neglected for, oh, the entire time you've lived here.

Sit back on your stinky couch and laugh heartily at your silly, messy children. Someday, when they're out of the house and you want to host fancy brunches, your house will be nice and clean, because you'll either have more time on your hands, or you'll have enough extra cash to hire someone to polish the light fixtures. But for now, it's good enough.

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