I have just cleaned my house.
To the uninitiated, this might not seem worthy of comment – but that’s because you’re the uninitiated. This isn’t just a clean. This is a Big Clean.
Back in my housekeeping heyday, when my children were young and my husband was apt to whistle tunelessly as he checked the mantelpiece for dust, I was such a whizz at housework that even my grandmother – she who made sure the house was clean before the cleaners came – would have been proud to own me. Scrubbed the kitchen floor on my hands and knees, for goodness sake!
But times have changed. Now that I’m on my own, there are so many other things to do before I become senile and decrepit that chasing the dust no longer rates. So I’ve instituted the Big Clean system.
My slide into sloth didn’t happen overnight, of course. It was gradual, and can still be reversed when necessary: family visits (I have my pride) and the occasional acquisition (it seemed criminal to neglect new flooring). And I do have certain standards: make the bed in the morning; put things back where they came from (clutter is claustrophobic); do the dishes and wipe the benches (last night’s pleasant evening looks ugly in daylight); make sure the bathroom is acceptably hygienic. But other than that? Forget it!
And I do, quite successfully.
But every so often, when spiders creep back to the cornices and taking books from shelves gives me hay fever, I decide the time has come.
Naturally, there are risks to this form of housekeeping (but after all, what good thing ever came risk-free?). The first is the uninvited guest: the person who ‘just pops in’ when fluff lies deep in corners, daddy longlegs have set up rope swings from the ceiling and the fingermarks on the fridge tell the story of your life. You can apologise if you like – sorry the house is a mess, been busy – but personally, I no longer bother. Who pops puts up with, is my attitude. And who knows, they’ve possibly popped purely for the pleasure of feeling superior. Why disappoint them?
The second risk – the main one, for me – is that if you opt for the occasional Big Clean, it’s likely to take so long that you’re over it before it’s complete. This leads to cutting corners, with the inevitable result: the next big clean is worse. The answer is twofold: attack it systematically, and set a realistic timescale.
There are two options to a systematic approach. You can clean by the room, or by the equipment needed. Cleaning by the room has the advantage of producing a space you know to be dirt-free when you’re only halfway through. Very gratifying. Cleaning by the equipment needed – vacuum cleaner, duster, spray and wipe etc – may deprive you of instant gratification, but it does mean you don’t have to haul stuff in and out of cupboards, or trip over it if you leave it out. Being essentially bone idle, I find this preferable.
In terms of timescale – if you have the willpower to push through the boredom, then by all means tackle it in one go. But be honest. No good doing it in one if the second half is a shoddy job. This is not acceptable. The Big Clean system demands that when you do it, you do it properly. For me, one go is out of the question. My boredom tolerance is pathetically low, my stamina has seen better days and my ability to rationalise is too well developed for its own good. So I break it down into days. This also means no one day is a total write-off. I still have time to do those things that please me. But they must be consecutive days, and again, no shortcuts.
The Big Clean is obviously not a system that works for everyone. If you have children, for example, different standards apply. If you have a big house, a Big Clean might be too overwhelming. If you share the house with a tuneless whistler, it may not be worth the grief. And maybe you just like cleaning or a permanently spotless house, in which case good luck to you. But for the rest of us…
As you get older, it’s borne in upon you that the time you have left is a lot shorter than the time you’ve had, while the bucket list gets longer by the day. So the question is, what are you going to regret when the hour-glass runs out? Ignoring the cobwebs on the ceiling? Nnnah.