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All housework and no play

Believe it or not, there are such things as “cleaning parties” here in the UK. No, not a night spent cleaning the bathroom with friends, while drinking a glass of wine (which is what I thought it was). Actually, it’s one of those promotional events, where someone hosts a party in order to sell some product or other.

A friend of mine told me rather shamefacedly that she’d attended one of these parties and ended up spending £36 on a couple of washcloths. But, she added quickly, it was well worth it. Apparently these cloths are of such a design that they will clean anything quickly and effectively without using any cleaning product at all – just cold water. The cloth can be washed and used again and again. What’s more, added my friend, there’s little need to wipe down afterwards and it’s radically cut down her time spent on housework. Now that’s the product for me.

Cleaning, tidying, hoovering, dusting, any kind of housework at all – it’s not my thing and I’m no good at it. There are many people, including some of my friends, who actually enjoy housework – well, maybe not enjoy exactly, but they are strongly motivated to do it. Not only do they get their house looking neat, tidy and clean, they appear to keep it that way. Drop by unannounced and the house will be as perfect as the last time you visited. The only time I’d be able to open my door wide to all and sundry without a flicker of a worry would be on the days the maid came when we lived in Abu Dhabi.

I’ve convinced myself that the urge and ability to clean well is a personality thing. In a feeble attempt to soothe my creeping sense of inadequacy, I rationalise that I may not be the world’s best cleaner, but I have other talents and other priorities. Deep down though, I’d like to be one of those people who can keep a tidy house, look glamorous, write a PhD, hold down a decent job and raise numerous perfect and well-behaved children. OK, we don’t want to become too Stepford-like accomplished and capable, but a little more on the housework-oriented ability and mind-set would be nice.

Studying my tidy friends with more than the usual scrutiny, I notice that if they spot something on the floor, they pick it up then and there, and when they’ve used something, they put it back in its proper place. If friends are over for dinner, they tidy up quickly and efficiently that night, so all is clear for the morning. It makes sense; it’s obvious and should be quite simple to apply… not in my household. Even with full instructions and the best intentions, my mind will not work that way. Where it goes and what it really thinks about, not even I know, but a pile of stuff on the floor can go quite unnoticed for days. As for tidying things away after use: forget it.

Thankfully, there are occasions when I do manage to truly focus on housework, like: when I flip-out at the state of the house, when guests are expected, or worse, the mother-in-law (alias “Inspector of the Lens Factory”). But this entails hours, if not days, of backbreaking labour. So great is the backlog of tasks (windows, fridges, kitchen units, shower tiles), the house effectively gets the equivalent of a spring clean.

The crux of the matter is that I’ve never learnt how to clean efficiently. Some people seem to know instinctively which cloth or cleaning product is the best for which task, but when I clean, there’s a lot of experimentation with different cloths, a lot of smearing followed by a great deal of wiping. I still don’t really know how to get my taps all shiny, and I’ve only just discovered how to get the mould off the bath grouting. Time to attend a cleaning party, perhaps.

But that’s not all. Even if I do manage to get the house all gleaming and spick and span, somehow, unfailingly and frustratingly, it still manages to look messy. Convinced that this is simply due to an excess of things, I periodically embark upon a campaign to set up “systems” where, in theory at least, everything has a place and most of it is out of sight. Unfortunately, the things breed whenever my back’s turned and I’m running out of storage space.

Another major obstacle to achieving regular household order and tidiness is the fact that I share the house with three others, all of whom are similarly slack about putting things away and tidying up. While my tidy friends have more or less trained their children and husbands to be neat; my family are just like me. So hours of slavish housework can be almost instantly sabotaged by the scattering of little tiny pieces of Lego, bits of breadstick, size ten shoes, socks, vital receipts, hair bands, pens, paper with precious doodles on, and the inevitable toy soldiers. All this means that even if I managed to maintain a tidy strategy like my friends, I would surely spend my life in a perpetual state of housework, the horror of which could only be imagined.

Maybe I should try to put myself and my family on a tidy-up-awareness programme, so we can all improve our pick-up and put-away rates. Maybe I should buy one of those expensive miracle cloths (all it needs is a party invitation). Maybe all we need is a bigger house with more storage… Or perhaps I should just accept that I am not, and never will be, the perfect housewife.

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