Feeling Out of Control? Time to Clean Your House

Margaret's sisters tease her: "When did you become such a cleanliness nut?"

Barbara is always saying to Margaret that she needs to do a YouTube tutorial on how to properly clean and teach her. 

Yes, Margaret has become a cleaning machine. It helps too that her apartment in New York City is small, making cleaning a breeze. If only her late mother could see her now. 

On the other hand, Barbara's mother was disappointed that Barbara wasn't a better cleaner. Barbara had little interest, perhaps, a reaction to her mother's intense interest and pride in having a spotless home. "We each have our talents," Barbara will tell Margaret and admire her for caring. 

Margaret thinks her newfound enthusiasm for cleaning kicked in after losing her husband and being on her own for the first time since they married when she was 22. But it hit its peak after she sold her condo in St. Louis and before she moved to New York. 

Her neighbors bought the condo, and Margaret wanted to present it as spotless. So, she got down to the nitty gritty, literally on her knees, and with a toothbrush no less to scrub-a-dub-dub. 

But what's really at the root of all this is the psychological effect of cleaning. It's about home as the foundation of contentment and control.

Untidy surroundings seem to signal an untidy mind and a cluttered life. A slovenly kitchen is not conducive to boosting your appetite and cooking, especially when it's out in the open in so many open floor plans, like Margaret now has. A bedroom floor strewn with clothing is a deterrent to intimacy. An untidy desk represents the same. How can you think when there are piles of paper? Tidy up and the rest will fall in line. 

Seeing that everything is where you want it and how you want it, is something that doesn't happen outside our living spaces. It's a form of control over our environment that, unless it becomes a compulsion, is a healthy antidote to living at a time when health is top of mind. 

The pandemic. which reared its ugly head in early 2020, is still prevalent but to a lesser degree now that we have vaccines and boosters. But at its height, it left behind a residue of concern about unhealthiness and uncleanliness. We became masters of giving everything a good clean to keep the viruses and bacteria away. We wiped groceries down before we brought them into our homes, washed our hands ad infinitum-counting and singing and stripped off our clothes, washing them after one wearing. Even the subways and busses in New York City were cleaned as were most public spaces, though we still avoided many initially. 

Cleaning soon became synonymous with decluttering. Many began to purge surroundings. Less to clean and less dust to accumulate. Why not? We had time to do so during lockdown. Barbara, inspired by Margaret, took on her house but did one room at a time. She even tackled all the rooms in her two dollhouses, also room by room, using a small toothbrush. The wood parquet dining room floor sparkled, so did the old-fashioned style kitchen appliances and the clawfoot tub in the bathroom. 

A friend of Margaret's who was retiring and moving to another state, tackled cleaning drawer by drawer and closet by closet. Ironically, for many of us, cleaning and decluttering became a substitute for therapy. Its results were immediate and tangible. 

We acknowledge that cleaning can be a source of pride, satisfaction and even happiness, of course, within reason. It's important but not a substitute for a joyous and productive life outside our clean homes. 

Margaret and Barbara's cleaning checklist: 

Pick a day (or two or even a week) and establish a routine to approach the job. Decide how often you might clean. Some like to do once a week; others every other week. You're the boss. 

Start the music--something upbeat. It gives you energy and you clean to a rhythm. It can even be aerobic pushing that broom or vacuuming in 4/4 time. Or, turn on the TV. 

Straighten up first. Who can clean around clutter-shoes and boots, coats and sweaters on chairs, pet or children's toys. Hang up clothing or put in drawers. And if you don't wear, toss! Box the toys and other paraphernalia on the floor and put in bins or containers. 

Layer your cleaning routine. Start with the low hanging fruit. Dust first. Use old towels or rags or even buy a feather duster. 

Go room by room. Maybe do a two-day clean: day one dust and save the big stuff for day No. 2. Some people like to get it over with and do it in one shot. 

Change sheets and towels, at least weekly. Same with dish towels. Throw all in the washing machine while you clean. Having a freshly made bed will make you think you've arrived at a five-star hotel. Put out new soaps or potpourri for lovely smells. 

Empty wastebaskets. Line them with new plastic bags. 

Polish furniture and wood cabinets. Don't forget to wipe the hardware with disinfectant. Barbara's mother always polished everyone's silver when she visited; now Barbara has taken on that role with delight at her daughters' homes and hers. 

Get down on hands and knees and wash the baseboards. Tackle blinds, too. They do become slightly disgusting over time if not cleaned. They get greasy in the kitchen and dusty in other rooms. 

Use Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Sponges to wipe smudges off walls. 

Disinfect the bathroom. Use something with bleach in it to wipe down shower and bathtub. Use Windex to do the glass doors and windows and use a squeegee. Use bleach or another disinfectant, find an old toothbrush, and scrub grouting where it's starting to darken also scrub around drains, faucets, showerheads, tub jets and other tough-to-reach spots.

--Use a toilet brush for the bowl and wipe everything around that space with a good disinfectant. 

--Use Windex to wipe knobs, handles and mirrors. 

The kitchen is another spot where dirt accumulates.

--Clean out the sink and the drain--Margaret uses Comet but there are other solutions without harsh chemicals if you prefer.

--Wipe all faucets and fixtures, countertops and inside cabinets.

--Periodically--maybe four times a year--clean out the refrigerator and especially bins where you keep fruits and vegetables. Barbara does tackle her refrigerator weekly, enjoying putting fresh fruits and vegetables in clean bins.

--Wipe out the dishwasher with a disinfectant. It can retain moisture, a perfect culture for bacteria and funguses to grow.

--Don't forget the top of the stove and under the hood and behind the sink and stove (the backsplash) where grease may accumulate. Turn on your self-cleaning oven if you have one or get out the steel wool and scrub.

--Vacuum or sweep floors and vacuum furniture (with various attachments). When you vacuum, roll up the area rugs to clean under them. Get a new vacuum cleaner if you haven't in five years or so; it's fun to choose among the new models.

--Wash floors. Margaret uses a Swifter Wetjet to make the task easier for she has all hardwood floors except in the bathroom.

--Scrub or wash your cleaning tools before putting them away. Dump out or change your vacuum cleaner bag if it needs it.

--Puff pillows on all seating. Periodically replace pillows. Barbara just ordered new pillows for the bench on her front porch and a sofa in her family room. they were all dated and dirty. She also took off the covers on her outdoor Adirondack seating and cleaned it now that it's fall. 

--Wash bed pillows and pillow covers at least twice a year. Add a little lavender to the laundry detergent. Same with quilts and bedspreads.

--Sit on a wood chair (it's good for your back and you don't want to dent your just-puffed pillows) and admire your handiwork. Do it quickly for within seconds, your home will start to get dusty again. 

--Treat yourself to an activity you love as your reward. You deserve a good walk outside, a fun TV show, a good read, a special latte with foam, whatever makes you smile. You saved some dollars by doing the work yourself! And if you have a housekeeper regularly or even periodically, use this as a checklist.

1 comment

  • Audrey Steuer

    My mother would have loved this!! I like cleanliness and order, but when I did all of the cleaning myself during COVID, I ended up just having my hip replaced due to all of the bending, etc. I could never achieve all that the two of you have on a regular basis – kudos to you!!

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