Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Four Levels of Clean

Over at Danielle Bean's blog, an interesting discussion has been taking place about the difficulties of maintaining a clean, orderly home when your children are young, and whether or not it's desirable to hire outside help during this time period.

My children are no longer young, but I read the many comments with a feeling of bemusement, because even when the three of them were all under three, it never would have occurred to me to hire someone to help me clean my house.

In fact, we never had a mother's help or babysitter, either. I could count on one hand the number of times a relative came and watched the children for me--and two of those times I was in the hospital to deliver an addition to our family.

I'm no Superwoman, believe me. I'm actually lacking in talents in the domestic area. I can't sew at all, I'm no good at crafts (as it says on the left) and my housekeeping can only be described as random and slapdash.

This may be one reason why I never hired help (finances would be the other reason). I don't subscribe to any "House Completely Perfect" magazines, I don't watch design and decorating gurus as they gush about how to remove all those unsightly books from your living room, I yawn at the circulars I receive from the "Ten Thousand Completely Useless Things For Your Home" store, and I've never in my life looked at an actual "Pottery Barn" catalog.

Without these guidelines as to how my house should be cleaned and decorated, I've come up on my own with a four-tier system of housecleaning that works pretty well for me:

Tier One: Family Clean

Family clean means that the house is clean enough for the day to day life of our family. Weekly chores like vacuuming and bathroom cleaning and daily chores like laundry and dishes all get done--but not at the same time. Toys have to be cleaned up once a day (used to be twice, but as the girls have gotten older they've also gotten better about putting away the things they're done with). I negotiate an uneasy truce with most of the clutter, and attempt to keep the kitchen counters at least 30% visible. My children pitch in a lot, and I'm more interested in full participation than in actual perfection of delegated tasks.

Tier Two: Company Clean

One level up from family clean, this requires that all the weekly chores be done on the same day, so we'll have freshly vacuumed carpets AND fresh, clean bathrooms at the same time. I may just peek at the jobs the girls are doing in case they've missed anything really major. The clutter gets sent into exile, often in the master bedroom where guests seldom venture. (And if they do, they do at their own risk, something my family knows quite well!).

Tier Three: Realtor Clean

Don't laugh. My family moved a lot when I was a child. The main difference between "Company Clean" and "Realtor Clean" is that the clutter has to be marched out into the backyard, blindfolded, and shot. (Oh, I only wish!) Actually, while this does require more "cleaning out" of clutter than the other two tiers, the other major difference is that it must be possible to open closets without becoming either injured or nauseous--no small task, some of the time.

Tier Four: Mother-In-Law Clean

In all fairness to my MIL, who is an excellent housekeeper, I have to say that she has never, ever been critical of my obvious failings in this area. It's just that whenever I know she's coming to visit, I start seeing things I've never noticed before, and would have sworn were actually quite clean and orderly!

This highest level of clean requires everything above, plus a few extras. Like making sure the washer and dryer are clean and dust-free, inside and out, in case she wants to use them. Like having the girls wipe and dust the baseboards. Like giving up on cleaning my stove burner covers and buying new ones. Like suddenly noticing stains on the kitchen walls, and scrubbing them or painting over them, whichever works. (And maybe buying new towels for the girls' bathroom which unfortunately in our two-bathroom house doubles as the guest bathroom.) Like washing windows and dusting miniblinds whether they need this or not. Like rearranging the pictures on the living room walls that used to line up somewhat with the furniture, some three or four living room configurations ago.

Maybe that's it. Maybe the young mothers who are desperate for hired help live a lot closer to their mothers-in-law than I do.

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