To those who previously outsourced their housekeeping to professionals and now can’t, I extend a chapped (gloved) hand in welcome. Perhaps you’re reluctant, perhaps you’re enthusiastic, but whether you dread or eagerly embrace the opportunity, it’s only a matter of time until you find yourself contemplating the site-specific detritus clinging damply to your toilet pedestal.
It’s not all lint and pubic hair, though. You’ll learn other intimate secrets of your home and meet the creatures whose rent you’ve been paying. You’ll discover where the dust kittens go to play and where lost things hide. You’ll learn the path of the wind, as it moves the dead bugs through your rooms. You’ll learn what corners the spiders find most promising and you’ll probably come to appreciate the remarkable tenacity of cobwebs. If you have pets, you’ll discover where they keep their valuables.
You’ll also learn about yourself. Had you realized how much you fumble for the light switch? How else to explain its surrounding aura of grime? And perhaps your aim is faulty elsewhere, as well?
If you are sheltering alone, you may learn things about your interplay with gravity, including how much you drop stuff. You’ll learn where spilled things go, and what they do when they get there. Uncooked rice and bird seed scatter, for example, while crumbs waft. Red wine tends to stain. Crumbles of cheese like to stick to your shoe and travel. Spilled globs of jam and syrup summon pet hair. Salt and glass shards hide in plain sight; oil and butter are slippery. Regarding gravity, you’ll come to appreciate the irresistible draw of the space between cushions, as well as the delicate yet ubiquitous nature of dust, and you’ll learn how few things reabsorb into the floor, notably toenail and nose-hair clippings.
If you are sheltering with others, you may hope that housekeeping can be negotiated into revolving chores. Often, however, it defaults to the person with the least filth tolerance.
You’d think all would agree that dirty dishes should only pile so high. But no one I live with has yet reached the point at which they can’t ignore something sticky spilled down the back of the refrigerator and coagulating under the crisper.
As the least dirt-tolerant member of my household, I know where the cleaning apparatuses are. I know which ones make cleaning easier, and which are frauds. (I’m looking at you, bucket whose handle cuts off fingers when only half full, sponge that leaves shreds behind, squeegee mop that’s hard to wring out, cleaning fluids that reek, all obviously designed and approved by people who never washed a floor or consulted anyone who did.)
If you haven’t washed a floor yet, either, I’m here to say: There’s no wonder mop. The best of them only keep you off your knees for so long, postponing rather than replacing actual scrubbing. To deal with the dark crud buildup, some other tool and strategy must be attempted. Your fingernail and/or toothbrush perhaps. True, you are not expecting guests in the foreseeable future but, given enough time home, alone, in these creepy times, one grows intolerant of the goings-on in corners.
All of this brings us inevitably to grout and the mysterious beings who live in the shower stall and on the counter. What IS mildew and why does it emit that smell? Is it a product of being born, or mating, or dying? Or is it like rust, which they insist isn’t alive, and wasn’t eating cars right before my eyes when I was growing up in Michigan?
Eventually, if you get serious about cleaning, you may find yourself googling things like: What gets bird poop off the window without smearing? Or: What is reasonable suckage to expect from a vacuum cleaner? Or: Does soaking drown the smelly things in laundry or encourage them to breed?
Wouldn’t it be nice if this period of enforced personal maintenance gave rise to better buckets and less repulsive chemicals?
And how about more appreciation for the people who have been using those crappy tools to clean up after you? Perhaps this would be a good time to slip an extra $20 into their pay to demonstrate the depth of your longing for their return.
Keeping that toilet rim in mind, a little groveling might be nice, too.
Amy Goldman Koss is a contributing writer to Los Angeles Times Opinion and the author of numerous books for children and young adults