I’M not the kind of person who vacuums ceilings. Nor am I one to check the medicine cabinet every month to get rid of each potion the moment its contents expire. I’m sure we’ve got a bottle of Benylin that dates back to the reign of Bill Vander Zalm.
Nope, I’m a once-a-year gal when it comes to household deep-cleaning, and over the past few weeks I’ve been in full swing. You might guess that this is not a job for which I have any aptitude or enthusiasm. I don’t know why somebody hasn’t invented a machine that just sucks the dust out of the air all day, churns it up and turns it into a wine that pairs beautifully with hot dogs. I thought this was the future we were living in!
Instead, it turns out that all that happens when you clean something is that it’s slightly cleaner than it was before you touched it. By cleaning it, you immediately enable it to start getting dirty again. As I wipe down the slats on the ceiling fan I can see newly displaced dust motes gathering in the air, making concrete plans to re-settle. They’re tireless.
Surely there’s a limit to how much dust a place can accumulate if nobody bothers to disturb it. Martha Stewart claims that for an average home it builds at a rate of 40 pounds a year. You can watch her Dusting 101 video online at www.marthastewart.com. She selects the tallest people in her studio audience and gives them feather dusters to do the uppermost spots on her set. Claiming that you “once cleaned for Martha Stewart” would give a person some social cachet, I guess, and the welts and bruises probably fade over time. But those of us who must muddle through life without studio audiences don’t learn a lot from this demonstration.
Never mind, though – there’s an infinite number of sources on how to properly clean your house. There are more than 30 million entries under “spring cleaning” on Google alone. Not surprisingly, the list of tasks these self-styled experts recommend appears to be endless. It hadn’t occurred to me, as part of this process, to flip all our mattresses, touch up the paint on the walls, clean out the fridge and the pantry, reseal the bathroom’s grout lines, or wash the closet walls, and yet all these chores are recommended by a woman pregnant with twins at www.imperfecthomemaking.com.
Maybe we humans just need to toughen up. We’ve all seen movies where a site hasn’t been disturbed in centuries but our hero can still wander around looking at the crypts or tombs without wheezing or even taking a disapproving sniff. The most the protagonist usually does is blow on the surface of something. The dust flies off, a spider scuttles away, and the crucial artifact is revealed.
Back here in the real world, cleaning’s getting tougher, requiring serious thought. We’re now encouraged to avoid toxic products full of chemicals that affect the environment and our health. We’re supposed to revert to our grandmothers’ solutions, things like vinegar and baking soda.
Just the other day the David Suzuki Foundation e-mailed me a news release asking if I were in an “unhealthy relationship” with my household cleaner. Not really, I told my computer screen – it’s a matter of outright avoidance. If everybody else would give cleaning products the heave-ho as well, it would allow me to feel much better about myself.
The Foundation has a point, of course. Considering the various allergies and sensitivities from which my family suffers, I should pay a lot more attention to this topic. It’s ignorance and laziness that keep many of us from exploring other options. Additionally, my poor memory means I can’t retain the information that fragrances like phthalates and synthetic musks are best avoided, and that Tricloson in antibacterial dish soaps (according to the Suzuki newsletter) can interfere with hormone function and may advance the march of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
People like me, who can’t stand to spend an hour at the supermarket combing the ingredients lists on cleanser bottles, really ought to just go the baking soda and vinegar route. After all, what does it matter if these old-fashioned methods turn out not to perform as well as their apparently dangerous “spring-fresh” counterparts when we have such low housekeeping standards to begin with?
Anyway, our grandmothers’ homes always seemed to be reasonably clean, if not sterile. As usual, they probably had the right idea.