[As published in September/October BayBuzz magazine.]
Lambs gambolling, daffodils blooming, must be time to throw open the windows, hang quilts on the line, pull out the polish and get down and dirty with the Spring cleaning. Even the oven gets a look in as we asphyxiate ourselves on Mr Muscle.
The easiest way to get through cleaning is to pay someone else to do it. Although then you have the weekly “cleaner’s coming!” panic-tidy so the housekeeper doesn’t judge you for being bad at keeping house!
The hardest way is to procrastinate and let it pile up in your head, a mountain of mental mess getting more maggoty and mouldy, and overwhelming with every moment you put it off.
My interest in cleaning is purely academic. I am an astrophysicist who has never blown up a planet. I don’t like ‘the doing’ very much but, I do love the results, so I aim for an annual blitz and a twice-monthly flick around the edges. When I get sick of the sight of dust bunnies and cobwebs I simply take off my glasses.
So, here’s the deal, you do the cleaning. I’ll sit back and give you directions, tips, and the occasional: “You’ve missed a bit!”. My research says we need a plan of attack, Lizzo on the stereo, and a treat when it’s done.
The first thing to ascertain is existential: What are we doing here? Are we cleaning or just tidying? They are two different things with two different outcomes requiring two different attitudes.
Tidying makes us feel pretty great in the short term. It’s what we do if people are coming for dinner.
Cleaning makes us feel great for a lot longer. Our muscles ache. Things smell good. I’ve read it’s beneficial for mental wellness. Cleaning is what we do when we want to spend the following day on the couch watching Netflix and feeling smug.
With tidying, every housemate can get involved. Divvy up the rooms. Allocate everyone a zone. Delegate yourself out of a job. Play inspector. Hand out awards.
With cleaning, anyone not actively involved needs to be elsewhere. There’s nothing worse than vacuuming around people or ajaxing the loo only to be told someone “needs to go”. You’re either in the clean team or you’re out (and not just outside but off the property altogether). If you’re in, you’re really IN. You’re mono-tasking and hyper-focused. No doom-scrolling, no cups of tea, no flitting from one half-arsed task to another. You are committing 100% to cleaning. You are a sanitation ninja, Harvey Keitel in The Assassin, Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tittlemouse.
Whether you’re a rags-from-old-shirts gal or a fan of the Scrub Daddy, the trick is to follow a system, lock eyes with the enemy, attack grit and grime with military precision. You are a stealth-bomber (with a bumper sticker that reads My Favourite Colour is Clean slapped on your flank).
First, machines are your friends. That includes the coffee machine. Get them going early. Stack the dishwasher, fill the washing machine, pull out the vacuum, down your first espresso.
Next, make the beds. Do it fast before the caffeine wears off, with lots of upper-body extension, and standing hamstring stretches as you force that duvet into its cover and tuck in those hospital corners.
Then, dust from the top down, because dust floats but eventually falls. Don’t prance around like Disney’s Snow White, be methodical and thorough. Now, wipe down surfaces. Lastly, floors. Vacuum right through then go back through with a mop. Boiling hot water and a slug of dishwashing liquid is all you need. There’re a million-and-one solutions for every cleaning task. Gin is my favourite.
When it comes to potions, people are split down the middle. Half douse their house with as much sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, oxalic acid, alkylbenzene sulfonate and ethanol as they can find. The others stick strictly to vinegar and baking soda.
You do you. But, personally, if your fingers aren’t raw and burning by the end of the sesh then I know you haven’t done it right.
My own concoction collection contains the classics: CO Original Polishing Oil (est.1923), Bar Keeper’s Friend (1882) and the pink stuff, Chemico Paste (1931). I don’t know if any of them work but they look retro-cool in my charlady’s caddie!
The very best way to minimise the need to clean is to think about cleaning before you buy.
Houses with steps? Never. That place Ian Athfield did for Wendy Buck on Te Mata, with all those tricky corners? Nightmare. Even in your decorating choices, think about the cleaning. Considering a shag runner? Confident you can vacuum it without losing tufts up the shaft? Go for it! Decking out the whole house in venetians? Sure you can manage dusting 240 slats a week? Knock yourself out! I once got so sick of vacuuming under the lounge suite that I took the legs off every piece of furniture. Now that’s a cleaning solution!
Spring cleaning is a marathon (we haven’t even started on the pantry huck-out, the fridge defrag, the windows (inside and out), the ceilings, the architraves, the skirting boards, we haven’t even touched the bathroom and there’s a whole bottle of Shower Witch to get through). It’s endless, it’s not going anywhere, and it’ll still be there when you get back from whatever fun thing you’d rather be doing.
But if you must clean, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. I’m in your corner, sipping a gin and cheering you on!