It seems like OH-MY-GOD-liness would probably be a more accurate statement. After all, cleaning brings us into a world filled with ungodly and varying amounts of dust, dirt, and doo-doo. Surely not the world we dreamed of when we imagined life as an adult. But facts are facts and cleaning is one of the main tasks of our accidental housewifely life. So how do we balance preaccidental hopes and dreams with our current reality? By having the right tools at hand and knowing how to maximize their results with the minimum amount of effort. These tools include everything from common household stuff you probably never dreamed could be used for cleaning, to a huge array of disposable products, to robotic help and help that lives and breathes, whom I lovingly refer to as D.A.s—Domestic Assistants. It is a combination of these tools, some simple know-how, and the right music that will make this ungodly task easier and enable you to preserve your sanity, your shape, your hair, and your hands. So in the words of one of my favorite singing groups, The Black-Eyed Peas, “Let’s Get It Started”!
THE ACCIDENTAL HOUSEWIFE’S CLEANING BASICS
Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt.
As you may have guessed, I’m not going to bog you down with the traditional list of household cleaning must-haves and tips that nonaccidental cleaning gurus can give you unless they complement our way of doing things. What I am going to do is share some useful shortcuts and stuff that I have found will make your home look clean enough to keep health inspectors away and enable you to pass the white-glove test—so long as you clean before company arrives!
Numero Uno Cleaning Rule:
Focus First on High-Traffic, High-Visibility Areas
As you ponder this rule, there are three things to keep in mind:
1.This is The Cosmetic Clean, which will achieve an acceptable, surface-clean home.
2.This is not The Big Clean, which you or someone else will have to do sometime this century.
3.What The Cosmetic Clean definition of high-traffic, high-visibility areas is: High-traffic, high-visibility areas generally include bathrooms, kitchens, and major living spaces that you use most often and are likely to be seen by visitors. They do not include your bedroom, which, if your life is as fatiguing as mine, sadly sees little activity other than side-to-side tossing and turning. For those of you who are more active, such as newlyweds, newly involved, or oversexed individuals, you can easily do The Cosmetic Clean in your bedroom by turning your covers down daily, fluffing your pillows, spraying your room with air freshener regularly, throwing your laundry under your bed or in a laundry basket, and washing your sheets at least once a week.
As for your attention to non-high-traffic, high-visibility areas—that will depend upon your comfort level with dirt and the number of people living in your household. The good news is that The Cosmetic Clean can keep your home decent for a week or two, though bathrooms should be done weekly. The not-so-good news is eventually you or someone else will need to do The Big Clean. That is not what this chapter will teach you, but perhaps why God invented cleaning ladies, cleaning services, and the D.A.—Hmmm, maybe that’s what’s meant by “cleanliness is next to godliness”?
The Stuff You’re Gonna Need
I’m not going to vacuum ’til Sears makes one you can ride on.
Let’s be honest . . . our species is not about to get on our hands and knees to clean floors nor roll up our sleeves and blissfully submerge our hands where men’s, women’s and children’s poop has gone before. So what follows are two lists specifically created for The Cosmetic Clean. The first list contains Stuff You May Already Have. The second list itemizes Stuff You Might Have to Buy. You’ll notice that a key word on the second list is “disposables.” That means you can use them and throw them away or plug them in for a fresh clean scent, which makes cleaning a lot more mindless and easy to do. And brands like Clorox, Mr. Clean, Pledge, Lysol, Windex, Fantastic, and Febreze have realized their appeal, so you’ll be able to find whatever product you need and the scent you like. Plus, lots of the major supermarket and mass chains now sell their own line of disposable products and buying theirs may save you a few dinero.
As for the Stuff You May Already Have—get ready to indulge in some fun and unusual uses that your mother never dreamed would make faucets glow, showers shine, and dust disappear.
FYI: The Cosmetic Clean Shopping List is available in a downloadable version on my website www.theaccidentalhousewife.com. Shortened lists based on what follows also accompany the sections for cleaning the bathroom and the rest of the house to help you know what to use for what and limit lugging around that which you don’t need!
The Cosmetic Clean Shopping List
Stuff You May Already Have
•Fuzzy slippers (closed backs)
Stuff You Might Have to Buy
•An array of disposables
•Dust cloths or sheets
•Disinfectant multipurpose, multisurface cleaning wipes
•Toilet brush scrubber with throwaway pads (such as Clorox Toilet Wand, Scrubbing Bubbles Fresh Brush or Scotch Brite Toilet Bowl Scrubbers)
•Mops and carpet cleaners with throwaway cleaning sheets and/or spray cleaner attached (such as Swiffer Sweeper, Carpet Flick and Wet Jet, or Clorox Ready Mop)
•Cordless stick vacuum
•Disinfectant air fresheners, scent systems, scented plug-ins
Stuff You Must Buy and Why
The guy with the rubber gloves was surprisingly gentle.
—ace ventura, pet detective
Classic and Cool Tools
As homage to our ancestral species, the 1950s’ housewife, and our species, desire to maintain our hands and refrain from overworking, every accidental housewife needs to own these two classic cleaning tools:
1.rubber gloves: For decades they’ve been a housewife’s hands’ best friend and they can easily be found in your local supermarket’s cleaning products aisle. And, as with most things nowadays, fashion has joined function so you can be styling while you’re shining. Diamonds, fur, polka dots, pearls, Pucci, or basic black—there’s a pair of rubber gloves that’s just right for you! Check out some at: www.royalaccessories.com. My personal picks are the pink ones with black-and-white polka dots and pearls.
2.feather duster: Feather dusters are a timeless and time-tested cleaning tool. They’re easy to use, they’re a perfect cosmetic cleaning companion, and they make you feel a bit magical. The true experts recommend ostrich feathers over chicken or synthetic since they believe they hold on to the dust better. Other experts question whether the dust is gone or has simply flown off to a new locale. Then, there is the accidental question: Do we even care?
This has a few meanings. The first is being smart about buying tools that will help you do any of your cleaning tasks easily and with little toll on your body. These smart tools include all the disposable wipes, sprays, brushes, mops, scents, and so on. They also include lightweight stick vacuums that can be easily carried about and stored for The Cosmetic Clean. For those who are interested in buying a larger, all-purpose vacuum or are in need of one for The Big Clean, you should check out The Accidental Housewife’s Buyer’s Guide to Vacuums on page 11.
The other meaning of smart relates to tools that are actually called “smart” or “intelligent.” These are robotic helpers that require you to push a button or two to use them. Then you can sit back, watch the tool work for you, or take a snooze. There are many models out there and you’ll want to try to determine which best suits your needs and your wallet. Two to consider are the pocketbook-friendly and expensive IRobot Roomba series (www.irobot.com) and the more sophisticated Electrolux Trilobite (www.electrolux.com). And, coming soon to a McMansion near you, is the future-friendly and pricey humanoid variety: NUVO (www.nuvo.jp). Its creators boast that it walks, talks, takes pictures, and will laugh at your jokes whether they’re funny or not. But can it do windows is my question. When it can do that and make my favorite cup of coffee it will be a truly smart tool.
Portable Schlep Vehicle
Our goal is to make cleaning convenient, brainless, and schlep-free. So in addition to the rubber gloves, feather duster, and portable stick vacuum you should buy at least two easy-to-transport “schlep vehicles” that can hold your main cleaning stuff. These should be stored fully stocked near your high-traffic, high-visibility areas. Consider colorful buckets or baskets with comfy handles, a tool belt, a caddie (as in tool, not golf!), a mini wagon, or whatever “schlep vehicle” works best for you. Some convenient places to store them include:
•Under the bathroom sink
•Under the kitchen sink
•In the family or living room closet
The Accidental Housewife’s Buyer’s Guide
We’ve already established that sometime this century you or a D.A. is going to do The Big Clean, which means you’re going to need a real vacuum. Think of it like buying a car in terms of style, model, color, size of engine, and you’re halfway there! So, with that in mind, some practical tips from my local vacuum store guru Ben and a few accidental housewifely considerations, your guide follows.
According to Ben, the first thing you should do is decide what kind of model you like and what you’re going to use it for the most. Model choices do not include portable, cordless, handheld, stick, or broom styles. Ben considers these “toys” and not for the serious vacuumer, which is exactly why they’re included in The Cosmetic Clean’s Stuff You May Have to Buy list on page 8.
Canister vs. Upright
Fortunately you only have to consider two models: canister and upright. In the old days canisters were considered best for bare floors, stairs, and drapes. Uprights were considered best for rugs and wall-to-wall. But as time goes on, the differences between the two have become less obvious. All the major manufacturers like Miele, Seba, Hoover, Electrolux, Eureka, and Bosch have models that do just about everything at a variety of price points.
Another option is to put in your very own central vacuum system with all the bells and whistles you want. Of course this option may suck up your bank account in addition to the dirt on your floors.
Once you determine whether you prefer canister or upright think about the following:
•Surface: Are you going to use it on hardwood, carpet, or other floor type/covering?
•Construction/Durability: Plastic or metal
•Versatility: Does it work on any kind of floor without special attachments? What is the hose length?—length matters! Does it have tools for vacuuming couches, drapes, etc.?
•Power: How much sucking up do you need?
•Bag or bagless (See All in the Bag below.)
•Ease to change bags
•Size: Will it fit in your closet?
•Weight: Is it hard to lug around?
•Sturdiness: Will it withstand your banging into walls?
•Special features: Do you need a dust sensor? (Are your eyes not good enough?); Shampooing option; does it have soft hair or vinyl brushes? FYI: Ben says horsehair’s the way
•Blow-drying capability: Can you use it to dry your hair?
•Warranty: 3-year minimum recommended
All in the Bag: Bagless vs. Bag Vacuums
Ben is very passionate about vacuums and he is vehement about not buying bagless vacuums. He says they’re messy to empty since unless you’re standing directly over the garbage some of the dirt always misses the can. Also, bagless vacuums mean that the dirt’s flying all around inside, clogging the filters, which can result in mold and a need to change them more often. To an accidental housewife this is a no-no, since it will mean more cleaning, more filter changes, and spending more money.
On the other hand, Ben loves vacuums that require bags and recommends using only HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter bags. They’re particularly good for folks with allergies since they trap all those dust mites lurking about and let clean air through. Of course like everything else there are different types available, but Ben’s pick is hospital-grade filters, since they’re soft and trap the most stuff.
Whether you decide to go bagless or with the bag you’ll be spending money on filters or bags. So my accidental advice is to go with the HEPA and take advantage of the mindless health benefits you’ll reap. You’ll also make Ben very happy!
A Few More Things
•take a test drive: Go to a major retailer like Sears or Best Buy, since they carry most models, and try a few out to see which is most comfy for you.
•don’t wash your filters: Washing vacuum filters is a no-no—it can cause them to shrink or fall apart, or reduce their ability to trap the dirt, since the filter’s fibers can stretch out.
•more features, more problems: Just because a vacuum has lots of different features doesn’t automatically mean it’s a better machine. In fact, more features mean more things can go wrong. On the flip side Ben believes that you should buy a more expensive machine that has select features, since they’re built to last and generally come with a longer warranty. REMEMBER: Ben makes his living from selling vacuums, so take this advice with that in mind.
THE AREAS YOU GOTTA CLEAN
I found out why cats drink out of the toilet. My mother told me it’s
because the water is cold in there. And I’m like, how did my mother know that?
In the beginning of this chapter you learned that the Numero Uno Cleaning Rule is to Focus First on High-Traffic, High-Visibility Areas. As a reminder, these are the bathroom (those used most often), the kitchen, and major living spaces. Now you’ll learn how to clean them without much muss or fuss. As for what time of day is best, I find that right after I’ve had a cup of coffee and am not in a rush to get dressed, take my son to school, or go to a meeting works well for me, but the key is doing it when you’re in the mood and not under the gun. As for when you’ll need to move from The Cosmetic Clean to The Big Clean—that will depend on several factors, some of which were mentioned earlier, including:
•Number of folks in your household (the more there are the more quickly it will get dirty)
•Comfort level with dirt
•Amount of company you have
•How much you’re home
•Ability to afford a D.A.
Before getting to the first area you gotta clean—the bathroom—I’d like to share a personal tale that has its roots in this room,
Excerpted from The Accidental Housewife by Julie Edelman. Copyright © 2006 by Julie Edelman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.