“You’re so thrifty,” she says, and I feel both pride and shame.
“You mean cheap,” I say.
“No, thrifty,” she says.
After my article Polygamy Ain’t Lookin’ So Bad, my friend Heather suggested we clean our houses together. She proposed that once a week we switch off going to one of our houses, and while the kids play, the two of us clean.
Her standards are too high. Her kids always have clean fingernails. She changes their sheets on a weekly basis rather than a have-been-peed-on basis. She doesn’t even let her kids eat honey sandwiches on the couch.
She owns a beautiful, comfortable home that looks tidy even if there are kids’ toys on the floor. The dishes are done. The counters are wiped, as are the noses.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a very good housekeeper. I have always kept a “messy but not dirty” house. This policy quickly became out of control with kids because they keep a “messy and dirty” house. Two messys and one dirty, plus some sticky, creates mayhem.
My dream cleaning partner is someone with very low standards for her own house, but a very good work ethic, which (as it turns out) is an accurate description of myself. (I am a narcissist, so I turn all cons into pros.)
But who can say “no” to having someone help them clean? Not me.
We cleaned my house first.
Everyone I tell this story to asks me: Did I clean before she came to clean? Yes. Frantically. For a week.
That first cleaning day, we started in my kitchen. We cleaned for two hours straight and only got half the kitchen done. We wiped five years of grimy fingerprints, dog drool, science experiment splatters and UFOs (Unidentified Fetid Objects) off my cabinets.
And then she decided we should clean behind my stove. I tried to dissuade her. She persisted. So we pulled out the stove. Behind it was a Mount Everest of food, utensils, and crayons — all matted together with dog hair and jelly. Exposed to the light, the mountain seemed to puff up, full of pride. That is until it caught sight of the broom. Sensing that its time had come, it turned and saluted us with a boney spaghetti noodle arm, and then proceeded to sing a hauntingly mournful version of “On Top of Spaghetti,” slowly fading until we had swept up the very last of its crumbs.
I was humiliated. I wanted to cry. Watching a mountain of debris come to life from under my stove made me want to run and hide under the bed. Then I stopped only because I was too scared to find out what is under there.
Heather could see the panic in my eyes. “STOP!” she grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me like a ragdoll. “If you apologize for one more thing, I am leaving,” she said. “It is OK. We are just cleaning. Stop worrying.”
It is hard letting someone (who is not required by law to love you) into your house. There are secrets in your house that are usually masked to the casual guest, like the one that caused Heather to comment on how thrifty I am, because I use shower liners instead of waterproof pads on my sons’ beds — a fact that no one would ever know unless they helped me change the kids’ sheets (forget I ever revealed that).
It can be awkward at first to let people into your life, but ultimately hugely rewarding. I’m so glad Heather suffered through the first week. Now we can clean my whole house in two hours.
We work. We chat. We sweat. The kids play. We feel accomplished.
And I think you would enjoy it if you tried it too.