Housecleaning at Night. Or, When You See Schmutz, Clean Schmutz.

I’ve long wondered why it is that I tend to clean the kitchen — I mean serious deep cleaning — after dinner. It was only last night that I really figured it out. It’s because it’s only at night that I can actually see the filth.

A couple of days ago a Facebook associate asked me for housecleaning advice and I found myself engaged in a long dialogue on the subject, which basically began by saying “It’s not that you need special products or create a special system; you just have to have a system that works for you and the products needed to implement it.” She had said, “I don’t have a housecleaning schedule and I feel like everyone else does.” I said, “I don’t, with the exception of the days when I know I have to face laundry or the world will fall apart. Everything else is catch-as-catch-can.” You notice that the bathroom sink is visibly vile, grab a washcloth and clean it. The toilet can wait if you want, but do the thing that’s bugging you really fast, if you can, and get it out of the way. This is a riff on the Peg Bracken advice that you should embrace any small housecleaning urge the moment it seizes you, because the feeling will pass and then you still have the filth and that particular housecleaning urge may not visit again for a rather revolting-to-consider length of time.

A case in point is this scene from last night. I was quite tired: it was eight o’clock, and I’d cooked dinner and done the dishes and wiped down the counters and by all logic, I would be flopping on the couch and zoning out in front of the TV as any good American would. However, while I was wiping down the counter, I noticed that there was rather a lot of schmutz on the edge of the shelf where all the spices live. Looking more closely, I looked at the tops of the spice jars and boxes: they, too, were grey with schmutz. I took a handful of jars from the shelf and saw these very sharp, clear rings in the dust. Clearly, the shelf and jars needed to be wiped down.

I could have said, “Screw it, I will deal with this tomorrow.” But here’s the thing — and it came to me in a flash — I cannot, for whatever reason, see the schmutz as well in the daytime. Inexplicably, the light in the kitchen is such that I literally see the dirt better in the evening than I do in the daytime. And since it makes sense to clean when you can see what you’re cleaning, it came to pass that at 8.15 last night I was removing everything from that shelf and taking a towel and wiping down every surface. The shelf itself was cleaned, and then each jar was cleaned. Then I rearranged the stuff back onto the shelf. It took me maybe fifteen minutes all told, which isn’t very long, but on the other hand, when you’re tired and you’ve had it, fifteen minutes is a long time. However, I didn’t mind doing it because I knew that once it was done, it would be done. This is a task I only perform a few times a year — maybe twice or three times — and I felt good about knowing I’d taken care of it. The next time I will notice schmutz on the spice shelf, it will probably be mid-July, and fine: I’ll get there when I get there.

I now understand why it is that every so often, having washed the dinner dishes and wiped the counters and set up the coffee for the next morning, I will find myself washing the kitchen floor. It’s not because I think it’s a good time to wash the floor. It’s because that’s when I can see the schmutz. And it’s ok, come to think of it. At least it’s getting cleaned. Sometimes. Once in a while. This is also how my oven gets cleaned: after dinner, when I am done with the dishes and setting up the coffee and thinking, “All right things are good!” That is when I’ll notice what a shanda the oven and stovetop are — especially the glass door, why can I never really get the glass door clean? — and I’ll think, “There is no point in putting this off.” Forty-five minutes later, I will finally be satisfied with the state of things, and I’ll apply hand lotion and call it a night. It’s ridiculous. (Especially when you consider that the best way to deal with the stove burners involves an overnight-with-ammonia process that is no joke.) But look: the cleaning gets done this way. And, equally important, I get to go to sleep with a clear conscience.

Fine, I’ll wash the floor tonight, ok?


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