I Don’t Really Know What to do with Cleaning Products

Taking an abrupt U-turn back into my life as an au pair, and leaving greater questions of love, life, happiness and fulfillment behind me in my last posts, as well as doing some spectacular procrastination surrounding a performance that I have signed up for on Wednesday night (why do I do this to myself why why why why why??? it always seems like a good idea until it actually gets to a point when I have to produce the work I said I was going to produce and I’m all like, ‘Aw, yeah, well, the thing about that is, I’d rather watch excerpts of old ‘Friends’ episodes all night instead, kay?’), I offer you this post.
You may have guessed that this post is to do with cleaning (I’m not really into that whole idea of naming your story, ‘Captain Cat and his Magical Powers’ or something, and then not ever ACTUALLY mentioning a nautical feline with a magician’s wand, confusing and disappointing your readers, and when people confront you in interviews with this fact, you sigh and roll your eyes and say, ‘Well, most of my educated readers were able to pick up that the naval reference was ironic/metaphorical/allegorical/sarcastic/farcical and that further, by speaking of a cat, I was clearly referencing Ancient Egypt not contemporary America and who’s to say what powers are magical anyway, and wank, wank, wank…’ No, my titles mean something. They are clear that they mean something. They mean what they mean. Yes). So, anyway, this post is about cleaning. House cleaning, to be precise. And, the fact of the matter is… I’m not very good at it.
I never have been. Its not something that ever really got my engines roaring, so to speak, not something that I would choose to do over, say, an afternoon on the couch watching the latest BBC costume drama, or an evening with friends, or, even, say, completing my tax return, or picking the dirt out from underneath my fingernails. Housework is not something that ever really enters my brain as a possible way of spending my time. The only time that I would consider the need to do housework is when the state of my house actually prevents me from living my life or doing basic human activities. So, for example, when the piles of junk on the bedroom floor actually prevent me from opening the door of my room to allow me to go outside and participate in gainful employment, or when I have worn literally every piece of clothing in my entire wardrobe, sometimes some of the several times over, maybe even inside-out, and if I attempt to wear them again, people will think I am actually a homeless person when I’m sitting outside on a park bench, and may ask me to ‘move along’ or offer me their spare change. My best friend Erin will tell you that we were mates for a good 5 or 6 years, the majority of high school, before I would even permit her to see my room. Every time she came to visit, I would run screaming to my bedroom, slam the door shut and throw myself in front of it until she promised not to attempt to step inside. Eventually, one day, knowing she was coming over, I spent a day tidying up and putting things in order, specifically so that she could come inside and see what it (never) looked like. She must have thought I had dead bodies in there or something.
I always kind of hoped that when I moved into my own house, things would change, because it was *my* house, and I would feel some sort of pride and care for it. I had at least one good friend who went from being a messy-room occupier to a fussy, tidy house cleaner the minute he rented his first share house. But, for me it was not to be (I still sometimes think wishfully that maybe I’ll be cleaner when I own my house as opposed to just rent it, or live in someone else’s, but I have my doubts).
There were lots of reasons for the appalling state of my room. I was a busy kid: I spent most afternoons doing various lessons – Japanese classes, art classes, dance classes, violin lessons, and then my entire Saturday was usually taken up with Young People’s Theatre. Plus, there was still homework and practicing all the things that I was taking lessons for, and, of course, a great big chunk of time was needed to spend day-dreaming in front of the mirror, or dancing around the living room in ridiculous home-made costumes to ‘The Lion King’ soundtrack or something (a swimsuit and a bowtie on a little blonde Anglo girl? I mean, really, does that scream Africa to you?) But, apart from that, I kind of got used to my room being messy, and whenever I did clean it up, things became that much harder to find. I couldn’t remember where I had tidied them to, and the tidy room generally only lasted for as many days as I could survive living with only the things I had put within easy reach or on display. The minute I had to go scurrying under my bed for something, the whole delicate, tidy balance was disrupted, and I went back to storing my possessions in a deceptively chaotic looking mess on the carpet (I still maintain I knew where everything was in that mess, and I had strategic empty spots to walk my feet through from bed to door, so I never broke anything).
Anyway, the point is, that when your bedroom is that messy, when you can’t even see the floor for all the stuff strewn across it, actual ‘cleaning’ activities’ such as vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, polishing etc. instantly become much less of a big deal. Well, actually, when you’re just battling against piles of junk, clothes, old school notes, empty bags, boxes, CD’s, videos, mixed tapes, food packets, candles, blankets, pillows, photo albums, notebooks, diaries, textbooks, and random ceramic decorative things to get to the bedroom door, any actual ‘cleaning’ in the form of getting rid of dirt and dust becomes not so much unimportant as unnecessary. Impossible. So, I’m 27, and for a lot of reasons, I don’t really know how to do housework.
This has been a bit of a problem as an au pair, as housework is kind of part of the deal. Particularly in my current family, where the house is (to my untrained eyes), immaculate. It looks gorgeous, shiny, clean, at all moments of the day, and this is despite the two little munchkins running around trying to mess everything up to the best of their abilities. Making things much worse is the fact that I, me, the girl with the mess, was expected to keep this shiny, clean looking house in its nice, shiny, cleanness.
Tidying toys and things away is easy, I’m actually quite good at organisation when I want to be (despite the mess on my floor, my wardrobe was always organised according to type of clothing, and my bookshelves according to book height). The basic cleaning is easy enough too, I mean, I know how to use a hoover and a broom, though, I didn’t realise, until I started doing it every day, just how dirty floors get. Even if you look at the floor and can’t see anything on it, if you sweep it, you will find dust and crud and dirt and all sorts of other things coming up (though, a sudden thought – maybe I need to clean the broom? Perhaps I am making a clean floor dirty by sweeping it with a dirty broom? Hmm…. did not think this was possible. Will need to investigate further). The problem I find with both the broom and the vacuum is that no matter how hard you try, you will always, always miss a spot. If you insist on vacuuming or sweeping in your big, heavy-duty walking boots (as I constantly do – forgetting what happened last time), you will also tramp more dirt and grass and tiny, irritating little rocks over the floors you have just cleaned. I think, maybe another reason I avoid housework is that it brings out my OCD, perfectionist side, where I’m left thinking, ‘well, there’s no point in doing it unless its going to be perfect,’ which then means all these tiny little bits of crud on the floor (are they crumbs? are they dirt? granite? who knows, but they are so powerful they are able to resist the hoover, the broom the brush and the mop, and no, they are not part of the floor, I assure you) are incredibly anxiety inducing, and I spend my days walking around picking up various bits of dirt and, having nowhere else on hand to store them, put them into my jeans pocket. Which I then forget to empty. So, the next time I actually need to put something in my jeans pocket, I’ll go to retrieve it and my hand will come out covered in crap.
But the real problem is all the other accoutrements, the sprays and the polishes, the various towels and scrubbers, that all live under the sink. They look so promising, these bottles. There’s so many of them, all different shapes and colours, you think, the answer to my cleaning question must be housed in there somewhere! Its like the feeling you get when you open a newspaper (well, the feeling I get when I open a newspaper) – ah, knowledge! Clarity! Information! All the problems and confusions of the world are about to be solved by my reading of this newspaper! But, then, you finish the paper and you’re more anxious and confused then you were when you started and you begin to worry if maybe the answers were in a different paper, or if perhaps you just missed all the answers in this one, or, maybe you needed to watch the news on TV instead? Or listen to the radio? Or read a topic-specific blog? Its the same with those cleaning products under the sink. So many possibilities! But, then you start pulling them out and, its like, oh, crap, so many possibilities. You’re confronted with surface cleaner and bathroom cleaner and kitchen cleaner and Dettol and they all seem to do the same thing, but they’re so specifically labelled, you kind of get the feeling that if you, say, used kitchen cleaner in the bathroom, the whole house might explode. And, where are the surfaces you clean with the surface cleaner if they’re not in the kitchen or bathroom? May you only use ‘surface cleaner’ on non-specific-room surfaces? Say, for instance, the table that sits halfway down the hall and you’re not really sure if its part of the living room or the playroom? And, further, if you use non-kitchen-specific surface cleaner on your oven, will it turn a hideous brown-orange colour and smell of rotten eggs? And, if I’m caught using bathroom cleaner on surfaces in the kitchen, by housemates or friends or family, will this be… OK? Or will people laugh at me? Or, even worse, will people yell at me? Or, will I be thrown out of the house, told that such an incompetent house cleaner will no longer be tolerated in our share house/friendship group/family Christmases, and to take my non-specific-room surface cleaner and get out?
I had a disaster situation a month or so ago, where one of the roads up to our house was being newly paved. There was hot bitumen everywhere. There were also no footpaths (there are very few footpaths anywhere in Ireland), so I had no choice but to walk through the hot bitumen. I found this an interesting and not unpleasant experience. Squidgy, steamy and smelly. However, when I got home, I walked through the hose without really thinking about it. After a little while I did think, ‘hmmm… these floors seem to be unaccountably sticky.’ Then, a minute or two later, ‘oh, wait, I think its my shoes that seem to be a bit sticky’. A minute or two later I finally remembered the hot bitumen, looked down, and, sure enough, I had managed to track hot bitumen all through the house. I panicked, and went straight to the cupboard sink, grabbed a Dettol spray and some paper towels and went back to the first of the bitumen shoe patches on the ground. I sprayed it with Dettol, and attempted to wipe it away with the paper towel. It stayed put. Panicking even more, thinking that potentially I had just permanently bitumen-ed my employer’s floors, and the only way to get it off would be to chip away at it with a pick and hammer, I went back to the sink cupboard. Pulling out a variety of multi-coloured containers, I proceeded to spray the floor with everything I could find that didn’t come with a sign stating something like, ‘Warning: Contains burning acid and will horrifically burn and/or melt and/or destroy anything it comes in contact with (dirt as well as prized family possessions).’ Nothing worked. The bitumen stayed on the floor. Finally, in a last desperate attempt, I spied a scrubbing brush that looked like its past job may have been as a prop in a production of Cinderella: it was wooden, with heavy-duty, barely movable brush bristles. In fact, apart from cleaning bitumen off floors, I didn’t actually know what else such a brush could be used for. Burnishing steel, perhaps? Thankfully, the bitumen came off, with some Dettol and some determined Cinderella-like brushing and I cleaned up the mess quite successfully, all things considered, really. In hindsight, I’m not sure how much the Dettol contributed to the process, but I insisted on spraying it on to the bitumen anyway, just for effect and for the pine-fresh smell.
I am also responsible for cleaning the bathroom, which is a nightmare of shiny, shiny, clean, reflective surfaces. I went to wipe clean (with carefully chosen, specifically labelled, mirror cleaning spray) some specks of toothpaste I had flicked on to the mirror, and managed to transfer a pile of… well, I want to call it, lint? But, I’m not even sure what lint is. Does anyone know? And what’s the difference between lint and dust? I know you can buy lint-free cloths… or is it lint-free stockings? Or both? What is this lint and why is everyone so keen to be rid of it? Anyway, whatever it was, dirt, lint, material, string, an alien life form, it wasn’t meant to be on my shiny, clean, toothpaste free mirror. So, I wiped it again. With the same cloth. I then proceeded to continue wiping it with this cloth, for several minutes, getting grumpier and grumpier that the lint (?) refused to come off. I eventually wiped it off with the sleeve of my jumper (into the sink, but, hey, then I flushed it all down the drain with water, so what does it matter?)

Which one, which one? When did life get so complicated? Image from http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Your_Industry/Chemicals/Detergents/

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I think the only answer is to watch more infomercial TV, because then, maybe, I would understand the use of all these multi-coloured bottles and cloths that live underneath the sink.

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