In my neighborhood, and possibly in yours, most of the homes look pretty much the same from the outside. There are only a few models and variations, and although landscaping varies, even many of the trees and shrubs are similar. But inside? Who knows! Some may be pristine model home-like interiors and others may have overflowing trash cans and bathrooms that make gas stations look good. You never know how a person keeps house until you’re inside of that house. And admittedly, we all have a different style, a certain level of cleanliness that we’re accustomed to and comfortable with. Have you ever thought about how you clean? Are you fastidious, lax, or somewhere in between? And, most of all, does your cleaning style really work for you? It seems as though most people fall into one of these broad categories:
- The Neat Freak. If you’re a neat freak, your home is pretty much immaculate all the time, and you do everything in your power to keep it that way. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it’s in the trash. Clutter is banned. Lysol reigns supreme. All your cars are in your garage, and any “junk” you have is neatly closeted away in pristine cabinets. You’re the envy of your friends and you’re always complimented on your perfect home. The pros? You have the perfect home! You have what the rest of us are all striving for. And you’ve worked hard-really hard-to get it that way. It’s something you should be proud of. The cons? It takes all your time and energy to have that perfect house. And is it worth it? Sometimes it seems even too sterile, even for you. In her famous letter, If I Had My Life to Live Over, the writer Erma Bombeck stated “I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.” Sometimes you wonder if the time and effort is worth the perfection, but part of you can’t fathom living any other way.
- The Cleaning Lady Worshipper. The majority of families I know have cleaning services, whether the families are well-off or not, whether the female heads of household work or are homemakers. It seems perfectly acceptable these days, not to mention relatively affordable. One of my friends put it to me this way: “I spend $65 every two weeks to have my cleaning lady come. I can spend that in four minutes at Target. I figure it’s money well-spent.” Wow, does that make sense! Those who worship their cleaning ladies absolutely count down the minutes until she arrives. You have come to accept and expect that she’ll do all the “dirty work”-scrubbing the toilets, vacuuming, dusting, and mopping the kitchen floor. No doubt you straighten up like crazy for the three hours before she arrives so that the clutter you’ve accumulated during the last week or two doesn’t affect her ability to make your house spic and span when she arrives. The pros are obvious: you get to pay to have someone else do all the cleaning you don’t have the time or desire to do, and you periodically get a perfectly clean house without having to put in the effort yourself. One con is obvious: cleaning services can be costly, and you come to depend on them. In addition, you sometimes feel yourself becoming too reliant on “cleaning lady day” and wanting to savor that clean house for as long as possible. If you have little kids, sometimes it lasts a mere hour or two. And if she doesn’t come, the house simply stays messy.
- The Middle-of-the-Road Housekeeper. Probably a lot of us fall into this category, myself included. You don’t hire a cleaning service, but you don’t spend all your time and energy keeping house. Your house is, simply, “neat enough.” You may have well-worn furniture, a few stains on the carpet, and perhaps not all your cars fit in your garage because it’s half-filled with stuff. You keep the bathrooms and kitchen tidy, and you own a Swiffer which you use religiously, but the mini-blinds are always dusty, there are dust bunnies under the beds, and your windows have probably never been sufficiently washed. You have designated areas of clutter and areas that you always try to keep neat. The pros are that you aren’t spending your life (or your life’s savings) on cleaning your house. Your home is functional, warm, and mostly inviting. The only real con is that, secretly, you’re never completely satisfied with how your home looks. You only really clean-and I mean, really clean-a couple of times a year. And it’s a big chore to do so. Without a cleaning service or a wealth of disposable time, you aren’t able to make your house “as neat and clean” as some of your friends. That may nag at you, but not enough to lose sleep over.
- The Slob. Ouch! That’s not exactly a friendly term, but we’re talking about the extreme mess-maker here. Housekeeping has probably never been your strength. You may have been that roommate that left dirty dishes and laundry around in college. You simply have better things to do with your time than clean. It’s simply not a priority in your life. You may be ultra-organized in other areas of your life, but that switches off when you cross the threshold to your home. Perhaps your issue is that you are pack rat. It’s just difficult to throw things away. The pros are that you’re comfortable living with a little (or a lot) of mess. The cons are apparent: managed clutter can cross into hoarding really fast, before you even know it. And if your messy home goes beyond a certain point of acceptability, you may feel uncomfortable having guests over at all.
I think we all want the same things out of our home: a cozy place to relax, unwind, and feel comfortable. Some people require extreme neatness and cleanliness in order to be able to feel at ease where they live; others do not. If you belong in the latter category, just make sure you’re still in control of your mess, rather than the other way around. And if you’re constantly feeling as though you can’t make your abode clean enough, try to relax and, on occasion, eat popcorn in the good living room.