Sunday, 8 April 2012

Cleaning is glamorous and sexy ~

It's time for cleaning to come out of the broom cupboard and be awarded its due.  Other home-making skills such as cooking, baking, gardening, decorating and renovation are the subject of glossy books, magazines, documentaries, competitions and chat shows, while cleaning and the resultant cleanliness, seldom rate even a mention.  Except when it hasn't been done...

For most of us cleaning is something we do around our homes - because we have to, but most people seem to do as little as possible and it is not a subject that is regarded with any degree of enthusiasm.  This is a pity because as well as having a significant impact on our health and well-being, it also can help us achieve other forms of satisfaction and success:

Imagine bringing home a new boyfriend or girlfriend, someone you want to impress and make comfortable: the place is smart, you are doing your best to make it all work out, but... your car is full of junk and discarded food wrappers, the entranceway of your home is dusty, the house is musty, the windows grimy, the kitchen bench piled with used dishes, the stove grease- and food-spattered, the loo smells, well, neglected, the bathroom basin and bath have tell-tale rings around their insides and the mirror is spattered with toothpaste; in the bedroom, used clothes litter the floor, and the sheets, if you go that far, are greying and rumpled.  How do you rate your chances?  This is definitely not glamorous or sexy. 

On the other hand, imagine bringing your new friend into a home that looks and smells fresh, clean, tidy, and has that indefinable air of being loved and looked after.  You've thought about where you want the furniture and made the place welcoming: the table cloth is clean; the kitchen bench and taps are shining; and the bathroom looks and smells as it should.  You look as if you care enough to have made an effort, and you have.  Oh joy, this is a good start!  You can relax and enjoy yourself knowing that your guest can also relax and enjoy themselves: they're not going to be put off by imagining what illness they must take care to avoid or look for signs of in the days to come, or, possibly worse still, wonder if they are going to have to take over the housekeeping for you.  They may even want to visit again some time.  Much better!

Cleaning is a learnt rather than an inherent skill, and hopefully we learn about it when we are growing up as this makes it much easier to manage once we are adults.  

I learnt quite a bit when young.  I don't know how other people do so.  I suspect a fairly large number learn it by watching advertisements for cleaning products in which we are encouraged to buy a vast range of cleaning products, many of which are costly and unnecessary.  In these advertisements all unsightly marks and messes are magically swept into oblivion by the application of all this stuff, when in truth what's actually needed is relatively simple and affordable and needs to be accompanied by the intelligent application of good old elbow grease, which is to say: focused physical labour.

I learnt a substantial number of the finer points of cleaning at one of my first jobs at an old people's rest home.  The place was run by a formidable matron who had been a career nurse, and I mean 'run': she always moved at something approaching a run, and her rigidly styled hair and make-up left no one in any doubt of her ability to control practically anything.  She once told me that she washed her hair brush every day.  This astonishing pronouncement was delivered with an air of almost aggressive triumph.  Even now this seems over the top.  It does demonstrate the point though, that that place was REALLY clean, and anything that wasn't properly done was noticed immediately - and ruthlessly corrected.  I could have wished that the social comfort of residents was as closely attended to...but that's life - full of imperfections and inconsistencies!

I'd learnt a lot but not everything, and still pick up tips and figure out new methods that make things easier or more satisfactory - not that I'm any kind of cleanliness paragon, no, no, not at all, but I'm reasonably clean and tidy.  However, even that depends on what else is going on in my life at the time.  The important thing is that I do know how to clean, and periodically have proper catch-up sessions which freshen everything up nicely and which I find satisfying. 

In the context of glamorous television portrayals of other aspects of domestic prowess, I often sigh for the cleaners of the "Masterchef" kitchens and marvel at the spotlessly clean surfaces and cooking equipment; when watching shows like "Grand Designs" and "Hotel Inspector" I think of the acres of floors and fittings and furnishings that need to be vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed, and all the rest of it.  In home- as well as garden makeovers I see people swarming everywhere doing everything but cleaning, and what a lot of that there must be to get done before home owners are shown over their refurbished properties.  Cleaning can be hard, back-breaking, sweaty work, and without it, those places wouldn't look a patch of what they do in the final scenes.  

Of all the television makeover shows I've come across the one I've seen that set cleaning in the most realistic perspective was "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy".  I enjoyed that show very much: marvelled at some of the changes they brought about, and was pleased to see that they placed emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene, both personal and around the home.  Most importantly they regularly gave at least some instruction about it - even made it seem like fun!  Bravo, Queer Eye!

But books, where are the books that outline how to clean?  In all my days as a librarian I never came across a single one, not even in publishers magazines.  I've seen pamphlet-style publications about stain removal, but nothing more, until just recently when I came across a delightful little book entitled:
"Next to Gods: a cleaner's story" by Don Franks.
Disappointingly this book is now out of print.  The author opens his story with the acute observation that anyone who isn't a Cleaner is a Dirtier.  This is unarguable!  He also points out that the social status of these indispensable and hard-working people is usually so low as to cause any new acquaintance to lose interest or even become a bit haughty and condescending.  I know all about that from my own experience.  

The cleaning work that Don Franks refers in his book is of office buildings which were cleaned at night.  Although he closes his humorous and wry commentary with a statement about the importance of doing a good job it's clear that for many cleaners the demands and expectations of business clients and cleaning franchise bosses are way beyond what could be considered reasonable or even possible.  Hence, he good-naturedly outlines schemes for taking short cuts when time limits loom, and impossibly large numbers of toilets and offices have yet to be cleaned.  Some of these are joking asides, such as placing Out of Order signs in front of the occasional toilet so as to save having to clean yet one more, but even so, the humour is a way of coping with unreasonable workloads.

At some point I may write a selection of "how to" tips about cleaning myself. 

Looking back on my own working life, populated as it has been with frequent struggles to do everything to the absolute best of my ability, I can see now that learning what aspects of a job can be passed over lightly or skipped entirely is as important as learning to do the work itself.  Day-to-day changes in circumstances require us to be adaptable.  Always being attentive to every detail can wear us out unnecessarily or just plain get in the way of what's important.

Having said that, I do find it important to have a well-structured approach of what I need to do and when.  To this end I have developed my own schedules of what I like to get done around the house on both a daily and weekly basis.  For the interest of those to whom these may provide useful reference points I have published them in a separate article.
In the meantime I raise a flag for cleaners and cleaning, and award them all bouquets and big thank you's for all their hard work.  And to Don Franks, congratulations for writing the book!


Anonymous said...

Household "cope-books" from the 1950s and earlier are some of my favourite reading; a real find was a book titled "The Professional Housekeeper" designed for those attending to the work in hotels etc. Always good to know there are high standards to aim for :)

Leigh Christina Russell said...

Hi Valerie, the book you mention does sound like a good read, and I agree with you about high standards!

Now that my mother is in rest home care I notice there the small things that I was trained in as a nurse aid all those years ago, whether they are done or not done. I often find myself correcting the placement of pillows: the opening of the pillowslip should be towards the wall, or otherwise away from view - so much tidier! Once learnt these details become obvious, and how much better a room looks when they are attended to!

As I've said above, I'm no paragon, but like things to look at least as if I know something of the art!