Make your (cleaning) list, check it twice

It’s beginning to smell a lot like the holidays at our house.

And I’m not talking about a festive potpourri of pinecones with a few stale cinnamon sticks thrown into the mix. Or smelly candles with names such as “autumn spice medley” or “holiday magic,” whatever that means.

To me, Thanksgiving and Christmas smell like cleaning products. An impending holiday means you break out the Bon Ami and the Windex. And for the really disgusting grime, maybe even the big guns — bleach and ammonia — if vinegar doesn’t work. It’s been that way since I was a little girl.

I think I finally get it. Mom’s obsession with cleaning things that no one noticed or cared about has finally taken hold. Genetically, it was only a matter of time. Like the massive pantry I’ve squirreled away for winter, it’s programmed into my DNA.

As a child, I never understood why Mom “wasted her time” on wiping down walls or cleaning the top of the refrigerator. No one noticed. What a pointless exercise. I wondered why she didn’t use her time to read a book or something. Everything was just going to get dirty again and we’d do it all over.

Who cared? I don’t remember saying it, but I sure thought it.

There were days when we came home from school and she said, “Guess what I did today?” and the answer was always some cleaning project that we were likely not to notice.

“Don’t these blinds look better?” she would ask, or “Whose granola bar was in the couch cushions?” We just kept on living in a super-clean house, courtesy of Mom, a difficult task with a family of five.

The cleaning behavior only escalated around the holidays, because if company was coming over, you’d better have a spotless house for them to dirty. No one wants to cook a turkey in a non-sparkling oven, do they?

Even when it wasn’t the holidays, our house was outrageously clean. Growing up, I regularly ate things I dropped on the floor. Not because of the five-second rule, but because our linoleum was far cleaner than most other houses’ counter tops or tables. We all did, and we totally took it for granted.

The only time I remember really being thankful for our tidy, spotless home was during a sleepover party in middle school, where I learned that not all families were as lucky as ours to have a mom who had time and cared to keep a clean house. I was literally scared to put my sleeping bag on the floor of my friend’s house. The matted carpet had ground-in bits of popcorn and gum embedded in the fibers. Mildew literally outlined the ceiling of the bathroom. A weird, sour smell wafted from a massive pile of dirty laundry in the living room.

I couldn’t believe it. This was a party! These people were having company! And their house looked like this?! I actually called Mom to come pick me up early, which is practically insane behavior for a teenager.

Now, I’m the one making lists and being the cleaning Nazi. I’m perched precariously on chairs to reach the fan blades and exclaiming at the grime. I’m the one making others come look at the bucket of dirty, soapy water I just used to wipe down something. Then I’m dumping that water into the toilet, grimacing at the crud we were living, eating and breathing around. I’m using old socks to dust between the slats of the blinds and brandishing the blackened fabric, hollering,“Look how gross this is!”

Hubby complains that no one cares if it’s icky behind the oven/on the ceiling fan/along the baseboards. He’s annoyed that we’re spending extra time deep-cleaning our humble abode. “Who looks there? No one cares.”

Guess what? I care. She cared, and now I care.

I’m thankful today to know the value of a house that feels and smells clean. Thanks, Mom.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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