I am not a natural born cleaner. I was the flatmate who rarely cleaned, avoided my duties, and disappeared instead of mopping the kitchen floor.
I would clean the toilet when other people wouldn't, and I've always had a thing for hand-washing my delicates, but other than that … well. (A huge retrospective sorry to all of you I lived with!)
I don't know why; it was just all downhill from getting my cleaning badge at Brownies. If cleaning was the new black I was somewhere at the other end of the colour spectrum.
There was a seismic shift when I went to New Orleans volunteering three years after Katrina and there was a hurricane warning. When heavy rains come, the city turns on the pumps in the Bourbon Street part of town, so the poorer part of downtown floods. When we were cleaning up the mess in the downtown drop-in centre toilets, I realized I am quite capable of getting down and dirty, because cleaning is a necessary part of life.
Then I had babies, times two. When they were little they were easy to clean up after, as they don't really move. There were a lot of garbage bags filled with nappies to go out, but I had my systems and was proud of the tidiness. I regularly de-cluttered, passed on clothes the girls had grown out of, etc.
But where we live now … Well, people have walked in, thrown their arms up in horror and begun ululating like Xena. Inside their own heads, that is - they're not doing that out loud. But I'm familiar with the look.The keen cleaner's eyelid twitches, or there's a slight dilation of the pupils, as if their medication just kicked in.
After what they think is a seemly amount of time has passed they say "Can I vacuum for you, Jody?"
This is greatly appreciated. Many hands make light work and all that. And I appreciate their honesty when they say, "May god have mercy on your Sard Wonder soap-less soul, Jody."
I had friends help me de-clutter recently, which was fabulous. Paprika two years past its due date was thrown out of the pantry; all non-essential items are gone!
My house is a smallish unit and I have some fabulous stuff on the walls, a lot of op shop stuff for the girls, AND a dark carpet which has to vacuumed every day or it looks like it has nits. Post de-cluttering, I committed to keeping things tidy. The rewards have been ... well, I have fewer Lego puncture wounds to the soles of my feet, and it does feel good for things to be easier to see, and better displayed.
But have I felt transformed by my new cleaning regime, like some of the natural born cleaners have said I would? To be honest … well yes, just a little.
But I HAVE felt tired! Cleaning takes energy! As a single parent, it takes me a long hour and a half to two hours to clean up the house, and within an hour of the girls getting up its back to some kind of fabulously rambunctious, lived-in look.
And to maintain a high level of order while also becoming more tired … well, something has to give.
When I've managed the whacked out wolverines/Frida Kahlos play centre heads/Cassius Clays in tutus that are my kids, cleaning until this place looks like an Ikea catalogue takes up the last vestige of energy available to me. And at the risk of sounding like Madonna doing her third person spiel - when Mama does a lot of cleaning, Mama doesn't have as much time for her children … and Mama sure doesn't have pixie dust left for writing – aka, my job.
So I’m partly returning to my easy attitude to cleaning. No, we won't be living in a tip, but to get ahead with my career and do my full-time job (parenting), we're going back to relaxed. But feel free to tidy if you’re that way inclined when you visit.
Because this part-time writing for money Mama needs her energies elsewhere. Not least for hanging with my daughter Diana when she says, "Here comes the rain Mum. I love listening to the rain", and her sister chiming in with, "Rain gives you sweet, sweet dwweams, Mum. Aaand it keeps the aliens away, Mum." Trumps a sparkling gas hob, for me, every time.
- © Fairfax NZ News