27 February 2009

One from the Vault - originally posted August 2, 2008 on MySpace

How I clean house

Day 1: Invite some people over for dinner.

Seriously. There's nothing like the threat of public humiliation to motivate action. The trick is to allow the exact right amount of time. Less than a week, and you won't get it all done. More than a week, and you'll end up putting off starting until it's too late, and you won't get it all done...

Day 2: Inventory.

Walk around the house - all the rooms where anyone might conceivably go, either on purpose or accidentally-on-purpose - with a notepad and pen. (Assuming you can find them. If you can't, take a break, run to the Kroger, and get pens, notepads, some chicken chests, some Laura's Lean beef patties if they're on sale, some olives, some fresh produce that looks good - as long as it's not something you have in the garden, and if you're not sure, use your cell phone to call home and check - and some milk. Oh, and some ice cream, and maybe a six-pack of Goose Island pale ale.) Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah - walking around the house with a notepad and pen.

So walk through every room and carefully list everything - I mean everything - that needs to be done. I mean details. I mean ALL the details. I mean, imagine it's your mother coming over, and your mother always did think you were Domestically Impaired. List everything from mopping the floors and dusting and cleaning counters to swabbing toilets and doing laundry and cleaning your closet (just in case anyone should peek) to organizing the bookshelves and making sure all the thread in your sewing box is sorted by color.


Get a bowl of ice cream.

Sit yourself down at the dining room table (after you clear a spot by putting all the kids' stuff on their dining chairs) and start sorting your list into three categories:

  • Emergency (i.e., someone will die if this doesn't happen),
  • Important (really needs to be done if you ever want these particular guests to speak to you again), and
  • Would Be Nice (no lives or friendships in the balance, but you'd be happy if you could get to it).

Day 3: Start cleaning.

The objective on Day 3 is to beat into submission as many Emergencies as possible. Tackle each one with as much vigor and focus as you can muster, and whomp on it until it's down to the size of Important. Then move to the next one and whomp some more. With luck, some elbow grease, and as long as it hasn't been too long since the last time you invited people over, you could potentially get all the Emergencies down to size on Day 3.

If not, that's what Day 4 is for.

Day 4: Step back, take a deep breath, and reprioritize.

Sit down with a bowl of Cheerios and your list and re-sort. At this point, you'll need to escalate some of your Importants ahead of the former Emergencies - after all, they've had three days to spiral out of control.

Start whomping. You should have the hang of it by now.

Day 5: Don't panic.

You'll look at your list on Day 5 and realize there is no freakin' way in hell you're going to get everything done in time. Reprioritize again, this time marking the things at the bottom of the list for possible delegation, elimination, or restructuration. (Note: This is my blog. I can make up words if I want to. And if I like them, I may use them again. Get used to it.) For example, you may be able to persuade your spouse or some handy offspring to install one of those toddler-proof cabinet-clippy things inside your closet door to throw off snoopy guests. They'll get nervous about getting caught with their fingers inside the door trying to trip the clip, and they'll leave the closet alone.

Then clean some more, until you either run out of steam or run out of focus or run out of Soft Scrub. Or ice cream.

Or Goose Island.

Day 6: Panic.

Seriously, hon. This is going to be an all-nighter. That's why it's better to extend the invitation for Saturday evening rather than Friday. However, if it's for Friday and today is Thursday, you can still handle it. Just plan on taking a quick nap in one of the ladies' room stalls tomorrow afternoon.

First, start early. Use your lunch break to plan the dinner menu and figure out a schedule so you can multi-task. You know, things like, "While meat is marinating, mix salad." And, "Start meat in oven 1 hour before dinner; set timer for 30 minutes and put beans in when it goes off; reset timer for 30 minutes." (Make sure everything that goes in the oven can cook at the same temperature.) Make a shopping list. Then when you get home, work on your cleaning list as long as you can stand it. When you reach the breaking point, break. Go to the Kroger and get everything on your list, plus more ice cream and some Diet Cokes. (And none of that "unleaded" stuff. You're going to need the caffeine!)

Go home, fix a bowl of ice cream and a Diet Coke, and sit down with your list. Reprioritize. If you've applied enough elbow grease and you've been reasonable in your expectations, you'll find all that's left is a couple of Importants, a handful of Would Be Nices, and half a dozen or so potential Scratches.

Get on it. At this point, you can start moving back and forth from Important to Would Be Nice, just for variety. Just make sure you don't cut yourself short on the higher-priority items.

When you don't think you can clean anything else ever again in your life - stop. Take a shower to wake yourself up, then go get another Diet Coke and start pre-cooking. Anything that can be cut up, marinated, mixed, seasoned, and/or refrigerated in advance should be cut up, marinated, mixed, seasoned, and/or refrigerated in advance before you pass out from exhaustion.

Day 7: If this is a Saturday, you're in good shape. Get up around 10 and go for the gold.

However, this being "my way," there's no way it's a Saturday. You wouldn't make it that easy on yourself. So...

Come up with a really good reason you have to leave work an hour or two early. If you have a really good boss, "I have people coming over for dinner and I'm so nervous I could throw up," will work fine. If you don't, get creative. You're smart. You can think of something.

Go home and start the first items on your cooking list. Then go over whatever's not yet checked off on your cleaning list and reprioritize. It's acceptable at this time to start marking things off from the bottom - you can, without guilt, now say, "That ain't happenin'!"

About midway through the cooking list, take a break to set the table. (By the way, if one of the Importants on your list wasn't "wash the table linens and fold them so you don't have to iron them on Friday," then you'd better have put a new tablecloth and napkins on your grocery list.) Work back and forth between cooking and cleaning until about 40 minutes before your guests are due to arrive. (If you're really smart, you've figured the "working back and forth" thing into your to-do list/timetable.) This gives you time to shower, dry your hair, slap on some mascara and lip gloss, and hide whatever clutter you didn't get to yet before the doorbell rings.

Then take some ibuprofen for the aching in your back, your feet, and your head, pour yourself a glass of wine, and sit down and look around at your apparently clean and really quite pretty house! Enjoy it while you can - there will be a mess to clean up after dinner!

(Next time: How I prepare a holiday meal...)

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