How Clean Is Clean?

How clean is clean? It depends on whom you’re cleaning for, and who’s doing the cleaning. I’ve learned (usually the hard way) that “clean” means something different to men than it does to women. Men like things to LOOK clean: straightened up, neat and tidy. Woman like things to BE clean: disinfected, sanitized, and free from disease-ridden vermin. Sure, that’s a huge sexist generalization, but I never claimed to be Oprah. (I won’t even tell you why women have smaller feet than men.)

Here’s an example of Clean Enough For A Guy: I hosted a pretty decadent poker game last weekend (martinis, shrimp, crab cakes—thanks, Barb!), and I cleaned up the guest room beforehand. I knew I wouldn’t be the only guy to swill gin ‘til English became his second language, and  a couple of the boys would probably crash here. They did. Crashed into the wall at the bottom of the stairs. One of them, I’ll call him David, insisted on sleeping on the floor. “You can’t fall off the ground!” he kept repeating.

Since I knew it would be dudes occupying the guest room, I performed the minimum level of cleaning. This involved removing all guitar cases and cardboard boxes from the bed, stocking the mini-bar with PBR and Gatorade, and short-sheeting the bed. That’s plenty clean enough for my male friends, most of whom are content to sleep anywhere vaguely horizontal.

Now, when a female stays in the guest room, the level of cleaning ratchets up a notch or two. Clean sheets on the bed (maybe still short-sheeted; depends on the female). Dusting, vacuuming, setting the clock radio to the right time. Guitar cases and cardboard boxes removed from the closet to make room for clothing. Cleaning the toilet, stocking the bathroom with fresh towels and washcloths. Our female friends appreciate the effort, and would do the same for us.

The most thorough level of cleaning is Mom Clean. She’s usually staying for several days, and you’ve probably convinced her to eschew the hotel and stay with you. This means the guest room will have to be cleaner and more inviting than a hotel room. Now you’re renting a rug shampooer. Now you’re buying new light fixtures. Now you’re staring down three days’ worth of cleaning, decorating, and general hand-wringing to get the room ass-kickin’ clean.

Number one priority: the guest bathroom. This will involve removing the guitar cases and cardboard boxes from the shower stall and cleaning it out with some kind of caustic cleaner that can actually remove freckles from your skin. You’ll probably need a new shower head, bath mat, a new set of towels, and new towel bars. Lotions, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, female products, fancy toiler paper (not that no-ply stuff you stole from work) and scented candles. All surfaces will be spit-shined to within an inch of their lives, and the toilet will be cleaned so thoroughly that you’d let your poker buddies drink out of it.

The floor will need to be mopped and swept. The dopey little carpet that fits around the toilet will have to be washed until it no longer smells like pee, gin, and crab cakes. The sink and faucet will have to be cleaned and polished until they gleam like, well, like something really really shiny. The Pistol Club sign (“Welcome to the Pistol Club—Drink till 12:00, piss till 2:00”) will have to be taken down and replaced by a flowery print with a Walt Whitman poem on it.

The thing is, not only do we want our moms (and dads) to be comfortable, but we don’t want them to see that we really live like slobs. Which we do. They may wonder why they’re not allowed to come upstairs—ever—but I just tell them it’s for their own good. If they ventured up the main living area of the house, they’d see something that looks like a Goodwill truck full of clothes crashed into a toy store. We simply don’t have time to keep up with it all. With two kids in grade school, we’re usually driving somebody to some lesson/practice/meeting/game/playdate/therapy session. We’re seldom home for more than 45 minutes at a time, just long enough to hork down some mac ‘n cheese and a bag of fruit snacks.

I’m the first to admit that housework ain’t my strong suit, so I tend to let things slide. My daily attempts to scale Mount Laundry usually come up short, and no one has yet invented the dryer that can fold and put away clothes. Consequently, we gather in the living room each morning to pull clean clothes out of the laundry baskets and get dressed. In fact, I might as well get rid of all our dressers and chest of drawers. Then we’d have room for all those guitar cases and cardboard boxes.

"If I'm not back in ten minutes, send beer."


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