How Dirty is Your House?

As part of my fall unemployment project, I'm trying to straighten out the house. We moved into a fixer-upper five years ago. We fixed some things, but most projects got put on hold. A tidy house was low priority.

Right now, I've got three guys from a window cleaning service marching through the house. Because we have old fashioned windows, it's a big job that involves ladders and the removal of storm windows and screens. I don't think the windows have been properly cleaned in this house for two decades. 

They're washing every window from attic to basement. To get ready for them, I had to clear paths through Lego bricks and make a mountain of kid books. No time to put the crap away. I had to go up to the attic and pile up the summer clothes, which hadn't been completely sorted and stored. Let's not talk about the stacks of games in the basement, which were also half sorted to get ready for donation to the Veterans. When the kids are in school, I go into the bubble in front of the computer and don't see the mess elsewhere.

The Last Samurai was a crappy movie, but I loved the domestic scenes of the pristine, simple homes. I need more zen around here.

Clean windows:

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40 thoughts on “How Dirty is Your House?

  1. My house is almost always a mess with intermittent bouts of complete cleanliness when we have company. Mostly I figure it’s not my job to pick up after everyone. So I do laundry, grocery shopping, and prepare meals. Other stuff happens as I feel like it. I make the kids clean their rooms every once in a while and we clean the bathrooms (currently making the kids do it). But I feel pretty meh about housework. By the time I’m done writing and then showering, it’s usually lunchtime, then I only have about 1.5 hours until the first kid gets home. Then I have to monitor homework completeness and screen time. I just don’t feel like cleaning while I’m doing that. I try to find friends whose houses are equally casually cleaned.

  2. We have twice-a-month housecleaning (yes, I’m that kind of SAHM), so things can’t get very dirty. All the same, there is a lot of stuff to manage: incoming mail, papers from school, husband’s work stuff, coats, laundry, shoes, backpacks, Legos, art supplies, photographs, literally tens of thousands of bits of different toys, etc. The kids are actually pretty good about keeping their rooms maintained (I have them on commission), but there’s a lot of stuff, and they have lots of “creative” ideas for the living room furniture, large cardboard boxes and my laundry baskets. At any time, I’m probably within about 60 minutes of being able to happily entertain anybody. However, my current notion of grownup entertaining at home involves mainly popcorn, soda, grapes, and brownies.
    Beyond that, I have the following issues:
    1. We rent, so we can’t really settle in too comfortably. The odds are that if we buy too much storage or furniture for this house, it’s not going to work at our next house (in about 2 years).
    2. I don’t have the spatial ability that would allow me to easily figure out how to store stuff.
    My ideas for our next house are:
    1. A really good mudroom with bench, shoe storage, hooks for coats and backpacks, storage for outdoor stuff like sidewalk chalk and bubbles, a shelf for outgoing mail and packages. You see this in a lot of the magazines and books these days, but it’s still an excellent idea
    2. Built-in cabinetry and bookcases in the living room, with space for the TV, etc. I’d like to move on from having cords snaking across the living room.
    3. Things get fuzzier with the dining room and kitchen, since a lot depends on the configuration of our next house. Currently, the dining room table is home to my laptop, my papers, and bills that my husband needs to deal with. I’d like to liberate the dining room table, perhaps with the help of a secretary or a built-in desk near the kitchen.

  3. Amy, you’d have liked my parent’s house (depending on your feelings about Harvest Gold). They had all of that, except that instead of putting the TV in a cabinet, the TV was a cabinet (with little doors).

  4. We have that mudroom (although on a city scale) and it’s very key to keeping clutter down.
    But I am wary of too much storage capacity. At our house anyway, it just facilitates the buildup of more crap. My 8YO is a total pack rat and she’s always wheedling for the closet organizer things … all to store her never-ending collection of broken toys and half-completed art projects (usually involving stinky recycling).

  5. MH,
    There’s almost nothing you can’t fix with enough white paint.
    I’m a pretty big fan of the 1950s/1960s house. Our rental is a very early 1960s house and there’s a lot about it that I like: lots of storage, lots of built-ins, large bedrooms, all in all a very intelligent use of 2000 sq. ft. I can quibble here and there (why does the master bath need a door that opens on the dining room?), but the house has been a real education for me.
    I’m also a big fan of the banquette (as a space-saver and as promoting coziness), although I understand it may not be practical in every setting.

  6. jen,
    I feel your pain. My big Thanksgiving break project (aside from making photobooks for the family) is going through my 7-year-olds papers and toys. There’s a large bookcase unattractively stuffed with various objects that we need to deal with. The floor is relatively clear, though, which is my standard for day-to-day tidiness.
    One more thing–I also like the idea of having a big bulletin board in a dining room for an orderly (i.e. not like on the fridge) display of children’s art.

  7. I have a fairly large house, with a fair amount of storage space, and I emphatically second Jen’s statement that more storage capacity just breeds more stuff (especially if you have a packrat child, aided and abetted by a packrat spouse). It’s kind of like street congestion — doesn’t matter if you build more of them, ’cause they’ll always fill up to the point when people can’t stand it any more (and, stop driving, or buying stuff).
    My house is reasonably clean (yes, weakly cleaning person who doesn’t do a great job, but keeps the bathrooms and kitchen and floors under control). The clutter is crazy, but like Amy, I can get the house to a state that I’m willing to invite people over w/in 60 minutes. But, I admit to having a fairly casual standard — I’ve given up the Zen serenity (and the white slipcover — I actually have one, crazy woman that I am, hidden away) until the kids are much older.
    (We don’t have a mudroom — our house would be difficult to design with one, since the family entry is the front entry, which is kind of grand. But that entry is the part of the house that’s most important, and that’s the most difficult to keep reasonably clean of clutter, since everything gets dumped there. I would love to figure that one out, but lack the spatial skills).

  8. There’s almost nothing you can’t fix with enough white paint.
    I’m very curious as to what it looks like now. My parents sold it in 1992 after having built it 20 years before that. Some things were still the same (tile, formica, paneling, textured carpet in the rooms the kids were not allowed to play in) were still the same when we left.
    It was a 2,500 square foot ranch with a full basement. It certainly allowed us to collect stuff (including a 100 year old printing press).

  9. “I’m very curious as to what it looks like now.”
    Looking into my crystal ball: granite, stainless steel, pergo and three shades of beige paint.

  10. We have a pretty clean house. All the kids are given chores that they have to complete each Saturday before they’re allowed out of the house (this will very slightly depending on sleep-overs, etc., but mostly we hold to it very firmly). Melissa and I do the bulk of it, of course, but the kids have to do their part. Floors mopped, carpets vacuumed, toys put away, dishes done, etc. We just can’t survive in a messy house, and hence we’re doing our best to pass along our mutual OCD problems to our children. (Ask me about how I organize the books and CDs sometime.)
    The one place we’ve given up is the walls. It’s just not worth the effort keeping them clean. We’ve given over one whole wall in the playroom as a chalk wall, and as for the rest of the house, we’ve just taught ourselves to live with it. As our youngest is now three, we figure we only have a couple more years to go before we can repaint the whole damn thing, and finally not have to force ourselves to look away from permanent marker artwork we’ve attempted to hide behind the bookshelf.

  11. We have a full-tiime housekeeper, so the house is never dirty, except maybe a little on Sunday evening, or when there is something that has been missed. For example, I noticed last night that some of the forks were a little tarnished.
    We used to have someone come and clean the windows every six months, but, with the recession, I now do it myself. I did the courtyard side windows last weekend, and I will do the street side ones sometime this month. (We have the modern kind of windows that swing in for cleaning; it’s not like I was out on the ledge wearing one of those belts.)

  12. “We have a full-tiime housekeeper, so the house is never dirty, except maybe a little on Sunday evening, or when there is something that has been missed. For example, I noticed last night that some of the forks were a little tarnished.’
    Y81, do you live in the United States?
    I was watching a tv show the other day, and raised the question of how many Americans have full-time help (’cause the show depicted a uniformed houseworker). I know no one who has a full time housekeeper, and in my personal experience I have only ever known only one person who had full-time houskeeping help.
    Now, a number of folks I know have childcare workers who also do a substantial amount of regular housekeeping (i.e. laundry, grocery shopping, food prep).

  13. Looking into my crystal ball: granite, stainless steel, pergo and three shades of beige paint.
    Maybe, but there were about twenty new, bigger houses and that may have accounted for the ‘granite’ crowd. This is in a very small town and the people with money tend to be old farmers who got that way by not spending money on things that are not directly related to making steers gain weight.

  14. We live on Central Park West. Lots of people on Central Park West, Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue have full-time help.
    Our housekeeper doesn’t wear a uniform, though.

  15. “We live on Central Park West. Lots of people on Central Park West, Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue have full-time help.”
    So now I’ve learned something (and the tv show did depict a New Yorker, though I don’t know from where). The scene spiked my interest because one of my issues with television is how they depict lifestyles based on particular occupations — I think a lot of people got the idea that a teacher’s salary (or a a fireperson’s) *should* support a 4 bedroom house + granite counters in your kitchen from TV. I’m always surprised by who TV depicts as having housekeepers (Brady Bunch? Would an architect’s family really have had a live in house keeper?), traveling first class, . . . .

  16. Brady Bunch? Would an architect’s family really have had a live in house keeper?
    There were always suspicions, but insurance company paid-out the claim on the first Mrs. Brady.

  17. Growing up, from about 6 or 7 years old at least, I and my siblings all had chores for helping keep the house clean- vaccuming, taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom, etc. This was every day, though I think I often had to do 2 or 3 days at a time as I’d “forget”. Still, it did help keep the place clean. As for now, we don’t wear shoes inside (leave them by the door) and that helps a lot. The battle with cat hair is the on going one.

  18. My house is pretty clean with a every other week cleaning lady. I admit that I NEED to have a clean kitchen and bathroom.
    Now there ARE piles – of papers and books and toys. The dining room table was buried for a few weeks under painting and craft supplies til we had no more room to eat.

  19. Y81 — So what does a full time housekeeper do? Does she (making a gender assumption here) just clean the house from 9 to 5 or are there other chores involved, like picking up the dry cleaning and picking up the kids from school?

  20. Well, I have three page list of y81’s housekeeping tasks, but I can’t post it here. Selected items include:
    Daily tasks–tidying, empty dishwasher, fluff pillows etc.
    Weekly tasks–laundry, clean bathroom, clean stove, polish silver, polish furniture, polish doorknobs, vacuum (pull furniture from wall first), mop floors etc.
    Monthly tasks–polish copper pots and pans, polish silver picture frames, clean refrigerator, empty closets and vacuum etc.
    Yearly tasks–remove books from bookcases (we have about 2000 books) and clean books and shelves, remove pillow covers from sofas and wash etc.
    You can read Cheryl Mendelson or Stanley Ager for guidance, if you like this sort of thing. Not that our housekeeper works to quite those standards. However, she does do errands as well.

  21. What an interesting comment thread! I hope Y81 answers your question! I know what a full time housekeepeer does in Brazil, but not here in the U.S.
    In any case, answering your question is hard. In a nutshell right now our house is TERRIBLY dirty because I’m cyberschooling my sons and don’t have time for anything. We did have it spotless for the almost two months of showing earlier this year (although not as clean as I would have liked it — the carpet in the basement and family room/study was not washed). I had washed all windows (we have the new kind that can be pulled out). Anyway, we need to find a way to clean the house, now that we’ve handled 3/4 of the leaves outside… sigh.

  22. How do you organize the books and CDs, Russell?
    Our CDs are basically alpha by artist, with separate shelves for Christmas and Kids and no order within those categories. We haven’t merged book collections, as I am sorta compulsive about the books (three years of work in a book store), and my better half is not. I did her books shortly after we moved in here, and try not to look too closely. Mine are separated between mass-market paperback and everything else, alpha by author within each. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung did a couple of book series, and the 120 or so from that have a separate section, as do the little Reclam thingies.

  23. Does the housekeeper have a typed list of chores that have to get checked off or are things more informal, Y81? What’s the going rate for a full-time housekeeper? Sorry for the questions. Just curious how the other half lives.
    A friend of a friend used to be a housekeeper for an old money family on the upper Eastside. She had a PhD in English, but was never able to find work. She said the entire staff was a ABD or an unemployed PhD. Chauffeur, nanny, cook. The woman who hired them got off on the fact that her staff was super educated, but unemployable. The friend of a friend couldn’t tell me the name of the family, because she had signed some non-disclosure contract.

  24. I have a cousin who works in hospitality. As a recent college graduate, one of her first jobs was to do on-yacht event organizing for a family that (if memory serves) had three nannies for two kids.

  25. I have fantasies about organizing my books like that Russel (and, having a properly computerized catalog of the books). But, I’m thwarted by the lack of bookshelf space in our house (which is kind of open-plan, and has lots of windows (and too many children’s toys). But, I dream.
    I actually know of people with more than one nanny (though none where the nanny/child ratio is greater than one). The motivating factor is children with very busy schedules, and having backup for nanny #1. But, what interests me is not that some people have this kind of support services, but understanding who springs for it.
    For example, in my left coast environment, I know a number of people who paid more than 1M for their house, and a number who earn more than 1M a year. None of them have full time household help (except for nannies). And, they even seems to have concerns with nannies (psychologically, tend to call them things like babysitter, and give them up whe their kids get older, even though they could still use the support, and not just because of what they cost). For example, here, unlike in DC, I’ve always felt there’s no “nanny culture” (i.e. nannies who coordinate/socialize with one another, in the way that mommies do when children are young).

  26. “which is kind of open-plan, and has lots of windows (and too many children’s toys)”
    That is a problem. I think the open-plan house is inefficient from the point of storage, particularly of books. I look at the floorplans of a lot of contemporary suburban homes and there’s a lot of square footage and spacious vistas, but no place to put anything. I have seen a lot of built-in windowseats with storage underneath for bookshelves or baskets of toys (in pictures, not real life), but that only gets you so far.
    And don’t get me started on those super-sleek kitchens that look wrong if there is anything on the counter.
    “But, what interests me is not that some people have this kind of support services, but understanding who springs for it.”
    In my cousin’s case, it was an honest-to-goodness billionaire.

  27. I grew up in a very wealthy town. I knew some kids who were entirely raised by nannies and had almost no relationship with their parents. Those kids were always miserable.
    My fantasies aren’t for having more storage space. It’s having less stuff. The kids have a ton of toys that they hardly play with. They have a couple things that amuse them all the time. We could get rid of 50% of their crap and they wouldn’t care at all. Actually, I’m planning on giving away 50% of their stuff in the next week. I would like to upload all of our CDs onto the computer and then chuck them out. Books I am traditional about and prefer a hard copy to a Kindle, but I plan on selling three bags of academic books to the second hand shop next week, too.

  28. “We could get rid of 50% of their crap and they wouldn’t care at all. Actually, I’m planning on giving away 50% of their stuff in the next week.”
    How about taking the stuff away now but waiting a couple weeks before doing anything permanent?

  29. “My fantasies aren’t for having more storage space. It’s having less stuff. ”
    Yes. This.
    I’ve been having trouble Freecycling though, lately, and selling stuff on Craigslist. Anyone else noticing it’s harder to sell or give away stuff?

  30. “I would like to upload all of our CDs onto the computer and then chuck them out.”
    Yeah, I’ve done this, actually uploaded all the CD’s on to the computer. I did it when I first got my ipod, five years ago, during a memorable winter break when my infant son was sick, and eventually ended up in the hospital with pneuomonia.
    But, does my house mate allow me to get rid of the boxes and boxes of CDs? no. Am I bitter? yes. Fortunately the housemate has some pretty good qualities.
    And, yeah, my kitchen also only has 3 cabinets. But, I get to look at mountains and lake and glorious sunrises while washing dishes. So, I can’t complain.

  31. I joined an organization in college that occasionally had surplus couches. Traditionally, we burned them. Of course some things are easier to do in rural Tennessee than more urban locations; eventually, too, the administration took a Dim View of this particular form of hijinks.

  32. In college, there was a pile of dumped furniture behind our house (mostly hidden by bushes) and two couches on the front porch. The city of Pittsburgh just outlawed couches on porches because so many went-up in flames after the Super Bowl.

  33. my house is like yours. Now add a young spaniel with extra energy in a house with no mudroom, and I feel like I’m living in the actual barnyard.. leaves and chewed branches and mud, that’s just the living room. I keep the kitchen clean and tidy but have given up on the rest. It used to bother me a lot but the bubble helps.
    “My fantasies aren’t for having more storage space. It’s having less stuff. ”
    Exactly. We arrived in the US in 1990 with two suitcases each, now we have more stuff than the house can fit which is ridiculous. We’ve packed a lot of the toy junk, are threatening the boys with giving it to them for Christmas😉
    I have stacks of LPs, cassette tapes, and CDs. All of this is to be digitized but I don’t have time to do it. It’s possible that entropy will destroy the whole collection before I get it converted.

  34. I taught special education in the South Bronx years ago. Not sure if I ever wrote about the South Bronx before. The drive off the Cross Bronx to the school was always interesting. Fairly frequently, I would have slowly drive around an old sofa that had been left right in the middle of a street. Sometimes people would just throw their garbage out their apartment windows. The roosters would be picking at scraps at the side of the road. Third world nation.

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