Yesterday over lunch a colleague was lamenting the impending visit of a relative from overseas. She said she was trying desperately to clean the house but it only got dirtier which made her realize she hadn’t properly cleaned in ages. And then she ultimately knew that no matter how clean she got the house, her visitor would not be satisfied.
Today we are cleaning our own house in expectation of dinner guests. Unlike my colleague, I have no trouble cleaning and often invite people just to inspire us to do a thorough clean. It’s a great feeling to me, the day after the party has been cleaned up, to see how shiny the house still is. I wouldn’t say I love to clean and I don’t do a deep clean more than once a month, but it does bring a sense of satisfaction.
On the COH listserv there are often questions about how to clean, how to know when you need to clean, and how to approach it. For those who grew up in serious hoarding conditions, cleaning was not even possible. Even if our parents let us touch their things, it’s too difficult to get at surfaces when you’re busy moving piles from point to point.
In my childhood, however, I only remember an excessively clean house. I know it was clean because my brother and I had extensive chore lists that included scrubbing out the bathtub at least once a week. My dad, or maybe my mother, told a story about a relative who used the white glove test when they came to visit. My father also prided himself on his military background and carried out the same sort of inspections to which he was once subjected.
When my mom left, and then my brother, my dad’s sense of reality started to waiver. It seemed he was constantly yelling at me that we were going to get dysentery from the dishes left on the dish rack after washing. I had to dry them meticulously and immediately or they were sent back into the sink. To this day, I rarely dry the dishes unless I’m in a hurry to put them away.
My father’s hoarding always seemed asynchronous to his germophobia until I read Frost and Steketee’s Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (2011) which gives various examples of hoarders with contamination issues. In all the years of living in a clean house, I do not ever remember my father being the one who cleaned. Perhaps he already had contamination issues that prevented him from cleaning. I wonder if he would explain it if I asked.