Defining my clean enough

The other day I turned on the radio and caught the end of an interview on WBEZ. “For the next six months, I’m going to be a person who doesn’t care whether my house is tidy” was all I heard the interviewee say. I assume he was talking about a better use of time than cleaning.

Since he needed to make a resolution, he must have internalized an expectation that his abode be spic-and-span. The expectation — less common for a man than a woman — is one I can relate to.

I grew up with a mother for whom spring cleaning included washing all walls and the entire contents of the kitchen cupboards and the china cabinet. (Following her generation’s gender roles, she was the housecleaner.) When we moved our parents from the house where they lived for half a century into a condominium, I stayed behind after the movers drove away, intending to vacuum up any dirt that had been hidden behind furniture. There wasn’t any. I should have remembered that Mom moved furniture to clean behind it. 

I didn’t inherit my mother’s cleaning genes. My condo is usually picked up, but if you look in corners or behind the shower curtain, you’ll see that my cleaning standards leave something to be desired. Or do they? Is it necessary that my home be as clean as my mother’s was? It is a fitting question for someone who isn’t a homemaker by vocation but grew up with one. I’m defining my clean enough in contrast to my mother’s. 

My routine 90-minute cleaning doesn’t include scrubbing the bathtub and ceramic tile, or removing items on shelves before dusting, or washing the hardwood floors — chores my mother would have considered part of a weekly cleaning. Those get done here when it looks like they’re needed. Deep cleaning — such as cleaning the oven and shampooing the area rug — well, I couldn’t claim it happens annually.

Still, I feel good at home, and I’m not embarrassed to have guests over. That sounds like a suitable definition of clean enough. All’s well — except for a trace of inadequacy when I visit a home cleaner than mine.

There’s a way to solve the dilemma without expending more elbow grease myself: hire out cleaning. I had two pros clean the kitchen and the bathroom a week ago. Whether it’s know-how or a talent for cleaning or the products they use, they achieved impressive results. Shining faucets, a tough stain gone from the tub, the baseboards looking freshly painted. 

I didn’t have them do the bedroom and the living areas because I don’t mind dusting and vacuuming, but should I decide I’m not up to the tasks, I can put those on the list for next time. Yes, there will be a next time. I’m not sure how often, but a professional cleaning will be a gift to myself when I feel that my place isn’t clean enough. (I realize that I’m privileged to afford to hire out.)

I don’t intend to meet my mother’s standards. My clean enough doesn’t come up to her level. My cupboards won’t be emptied, the insides wiped down, and the contents washed. Walls are more likely to get repainted than washed.

But unlike the interviewee on WBEZ, I won’t resolve to not care about tidiness. Whenever I think that a part of my condo should be cleaner, I can call in the pros.  


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  • My mom would not have understood "clean enough," but I do. Thanks.

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