It’s Best to Clean Before the House Gets Dirty & Do Maintenance Before Things Break

hand holding a sponge that has a heart-shaped blob of soap on it
Image by Pixabay / CC 0

I love the house I live in. My husband bought it when he was single, about six months before we started dating, as an investment, planning to flip it down the road. But I’ve been terribly amused by how much I love it. Our neighborhood. How it’s decorated. If I’d been with him then, I would have been excited about buying this house.

It’s a colonial that’s about a hundred years old. One that was constructed hastily for the steel workers that flocked en masse to Cleveland during a different time. An era before foreign steel changed the entire calculation. And the Steel Belt became the Rust Belt.

Now, my house may be special to me, but it’s not objectively that special. It has the same floor plan as many others in my neighborhood. Cookie cutter. Built quickly out of need.

Since then, it’s had a number of owners who have made alterations. For example, the house has a finished basement and two bathrooms, not original features.

But most of the original construction is more or less intact. When we had to repair a weak spot in one of the living room walls, we were amused to find horsehair in the plaster. A tell that things had remained undisturbed for a very long time indeed.

The way the kitchen is laid out doesn’t make much sense at all for a modern cook. It’s crowded. Not much storage space. It’s nearly impossible for two people to be doing anything in there efficiently at the same time, so normally only one person is working on dinner alone out of necessity. It’s possible to help prep, but tricky to do without getting in someone else’s way.

There aren’t enough cabinets. And the paint on them is low quality. Until we moved in, no one had thought to put in a range hood over the stove, so any cooking would send grease circulating through the air in the kitchen. Inspecting those cabinet doors carefully, it seems to have degraded the paint over the years as residents did that.

So we installed a range hood, and that helped keep from making the problem any worse, but the damage has already been done. It’s basically impossible to fully clean those cabinets without flaking off the paint.

Our plan is to eventually renovate the kitchen when work dies down a bit. Put in new cabinets. But until then, we’ve made the most of it.

And it’s not just the kitchen. There are multiple areas of the house like that. Carpets that are ancient and even when we shampoo them, they still look a bit shabby. And the kind of deep clean we’d like to do risks disintegrating the fibers.

I Started Using a New Cleaning Checklist for Routine Maintenance

Because of these factors, it’s vital to keep up on the cleaning we can do. The routine maintenance of these shabby furnishings. Because they look dirty when they’re clean. When they’re dirty, it’s often too much for my husband. He gets really stressed out by a mess, by clutter.

His top love language is Acts of Service. And I do my best, but I’m not naturally a great housekeeper. I don’t tend to see messes or be disturbed by them the way he does. I can look right past dingy rugs or shabby cabinets. I’m utterly devoted to him, but I’m also a former latchkey kid who lived all over the place growing up, at friends’ and relatives’ houses. I lived in neat houses, for sure, but I also lived in filthy ones. And as part of my survival, I learned to be happy in all of them. So messes don’t bother me.

But they drive him mad.

So I try to help out. Especially as his work schedule has him working 50-60 hours a week with a fiendish commute on top of that, and I work at home.

It’s been a long process trying to develop a proper cleaning routine. I do better sometimes than I do at others. I’ve made up schedules, stuck to them for a bit, and then fell off them.

I’ve tried just winging it, cleaning stuff when I notice it’s dirty. The tough part of that, however, was that it was often way later than my husband noticed. So by the time I did it, he’d already been grumpy for a while.

But I just found this new checklist I’m doing. A random one I pulled off a website. I like it because it has tasks for each day of the week and check boxes. And it organizes it into morning chores and evening chores. Which would work rather well for me. I can do a quick cleaning flurry when I first wake up, go write for a while, and then come back and start my evening chores in the afternoon — and if they take too long, I can do a few in the evening.

We’ll see how this attempt goes, but so far, so good. I really like it so far.

Cleaning More Than You Need to Is the Whole Point

I did show it to a few of my friends. And one was appalled by how often the checklist tells me to do laundry. Basically, it has you starting a load of laundry every morning. “A load every day? That seems like way too much.”

“Well,” I said. “I interpreted that as ‘collect all the dirty laundry from around the house and make sure it’s in front of the washer, and if there’s enough to do a load, wash them,'” I explain.

“I only need to do maybe 1 or 2 loads of laundry a week,” they say.

“Justin and I are probably a load every 2 or 3 days,” I say.

And in action, it works out that way. I don’t always need to start the laundry, but the moment I do, it’s ready to go.

Now it could very well be that the reason that seems like a lot of laundry is because only two people live in my house. And maybe that would be the right amount of laundry if I had, say, two, three, or even four kids. But then again maybe that’s not why.

Because the list also has me wiping down bathroom counters every morning. And I note as I do that that they look pretty clean when I’m washing them. And I suspect that would be the case even if there were more people living in my house. I’d still be cleaning counters that don’t look dirty.

It occurs to me that the whole point is performing the chores more often than you need to, at baseline. That the idea is that I’m cleaning BEFORE things get dirty. That the chores ideally never have time to have a backlog. And the place never has time to look dingy or stress my partner out.

In Relationships, It’s Best to Do Maintenance Before Things Break

And as I’m wiping those clean-looking bathroom counters down with a cloth, washing them with the same energy I would if they actually looked dirty, I realize that the same goes for relationships. That optimally you’re doing important emotional maintenance BEFORE there’s a crisis. Making sure you do things your partner likes BEFORE they’re upset with you.

In some other past relationships, I often felt like the only one who saw the relationship problems we were having. And I’d often become frustrated because not only could I not convince my partner to help me solve them, I was hard pressed to convince them that those problems even existed.

And that was frustrating enough.

But I realize now that we were already at a failure point, even before that. Because everything was predicated on the idea that there had to be a problem before any maintenance could be done.

We had already set ourselves up for failure.

Our house had to look dirty before we would start cleaning it.

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So we’ll see how this new regimen goes. I’m loving it so far. Sure, sometimes I feel a little silly cleaning something that looks perfectly fine. But then again, the chores are easier to do because the place is less messy on average.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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