The warfare of cleaning

This weekend I took a trip to a friend’s house for some much needed R&R, and while I was gone my wife somehow managed to clean the house. It’s hard enough to take care of the our two daughters alone, much less clean the house. But then I realized there are a lot of ways to fight the war with dirt and clutter:

Guerrilla Cleaning
This is my preferred method. Lacking the resources to confront the mess on all fronts, you attack at tactically sensible times. You strike quickly, get a quick win, and move on. For example, while you’re sitting on the toilet you go through the magazines and catalogs and toss those that are old or from scam artists. Job done, and no extra time wasted. Clean as you go, clean when the opportunity presents itself.

The downside is that you never really get the whole house clean. You have to accept that all you’re really doing is keeping the chaos of filth at bay. You’re not eradicating it.

Siege Cleaning
Like the sieges of yore, this is the full frontal assault on the castle. You know you’re siege cleaning because it was an event that was advertised before hand: “Yup, gonna tackle the garage this weekend!” you’ll hear yourself say. You take a room, and you systematically clean it start to finish. Then you move to the next room, and again until the house is clean and victory is yours.

It’s very time consuming, and it is satisfying, but it is not usually long lived. In fact, the time it takes to have the most visible benefits of a siege-clean wiped out by two toddlers is less than the time it takes the foam to clear from a bucket of Mr. Clean. This fact often has my wife muttering and ranting.

A Mix Is Best
A mix of siege and guerrilla cleaning is best. Use the guerrilla for day to day cleaning and for clutter control. Use the siege for deep cleaning – the kind where furniture and appliances are moved to get to rarely-cleaned areas.

I am a guerrilla cleaner. I hate siege cleaning, and I don’t mind living with a certain amount of ambient mess. I feel a house will always looked ‘lived in.’ My wife is a siege cleaner. In her eyes, cleaning is a distinct activity, and it’s always discussed that way. As you might imagine, this difference sometimes causes spirited and colorful debate in our home, but we’re learning to match our two styles.

There are some other styles that we tried but did not adopt:

Stealth Cleaning
This is where the cleaner is standing there admiring their handiwork, and the spouse comes up and says “What have you been doing all day?”

Operating Cleaning Storm
This Iraqi-invasion style cleaning begins with a massive effort and buildup. For days beforehand plans are made, equipment is moved in, and supplies are purchased. On C-day a campaign of Shock and Disgust is begun as the house is torn apart – closets are emptied, cupboards are cleared out, and the house becomes a gigantic mixed heap of junk and treasure.

Just maximum destruction is reached, the organizers look at their watch and realize it’s time for dinner, and certainly we’ve earned a trip to Chili’s, right? Two hours, a big meal, and a margarita or two later and Operation Cleaning Storm grinds to a halt. Maybe it’s continued the next day, maybe it’s months of living in a quagmire before you get back to where you started.

This isn’t really a valid analogy because people don’t hire mercenaries to trick themselves into doing the fighting, but that’s what happens you hire a maid. The day before every maid visit there is a mad scurrying to get the house ready for the maid, which leaves it clean but for some mopping, vacuuming, and dusting.

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