I can't talk long--my cleaners are coming tomorrow. I have to get the house ready. I'm immersed in the usual mad frenzy of preparation.
No, I'm not cleaning the house before they come. I'm tidying. There's a difference. (Most women get this. Men, I find, do not.) I pickup stuff that's lying around on surfaces. They dust and scrub and clean and polish the surfaces. The less stuff I have lying around in their way, the better job they do. Simple logic. (So why the frenzy?)
I remember when I first hired cleaners. It seemed a reckless extravagance. But I was trying to write books while still holding down a day job, and something had to give. Still, I put off hiring cleaners for months, because my apartment was so cluttered and messy I was embarrassed to have them in. Then I finally decided enough was enough. I set myself a goal. I decluttered for several months. I finally shoved the remaining clutter into my office, and called the cleaning service. They were supposed to clean the whole apartment--except for my office. I posted a big sign on the door that said "Do not clean in here!" in English and Spanish.
And every time they came to clean, I tried to spend the time I would have spent cleaning to declutter the office a little more, to get it a little closer to the point where I could fling open the door and let them clean that, too. Took me eighteen months, but I did it.
When I quit my day job, one of my (now former) co-workers said, "So, I guess you won't need cleaners now that you're not working." I straightened him out on that so fast he probably got whiplash. No, I am not giving up my cleaners, because I am in no way ceasing to work. Working harder than ever, as any serious writer knows. Just doing it on my own schedule, in my own space. And I want it to be a clean space.
I moved from the apartment to a house ten years ago, and brought my cleaners with me. I confess, I've regressed a little. They're not allowed into the basement. Although I have a long-term dream of turning part of the basement into a neat little exercise room, and getting them to clean it. Someday.
Meanwhile, I rejoice in the fact that I don't do toilets anymore. And frankly, having the cleaners come every two weeks keeps me from letting the place get out of hand. When I'm deep in deadline psychosis, it's all too easy to put things off. Let the dishes and the laundry pile up. Drop things on the floor. I'm being creative! Don't bother me with trifles like housekeeping!
And then comes the day before the cleaners are due. I scurry around tidying. (I repeat: not cleaning--tidying.) I pick things up and put them away. Space appears. Dusty space, with garden dirt tracked over it--but cleanable space.
I usually flee when the cleaners arrive. I run errands. Or I work in the garden. Anything to stay out from underfoot while they work their magic. Besides, if I stayed, I wouldn't have that wonderful moment of walking back into the house to see shining floors and inhale the faint traces of lemon, bleach, and Murphy Oil Soap.
Every week when I walk in and take that first, satisfied breath, I vow this time I will work harder at keeping the place tidy between cleaner visits. Wouldn't it be nice NOT to have that mad frenzy every other Monday? Wouldn't it be nice to walk in a week after the cleaners came and have the place so tidy that I instinctively sniff, expecting the lemon/bleach/Murphy Oil traces?
And some weeks it works. The other day one of my eight-year-old nephews was over and asked, "Did your cleaners just come?"
"No," I said. "They came last week."
He was impressed. I was proud.
I've been backsliding a lot lately. My brother and I have been clearing out the house I grew up in, now that Mom lives up here, and a lot more stuff seems to have landed in my life, much of it, I hope, destined for sorting and donating. And this is the fall gardening season, not to mention the leaf removal season, which means I've been tracking in a lot of dirt and leaves. And then there's the usual disorder that creeps in when I'm working on a deadline--compounded, right now, by the fact that I'm squeezing in a Christmas Meg book (Duck the Halls) between next year's summer book (The Hen of the Baskervilles) and the summer 2014 book (title TBD). Casa Donna is not the serene, uncluttered space in which I would like to write.
Of course, it rarely is. But it's getting better.
And having the cleaners come does more than just temporarily restore order. Although I don't know my cleaners--remember, I flee as soon as they arrive!--I imagine them as keen critics of my personal habits and decluttering progress. I imagine them saying, "Oh, bother, she's been cooking again! The stove is a mess!" Or "If she ever wants to sit on that chair again, she'd better tackle that pile of clutter. It's been there the last three times we visited." Or "Wow, I see a lot less clutter in here! Is she making progress or did she just move all those books to another room?"
Actually, I doubt if they pay that much attention to the ebb and flow of my efforts to declutter and train myself in tidiness. But thinking they do keeps me pushing to get things just a little better than they were the last time they came.
So I have to dash. There's a pile of papers that's been perched on a dining room chair for far too long. I am sure the cleaners will beam with approval if they notice it's gone.
(Please tell me I'm not the only one who cleans--make that tidies--before the cleaners come!)