Cleaning House Before the Housecleaner Arrives: What’s Wrong with This Picture?
Some thoughts on over-prepping
By Ed Goldman
Ever since I could afford to, I’ve had housecleaners. They make me take much better care of my surroundings—moments prior to their showing show up, that is. The reasoning, which I’m far from proud of, goes something like this: I am one of a good housecleaner’s many customers. While my housecleaner for the past 13 years is not a gossip, many of the ones who preceded her were. They volunteered all sorts of dish about what slobs some of the region’s most respected individuals were—people who lived, not surprisingly, in some of the region’s tonier enclaves.
“I don’t need to hear this,” I told one of my housecleaners.
“Sorry,” she said.
“Nor did I ask you to stop,” I said, trying to take note surreptitiously while pretending to wordsmith a shopping list.
Cleaning my home before the person I pay to do so walks in reminds me of the times I’ve had a home for sale and was anticipating a walkthrough by real estate agents any minute—or even worse, by potential buyers. One thing you’re advised to do before Realtors or their clients pop over is to shove into a closet everything you never found the time to store properly. If you’re very lucky, neither the agents nor their clients will open that closet.
Your housekeeper will, however. You could, I suppose, instruct her, him or them in advance that under no circumstances should they open a particular closet—all but guaranteeing they will. This is no slam on housekeepers; it’s just that nothing inspires curiosity like an attempt to squelch it.
For example, Br’er Rabbit knew the best way to get tossed in the briar patch—where he’d be safe from Br’er Fox, who wished to roast him—was to say, “No matter what you do, Br’er Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
I was never sure that Br’er Fox intended to do any such thing and I’m still not sure why tossing a bunny into a patch of thorny bushes would be considered the appropriate way to prep him for roasting. But then, I’m not from the Deep South. Maybe the people there don’t use marinades or rabbit rubs down there. Personally, I still wonder about their obsessive consumption of okra.
In any event, Br’er Fox threw Br’er Rabbit into the patch, allowing that clever hare to escape and continue hopping from one charmless adventure to the next for years to come.
Br’er Rabbit, of course, had deployed reverse psychology on Br’er Fox—who, not awaiting word on his application for a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, had the time to mull over Br’er Rabbit’s suggestion, ultimately deciding that if this is where Br’er Rabbit didn’t wish to go, this would be precisely where he would. (As a helpful aside, you should know that many of us have tried to employ this technique on first dates by saying things like, “Whatever you do when we get to your door, don’t try to kiss me and invite me to stay the night.” To save you time: It usually doesn’t work.)
Cleaning your place before your housecleaners come over is a little like flossing two days before your dental checkup. Why bother? Your housecleaners and your dentists always know the truth. The former either don’t much care or are mildly pleased by your efforts (less work for them to do) and the latter—your dentists—know that if you’ve remained negligent about your tartar buildup, they’ll be able to keep scheduling appointments for you until they retire—or, if they’re also oral surgeons, until they’ll be able to operate on you, which is a lot more profitable than whitening your teeth.
Okay, here’s the elusive theme of today’s column: Since you don’t try to fix your car just before taking it to the mechanic—in fact, you hope your car won’t suddenly stop issuing those weird little grunts and boings it was continuing to make on the drive to the shop—why not step aside and let the professionals do their collective thing?
As an illustration of the irrefutable wisdom of that question, about 30 years ago my fax machine was malfunctioning. I took the device apart, had no idea what was wrong with it and reassembled it. But I still had a part or two left over.
I took the machine (and the left over parts) to a tech repair guy. He said, “Did a member of your staff try to fix this?” Since I worked alone then, as I do now, I figured that in a manner of speaking, that made me the staff.
“Yeah, a member of my staff,” I said. “Problem?”
“Well,” he said, “I’d never let that idiot try to fix any office machinery again.”
And now, if you’ll excuse me, my cleaning woman is due here any minute and I’m not quite done vacuuming.