Team Gretchen: what a difference clean makes

#449 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2004, Hills Newspapers

“I don’t understand mops,” I told my good friend Gretchen.

“Me neither,” she said. “I always wash floors on my hands and knees. It’s not hard really, and I get all those grungies that a mop scoots into the corners.”

Gretchen is on a new house cleaning regime having recently let her long time cleaning woman go. She’s decided to do her house herself and, in typical Gretchen fashion, she has drawn up a schedule. “Two hours a day every weekday,” she told me a couple of weeks ago. “Do you think that’s enough?”

I thought two hours a day was a lot. Once the big projects are done – refrigerator cleaned out and the shower scrubbed – what could she possibly spend two hours everyday doing? Gretchen called after her first week. She’d exceeded her estimate, actually clocked thirteen and a half hours. And that didn’t count vacuuming, which her husband did.

But how was it? Was the house clean?

“Great” she told me. “The house is sparkling.” She’d done a lot of deep cleaning, things like taking all of her china and glassware out of cupboards, washing and replacing them inside. Also cleaning the stove hood and filter and going through closets wiping down the corners, organizing as she went.

“It took me longer than my cleaning woman because I did a lot of things she wouldn’t have done,” my friend pointed out. “But I can see now that there are only a few areas of the house that I need to clean every week.” She plans to concentrate on the kitchen, main bath and stairwell (where her dog often lies) and do the rest of the house less often, maybe once a month.

She’s hoping to do weekly housekeeping in 5 hours, with double that time the fourth week of each month to allow for more deep cleaning. But she says, “Oh, you know, it’s me. I love making plans, lists, schedules. I always intend to do it forever, but then…”

Gretchen makes plans for everything. There is her plan for studying Italian, another for keeping her garage neat, and a schedule for working vegetarian food into meals at least half of the time. She’s even worked out when to go grocery shopping to avoid “the bad times.” For instance, she thinks she should go to Berkeley Bowl after yoga class on Tuesdays, but somehow, “Like everyone else, I end up going at the worst time — 5 o’clock.”

In a folder she labeled Quality of Life, Gretchen keeps her plans. Last year she made, and added to the folder, an elaborate scheme for maintaining her large garden. With the garden divided into 12 stations, she figured out which station she’d devote time to and when. I think that plan lasted a couple of weeks.

I asked if she’d used Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. We’d talked about them before she plunged in, and I knew she’d finally found them in stock at Safeway. Oh, yes. Much enthusiasm for Magic Erasers from Gretchen. In fact, she’d gone back to the store to buy 20 of them, used them all.

“I’ll probably use a million of them in my life,” she told me. “They’re now vital to my new cleaning plan.”

It was my turn. I told about the studio cottage I cleaned this week, one of 3 apartments on the same lot that Anet and I just put on the market. The studio tenant moved out only a few days before our first open house and although she left it looking quite presentable, I wanted it to be pristine. While Anet busied herself making small repairs (re-securing a closet pole, vacuuming out the furnace, and such), I washed everything in sight, removing all smudges and black marks from walls and woodwork and inside closets.

I wanted to shoot the painter who last painted this small cottage. He or she slopped paint onto light fixtures, cabinet handles and unpainted wood shelves. Spatters were everywhere on the floors. I was furious. I spent hours dissolving and scraping paint where it should never have been.

The next day I attacked the entry porch where trees and weather had deposited a black scum. Hot water, a little ammonia, a stiff scrub brush, and a lot of elbow grease later (applied on hands and knees), the porch surface looked ever so much better. But the newish gray paint on the stair railing – a long one – was still blackened, so I started in on it. I went over all the rails and uprights, wiping them with a dry cloth after washing with a sponge. Viola! Clean gray paint again.

What a difference clean makes. I’m always surprised. Like Gretchen, I love clean. And I love furnishing. Just as I finished my ministrations, Sahdu, our stager, began carrying her already assembled goods into the cottage: An oval hooked rug patterned in blues and yellows, new, white filmy curtains, a table lamp with a beautifully plump ceramic base in blue and white, and more.

The rug laid on the wood floor, Sahdu turned to ironing the curtains, then hung them on the glistening windows. They were so pretty. The cottage looked so alive, so appealing and comfortable. Anet and Sahdu and I oohed and aahed. We talked about how we could live in this tiny space with its little stove and refrigerator, sit outside on the porch in the afternoon, have joy.

I told Gretchen all of this. And Gretchen and I snuggled into a cozy conversation, as only good friends can who share understanding of how much fun it is to play house.

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