Television is awash with cleaning programmes and advertisements for products which promise to transform our hovels into havens...but does anyone actually like cleaning? Helen McGurk scours Northern Ireland to find out....
There are two types of people in the world; those that don’t like cleaning, and those who can happily spend an entire day scrubbing at grout with a toothbrush.
Whichever camp you are in, it seems impossible to avoid advertisements trying to sell us cleaning products and accoutrements.
Back in the 1980s there was the dancing Shake ‘n’ Vac lady, who sprinkled fraganced powder over her shagpile in order to put the freshness back...because as everyone knows ‘if your carpet smells fresh, your room does too’.
Then there was a soft-focus Nanette Newman with her Fairy-Liquid-soft hands and, not forgetting the Mister Men of cleaning, Mr Sheen and Mr Muscle, the former promising to get umpteen things clean, the latter, loving the jobs you hate.
Cleaning progammes, too, have become essential viewing for both for sloths and neat freaks.
Remember Kim and Aggie, the Cagney and Lacey of cleaning who would persuade the hygienically challenged not to sit amid overflowing ashtrays, crisp-strewn carpets and bits of old car engine?
Armed with a feather duster special scouring powder (four parts bicarb to one part washing soda) and their own special powers, eccentric Kim (blonde bouffant, twinset and implausible pearls) and sidekick Aggie (bespectacled and scientific) set out to save mucky monsters from their bacteria-riddled kitchens and rancid bathrooms.
And now we have decluttering demigod Marie Kondo who has organised her way to celebrity and Sophie Hinchcliffe, aka Mrs Hinch, with her sparkling floors and gleaming kitchen counters. Both have lent cleaning a certain cachet.
Many people find cleaning cathartic and comforting, indeed there is a lot of research that shows messy spaces can lead to depression and fatigue.
For others it’s literally a chore, but what ever your point of view on the subject, one thing’s for certain - those dishes won’t wash themselves!
Graeme Cousins, a journalist at this newspaper and father of two, describes himself as a ‘fan of tidying, but not cleaning’.
‘‘To me the difference is that tidying involves lifting bits and bobs from around the house that have been left out of place and returning them to their rightful home,’’ said Graeme.
‘‘Done properly it can take hours though my wife can do it in under a minute by throwing all of the domestic flotsam and jetsam into a cardboard box and vowing to sort it out later. It never happens but it does produce visible results much quicker than my meticulous approach,’’ he added. ‘‘Then comes the deep cleaning, or at least it would if we had the time and energy left after the kids have been put to bed. That’s why we’ve recently hired the services of a cleaner which has worked out brilliantly.
‘‘With the house tidied by us, and cleaned by a paid helper, it has motivated us to do some of the DIY jobs that we’d put off indefinitely. It’s also given us more free time to make the most of the weekends.
‘‘Last Saturday we spent the morning on Crawfordsburn beach, returning with a cache of shells and pocketfuls of sand. You should have seen the state of the house!’’
Teacher Helen McClements, from Belfast, describes housework as the ‘bane’ or her life, because of ‘‘its sheer relentlessness’’.
She said: ‘‘As a mother of two children and a husband who’s mad keen on running - no sooner have I put on a wash, than another pile accumulates.
‘‘Everywhere I look I see teetering towers of clean laundry, dirty laundry, laundry waiting to be ironed. It never goes away. Ignore it at your peril or you’ll be swamped.’’
Helen describes her family as ‘‘a messy bunch, living a state of disordered bafflement.’’
‘‘ I reckon I lose at least an hour a week, just hunting for stuff, which has been bundled away in a fit of tidying, before someone comes in and witnesses the chaos in which we reside,’’ she said.
‘‘Things disappear into a Bermuda Triangle of excess paraphernalia. This is where Marie Kondo comes in, the author of ‘The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying’ with her own show on Netflix.
‘‘I admit, I was cynical to begin with. ‘She can’t have had much of a childhood, this one,’ I opined, after reading that she loved to stay indoors, organising not only her toys instead of playing with her friends.
‘‘What’s her secret then? She has a step programme, (like AA for hoarders) which begins with clothes and builds up to items of sentimental value. This way, one becomes desensitised to chucking stuff out, thus by the time you reach the treasured family heirlooms, you can bin them too without losing any sleep. It goes without saying, that I’m not there yet.’’
Helen does, however, believe there is sense in Kondo’s system.
‘I may not have entirely ‘Kondo-ed’ my house, but it’s a heck of an improvement on what it was. We now use it as a verb. ‘Have you Kondo-ed my blue shirt? asked my husband recently. (I did of course, it was old and bringing me no joy whatsoever.) I didn’t tell him that though. ‘Have another look,’ I replied.
‘‘It’s infinitely easier to clean when there’s less clutter and a hoovering session doesn’t begin by picking up mountains of toys,’’ she added.
And Helen has her views on Mrs Hinch, and her army of cleaning fanatics.
‘‘This 28-year-old hairdresser is now an Instagram sensation with her tips on how to keep a pristine home. Really, I thought, who wants to look at someone cleaning their shower with a mould and mildew blaster? Over 2.2 million people, apparently.
‘‘I took a peek and promptly saw the allure. It’s quite handy, to have someone tell you what to buy, where to buy it, and how exactly to use it.
‘‘I’m a bit dim when it comes to cleaning, hence all advice is gratefully received.
‘‘However, I’m also a bit of an eco-warrior. I baulked when I saw the disposable wipes she suggested I buy. With all the bleaching and spraying she recommends, she must go through a ferocious numbers of bottles too. She says cleaning eases her anxiety but she’s clearly not stressed about the oceans.’’
Helen added: ‘‘My advice? Be ruthless with what you buy, since less stuff means less tidying.
‘‘Cut up old socks to use as cloths. Clean little and often, so grime doesn’t build up, making simple tasks daunting. Type ‘lemon cleaning’ into Google. You’ll be amazed what these little guys can do, with no pesky chemicals.
‘‘And with all this money you’ve saved? Hire a cleaner!’’