Home for the Holidays: A Time to Clean, part 1

Being home, I realized a few things that I took for granted, like how there’s always butter in the butter dish. Or how there’s a butter dish.

I have come to think of the first few days of being home as the honeymoon period—I’m so glad to be home that I’ll clean anything, I’ll do any chore, and I’ll do it with a smile because I’m happy. I’m happy to see food in the fridge, happy to use a futuristic coffee maker, happy to sit in front of the warm wood stove, happy even when I burn my hands by touching the wood stove and then my butt when I sit on the woodstove.

While I was home we hosted gatherings, which means we cleaned. As it turns out, my mom’s idea of clean and my idea of clean are not the same, and have not been the same for some time. She asked me to clean the bathroom, so I walked to the bathroom.

This bathroom?” I called out. I was confused because the bathroom looked like the setting of a  Clorox spray commercial. You know those commercials — the ones where you say, Ha! Nobody’s bathroom is that clean! IDIOTS!

She informed me that it had not, in fact, been cleaned. Maybe my problem was comparing this bathroom at my parents house with the bathroom at my apartment. You know my apartment — the one inhabited by four bachelors? Who host just enough parties to have the neighbor come over and, in a fit of extreme irony, tell us that we should start  “being F*ing MANNERLY!”? That’s the one. (We actually keep it pretty clean, okay, haters?)

I won’t tell you all the problems with my bathroom, because I’m sensitive about that. Instead, I’ll point out the strengths with my folk’s bathroom. There were no water stains on the sink, the soap didn’t appear to be watered down, there was toilet paper and even a backup roll in case things got cray, and there were hand towels hanging up—so you wouldn’t have to use someone’s shower towel. The toilet seat was securely fastened to the toilet, so you weren’t wiggling around in an attempt to stay centered.

So I re-cleaned the “unclean” bathroom that was cleaner than my just cleaned apartment bathroom.

By now, I’m used to their standards, but when I was seven, I cleaned my room according to my standards:

1. I can see the floor.

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t okay with my parents. The room was to be spotless.

1. No clothes on the floor

2. Bed made

3. Carpet vacuumed

4. Desks dusted and wiped with wood-polish

We couldn’t play until everything was finished, and my mom or dad would come to check the quality of the clean when we thought it was sufficient. (It was rare that we met expectations on the first inspection.)

Second Inspection:

Dad: Did you dust over here? What’s this mark?

Me: Yeah. That won’t come off.

Dad: Use a little more elbow grease, Barto.

Me (Frustrated): Where’s the elbow grease? All I have is this wood-polish spray.

Dad: …It’s not an actual grease.


Elbow grease wasn’t a spray?! I finally got it. It seemed like an impractical way to clean anything, and I couldn’t believe how popular the method had become, but I figured all those people telling you to use it couldn’t be wrong. I rubbed the spot with my elbow, which worked better than I thought, and hurt more than I imagined.

(My wenis, or olecranal, or that weird skin on your elbow, was okay — you don’t have any nerves there, so you can actually do crazy stuff, like sandwich your wenis between a desk and a book and have a friend jump on it, and it still won’t hurt. (Not that I’ve done that, or would recommend trying it… (I have done that and I strongly recommend trying it.)))

After a sore elbow, and a few other touch-ups, the room was ready for inspection. My dad came in and scanned.

Please don’t look in the closet.

I used a method of cleaning that I like to call the quick-clean: pick up everything from the floor and stuff it in the closet.

For some reason, my parents didn’t check the closet every time, so I figured this was a good idea—the only problem is that after three or four quick-cleans, the closet starts to get pretty full. And when you share a room with your two brothers who are also implementing the quick-clean, the closet really starts to show.

Anything but the closet.

“How does the closet look?”


He touched the doorknob and the magnets holding the doors shut buckled like my knees at my first middle school dance. They burst open, spilling Legos, clothes, shoes, plastic guns, baseball bats, etc.

I almost certainly got spanked. (Remember spanking? That thing some parents did when you bit your siblings in self defense? Or self offense?)

When we were all above the age of ten, chores evolved into Saturday Jobs. Every Saturday we had just under a million jobs to accomplish, and my Dad made lists in Excel so we could be sure to hit everything. (Before the lists, we just walked around the kitchen until my mom completed her mental list.)

We started with our rooms, then the bathrooms, the basement, mowing the lawn, weed-whacking the edges, raking leaves, pressure-washing the patio, pressure-washing the patio furniture, pressure-washing the driveway, pressure-washing the cars, pressure-washing the pressure-washer, pressure-washing each other… Don’t try this at home. Or anywhere. (If it’s not obvious, our lives all changed when we got that pressure washer.)

A Time to Clean Part 2


  1. Caroline

    Love this, Bart. I agree—the first few days at home are always dream-like. The excitement of a full coffee pot and real newspapers and a fridge stocked with multiple breakfast options. So real. I also seem to find myself inevitably cleaning the bathroom as well, but usually as a result of an oldest child sense of responsibility and guilt

  2. Avatar

    Haha I can’t believe someone else did the elbow skin textbook jump!! I thought I was the only one.

    • Bart

      Rob, you taught me everything I know about putting my elbow skin under a textbook and having a friend jump on it. I want you to know that.


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