Friday, September 29, 2006

Cleaning Versus Spraying

Several years ago, I read an article in the real estate section of our local newspaper which explained the burgeoning interest in home fragrances. While many of these products can be lovely, the reason for their current popularity is not -- at least according to this article.

The article explained that today's young couples immediately expect to move into a brand new home -- and a large home at that. Many refuse to consider purchasing a smaller, older, less expensive home. However, to get the square footage they want, they must take on a high mortgage payment. Thus, they decide the only way that they can obtain a suitable house for their family is if the wife takes a fulltime job outside of the home.

To accommodate this passion for new and huge first homes, local builders are slapping up subdivisions filled with larger and larger houses. They are no longer building small, affordable "starter homes", which used to be a young, single-income family's first entry into the housing market. These houses were cozy and easier for a young wife and mother to keep.

Now, this trend is not particular to my town, nor is it news to any of us. We've all seen this this coming on for a long time. In fact, in the U.S., popular culture has even coined a term for these large, cookie-cutter, suburban homes: McMansions.

The article pointed out something that I had not considered, however. It stated that most young couples have no clue what it takes to keep a home clean. Thus, they do not make realistic decisions when they purchase these large dwellings. They are captivated by the way the house appears when they first look at it, before anyone has lived in it. They blithely assume that they will somehow find the time to keep the place looking so beautiful while both are working fulltime jobs and starting to have babies, as well. They imagine that they can get everything they need to get done in a couple of hours every Saturday morning.

Once the couple actually purchases and move into a large home, however, reality sets in. Dust accumulates. Carpets become dirty and crunchy. Floors are sticky. Windows are spotty. Bathrooms become moldy. Only then, does the couple realize that they have bought more house than they can maintain. And, because they have locked themselves into large mortgage payments, they have no money in the budget to pay someone to help them.

The article stated that the result of this cleaning ignorance is that many couples restort to attacking the surface apperance of their home. They spend all of their time in a frustrating effort to keep up with the laundry, to keep the surfaces dusted and capets somewhat vacuumed, and to keep the kitchen reasonably clean. Since they do not have time for anything but the barest minium of housekeeping, many women are finding that their homes are filled with unpleasant odors. Rather than getting to the root of these offending odors, they buy products to mask them instead.

Voila -- a new industry has become established! Manufacturers now offer harried women dozens of ways to block unpleasant smells with artificial and natural fragrances. Where grocery stores used to carry one or two brands of air freshener, a few bags of cedar chips, and some cans of Lysol, now whole aisles are devoted to products that take away unpleasant smells. Today's woman sprays her carpet, her furniture, her clothing, her drapes, and the upholstery of her car with special freshening sprays. She plugs air fresheners into her electric outlets, she mists the air in her living spaces, she burns scented oils and candles in every room, and, she sets out dishes of potpourris on every surface. Air fresheners have become big business, and manufacturers of scented products are profiting greatly.

Of course, many of these items are lovely to use. Who isn't drawn pretty, scented candles and charming dishes of potpourri? The problem is that we have come to rely on these products to make our home smell clean, rather than using them as pleasing accents to an already clean home. In the process, we overwhelm our noses with too many of these products. For those of us with allergies, it can be torture to visit a house in which every room has been scented with a variety of products.

Moreover, do we really want to mask all those unpleasant odors? Unpleasant odors serve a purpose in life; they alert us that when something is not safe or sanitary. We ignore those signals at our own peril. Popping a scented garbage sack into a dirty kitchen trash can, for instance, does nothing to remove a buildup of grime and germs. If the can is sending off an unpleasant odor, that's a sign we need to wash the can, and place it in the sun for a bit if we can. If we enjoy using scented liners, that's fine, as long as we use it as an accent and not as a way to skimp on the chore of keeping the garbage can sanitary.

Grandma's house smelled fresh because she spent more hours cleaning it. She did not concentrate just on the surface appearance, but she cleaned deeply and thoroughly. In the process of making everything spic and span, she eliminated germs and other sources of offending odors. Thus, Grandma had no need to keep an arsenal of air freshening products on hand. Her old-fashioned sachets and potpourris were subtle, with just a hint of pleasant fragrance. They added to freshness of her home and helped her preserve linens and clothing. But, they were not a mask for sloppy housekeeping.

The article I read pointed out that as the demand for larger homes as risen, the number of hours that a family (or the woman in the family) devotes to daily house cleaning has dropped significantly.

You might think that we can get away with spending fewer hours today on cleaning because we have more labor savings devices. Actually, by the 1950's, most every major tool that we use to clean our homes had already invented. The only really new items are all of the disposable cleaning/dusting products, such as Swiffer items. These can be great aids for quick tidy-ups, but they do not replace real house cleaning.

I do think that the fifties woman might have overdone her cleaning regimen. But, I also think today's woman vastly underestimates time that is required to keep her home. Today's husband also has unrealistic expectations, and he wonders why his dear wife can't work fulltime, bear and raise children, maintain her pretty and fresh apperance, and keep home the way his grandmother did.

The upshot of the article I read was that naive young couples expect to have beautiful homes with lots of square footage. But, these couples do not plan for the upkeep such homes require, and they make no room in their busy lives to maintain them. Then, a couple wonders why their expensive dwelling is not the cozy, happy, serene refuge that they had envisoned on closing day.

I think this carries over to unrealistic expectations about the time it takes to build a great marriage and to raise children, too. Couples who over-extend themselves financially and also time-wise burn out quickly. Sadly, many lose out on the the joy that comes from a peaceful and orderly home.


No comments: