The Cottage Smallholder

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How clean is your home?

aquilegea leaves and weeds

Aquilegea leaves and lurking weeds

I want to let you into a secret. When I was a full time decorator I discovered the acid test to indicate how deeply a home is cleaned. No I was not running my finger along picture rails or whipping out my binoculars to search for dust when the clients were out. I’m not a clean and tidy fanatic – rather the reverse – I just happened upon this discovery in the course of my work.

Let me give you a bit of background first.

Most of my clients had someone in to help with the cleaning. These ranged in skill across a wide spectrum from those who mainly came for the chat to a few daemon cleaners that attacked the houses like a single SAS operative on mission Dirt Destruct. The latter drank their mid morning coffee on the go clearly not wanting to fraternise with clients that could create so much mess. I suspected that a few of these scorned toothpaste preferring a scouring solution straight from the cleaning box*. And of course there was gentle Elizabeth – seemingly out on a limb – dreamy, quiet and kind.

Many of the clients cleaned along with their cleaners. One even followed her cleaner, wiping and recleaning – this upset the cleaner in question a lot. She confided in me.
“What’s the point? It’s so demoralising.”
Needless to say this cleaning lady never shone and rarely smiled. She did make a good cup of tea though.

Then one day I met Elizabeth. She was quiet and sweet natured. She didn’t rush about rattling a box of cleaning fluids like the SAS cleaners, in fact apart from the occasional echo of a vacuum cleaner in a distant corridor, you hardly knew that she was around. She wasn’t wildly popular with the man of the house.
“She smalls like a vacuum cleaner.” He sucked his lips in as he studied the Financial Times, pen in hand.
“That’s because she is pushing the vacuum cleaner, Darling.” His wife soothed.
But neither husband nor wife ever realised that Elizabeth was such a rare gem. I liked her a lot but didn’t appreciate her cleaning skills until I was asked to decorate a bathroom in the big house.

As a decorator I was often asked to paint kitchens and bathrooms. These rooms are fiddly to decorate with lots of cutting in and cramped areas. A decorator does not see a room like an ordinary person visiting. He or she is up a ladder near the ceiling or lying on the floor painting skirting or pipes in out of the way places. So we notice hidden areas of dirt that would be missed by anyone else. All elements a room have to be spotlessly clean before decorating can begin otherwise paint will not cling.

This is how I discovered my secret. Out of the hundreds of kitchens and bathrooms that I decorated there were only two houses that I didn’t have to take out my rubber gloves and clean up rather gross filth of ages that often had me gagging. A house may look spotless but the areas behind the loo and under the kitchen sink are true indicators of how deeply a house is cleaned.

And guess who cleaned those houses? Elizabeth. Shy, serene and a super star in my book.

* Dangerous, unless you want to lose all your teeth.


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  1. I try to live by the maxim ‘Dirt is good for you!’

  2. Oh Fiona. My house is filthy by anyone’s standards!!

  3. It never ceases to amaze me than no matter how clean you think your house is, moving is a sure way to discover all those nasties like under the fridge, washing machine, back of cupboards etc. I regularly take my toilet seat completely apart to give it a thorough clean after discovering it was very grungy if I didn’t. …cringe!

  4. Shereen

    Guess where I’ll be checking the cleanliness of tommorrow?!!

  5. I cleaned out the cupboard under the bathroom sink yesterday ;). No more grunge!

    • Fiona Nevile

      I’m doing deep bathroom cleaning ATM perhaps I need to add the medicine cabinet to the list!

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