Spring cleaning - only if it shows

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring hovers on the horizon. The geese return to the flats, skunk cabbage pokes up yellow in the woods, and the deadline for Nenana Ice Classic tickets has passed. Ah, spring, when a young woman's fancy turns to ... spring cleaning.

Here in Alaska, the important ritual of spring cleaning takes on an extra significance. It's not about cleaning up from winter's mess, after all. It's all about the summer visitors, the friends and relations we want to impress. Let's face it, we're talking about Mom here. The whole point of spring cleaning is, of course, to prove to Mom that you're not a teenage slob any more.

Some people have it easier than others. It helps if your mom herself is cleaning- challenged. In all fairness, she can't hold you to a standard she fails to uphold, right? A quick guilt trip focusing on the poor example she set for your impressionable young mind should get you off the hook here.

But what if your mom is a clean queen, with an immaculate house and yard? When she comes to visit this summer, the pressure's on to present her with the standard of cleanliness to which she is accustomed. There's always the B&B down the road, of course, but then she's left wondering if she raised her children right. No, what you need are a few mom-fooling housecleaning tips.

I got my best tip from my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. McKinney. I don't remember much else about fifth grade, actually. I need a calculator to do any kind of math problem, I still don't know what a barometer is for, and the social mores of the bushmen of the Kalahari are a closed book to me. But I distinctly remember Mrs. McKinney, wearing a green skirt and vest with a crisply pressed white blouse underneath. As the classroom warmed up, she eventually removed her vest, revealing the most wrinkled shirtfront you could ever hope to see. With a sheepish grin, she instructed us, "only iron what shows." Glorious possibilities opened before my eyes at these liberating words. It's not about cleanliness at all - it's all about appearances. With grateful thanks to Mrs. McKinney, I base my philosophy of housecleaning on this simple principle: Only clean what shows.

For example, at my house we have a bad case of the piles, as my dad would say. Piles of mail, kids' school papers, newspapers and magazines abound. I could spend hours sorting through them, deciding what to keep and then finding places for them, or I could dump the piles into the "business box" and slide it under the bed. It doesn't show, the counters are clean-problem solved! A good dust ruffle on your bed can hide a multitude of clutter, and if Mom peeks, just call it "storage." Only clean what shows.

Then there's the kids' playroom. Dolls and doll clothes and musical instruments and millions of tiny pieces of Legos and Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs and Uberstix and a dozen other building systems spill out of their containers, defying all attempts at organization as they threaten the feet of the unwary adult intruder. Have you ever stepped on a Lego? Not an experience you want to repeat in a hurry, is it? But in my house, the playroom fills the loft upstairs, with no need for an adult ever to enter it, not even Mom. Need I say more?

Of course, there are some things you can't control when it comes to cleaning, such as the weather. Some people say that you definitely want cloudy weather during Mom's visit, since the cobwebs and window smudges simply glow in the sunshine. Others prefer sunny weather - Mom spends her time outdoors and has no chance to examine the home's cleanliness. Whatever the weather, use it to your advantage. Distraction is the key here - you've got to keep Mom so busy that she doesn't notice the relative messiness of her surroundings.

So don't stress over your spring cleaning chores. Make good use of your under-the-bed and other out-of-sight spaces, and only clean what shows.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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