Monday, 7 July 2014

5 Housework Helping Hacks for the Helpless

I used to detest housework. Detest detest detest. I used to have help. Two cleaners, over the years. The first, a friend of a friend's mother who arranged my bathroom toiletries in new and terrifying ways, like gorgeously/innovatively arranging my shampoos and body washes around the vanity sink. She was really short though, so if I didn't want her to see or move anything, I just had to hide it on top of a cupboard. Win. I guess she was blind. Then there was another lady I employed after moving house, who snarled "I don't work well with other people, so now I clean. Alone", when I first met her. I'm not gonna pretend that sometimes my spirit animal isn't Paranoid Parrot, so I admit to sneaking up to the driveway and taking a photo of her car and registration plate, in case she decided to kill me. How would that help? Oh, I'm so glad you asked. Let me tell you: You know it and I know it. If I die, the first thing my dear friends/neighbourhood policeman are going to do is go through my camera roll on my iPhone, looking for concrete evidence of my misplaced vanity. And maybe some cute photos of cats. They'll see the photo of her car, remember I'm paranoid and crazy, and my death will be avenged. Anyhow, I digress. I ended up not booking her again after she took 6 hours to clean my one bedroom apartment, and didn't get time to wipe down surfaces. And, because, despite my warnings, I came home to find my cat Sylvia in a mega-drugged up state, rolling around with a bleach soaked rag, in fits of pure heaven/hell. Apparently some cats find bleach THE BEST THING EVER. "Help, My Cat Is Addicted To Bleach" is a common veterinary advice column question.

Anyway, I found myself growing up and reaching the age where I care not only about what other people will think about the tidiness/state of my house, but also, I just wanted things to be clean and organised so I feel comfortable and can sit down without embedding myself with shards of potato chips, or falling over shoes and roses in a stumble in the dark of night.

So, without further ado (what a stupid saying - i'm gonna say "hairdo" from now on, because then I can say "hair-don't" and people will laugh), here are the things that got my lazy, potato chip-scarred butt into gear, and also made me a house-proud house-dude. In order from "tiny, c'mon, just do it, it's a bare minimum", to "this is nice and worth it, you should still do it". Along with photos of my very own models.

The benefits? Well, Let me just say this - I don't have to brush my feet anymore. There's no dirt or crumbs for this reformed slob to walk around the house anymore. I don't have to brush my feet against each other when I go to bed (I know you've done it, don't get all hoity toity on me).

I warn you, the photos I took of myself demonstrating make me look, upon reflection, a little unbalanced.

1) Detergent-dispensing washing up wand. (Around $6).
So. Easy. There's nothing that makes me feel more unclean than dishes sitting in the sink, in various stages of water-filled, clean-ish, and dirty. It makes me shudder. When cooking for one, there may only be a couple of pots, a plate, and a piece of cutlery or two. And that's hardly reason to don gloves and fill up the sink. Bazinga - in comes the detergent-dispensing washing up wand. There's no excuse to not have one of these if your washing up jobs tend to be small in number. They're available pretty heavy duty these days (even coming with scourer heads for tougher jobs), and are nearly as planet friendly as just a sponge - you just replace the head when the old one is getting manky. To wash up a dish or a pot, just turn some hot water on, hold the stick, and rub the sponge head over the surface. Like most things, I find it easier to do it as I go, washing dishes up immediately as I use them. While you're rubbing/sponging, it's automatically releasing your detergent of choice through the sponge head. And your dishes are clean, and you can go dirty them again with endless cups of herbal tea, vodka, and spaghetti. Magic.

You could even do dishes whilst kneeling on the hardwood floor in front of your computer's camera! So amaze!

2) Robot-sweeper. (Mine was $89).
Oh my goodness. I'd wanted a robot vacuum for so long, but really wasn't convinced the hassle was worth the trouble. Creating "walls" and setting "boundaries" and "programming directions" on a $500+ machine wasn't my idea of fun. Also, I can't think of anything worse for regular use than it wandering around the house with the sound of a vacuum running all the time. Too noisy, and annoying. In comes the Robot Sweeper, entering the scene, in affordability and swishing movements, brushes blazing.

Like Rex Hunt with his fish, but I ain't throwin' this baby back!

I fought for this. I was shopping with The Academic, saw the Robot-Sweeper, and fell in love. He really, really, didn't want me to get it. He told me I was wasting my money, that I already had a Dyson vacuum cleaner, etc, etc, and was so vehemently opposed to me purchasing it that it made the prospect of me buying one IRRESISTIBLE. So I did, and I've never looked back. I have genuine emotional feelings towards my robot sweeper.

It's bare bones in terms of features, but so effective. The first time, you attach the brushes, turn it on, and it's off and on. The only settings are for optic sensitivity (if you have stairs or ledges you don't want it fall off). You charge it for 3 hours, and it wanders the house for about 40 minutes to a cycle. If you want it to do just one room at a time, shut the door. It doesn't make the loud noise of a vacuum, but instead has circular brushes that look like spinning whiskers underneath it, which it uses to sweep dust, dirt, hair, and small debris up into its collection receptacle. It doesn't have bags or any of that drama, so, when full or after a completed cycle, you just remove the receptacle, tip it into a bin, and bang the filter to shake the dust up (it's also water rinsable). It does a remarkable job, getting right into corners and under tables and beds that I would never bother with, and navigates the terrain really well - just remove most things from the floor and it'll go about its business. It has a movable part on the front that recognises when it has come in contact with an obstacle. The only difficulty you may have is that it's not carpet-friendly - it can damage the whiskers. (Mine goes over my rug just fine).

So, does it really do a good job? Is it worth it? In the beginning, I didn't imagine it would, provided  I was vacuuming regularly, and it was cheap. But even after doing my entire timber/tile house super thoroughly with the Dyson, the robot sweeper STILL seems to collect a full collection receptacle each cycle. It gets all the dirt and dust and hair you don't even see, just as a matter of course. And because it's quiet, I run it once every day or two. The fact that Sylvia hates the Dyson, and hisses if you even just touch it, the robot-sweeper is a life-saver. She looks at it with bemusement and slight annoyance, but not anger. It does a pretty darn good job of maintenance cleaning, and I'm a hairy-shedding-beast. I wouldn't want to be without it now. 6 months on, The Academic now admits that it's a good purchase - and has one himself.

3) Steam Mop (plugged in to extra-long extension cord). (Mine was $99).
Mopping with a traditional mop is THE WORST. Water and cleaning solution and lugging buckets around the house and squeezing and waiting for things to dry, pouring dirty water into the bathtub and splashing it all over your face and then wanting to cry - it's just not worth it.

In comes the steam mop. I used to tease my Dad about his steam mop collection, not realising how useful they were (I'd actually never... I mean, NEVER, mopped anywhere I'd lived, after 10 years of living away from home, until I got this steam mop). So, after being freaked out and fed up with constantly spot-cleaning areas with paper towels where Sylvia had a) vomited, or b) dragged blood-seeping meat around the house, I had the bright idea to ask Dad about what steam mop to buy. After he went on for about an hour about how good they were, whilst talking in a very slow and deliberate voice, like he was The Lion King passing very important knowledge on to his adult son, I eventually got a brand recommendation out of him.

So off I trundled to purchase it. I got it home and it sat on the lounge room floor in its box for a couple of weeks, until Sylvia had ripped a big enough hole in the box (she'd sit on top, and use a technique comprising fang hooking in concert with paw-clawing, sometimes at the same time) for me to be able to see into. 

It couldn't be easier to use. You just draw-string a fluffy cover over the head, fill the back up with water, plug it in, and you're off. The only important thing is to use a mega long extension cord. I can't think of anything worse than having to plug and unplug per room, reaching the end of my cord. It's important to remember with a steam mop that it takes a bit of time to develop your technique. You want slow, steady motions back and forth. Find a stain or dirt on the floor, and start with that, watching how your different technique attempts affect the stain/dirt, and you'll see what works and what doesn't pretty quickly. And make sure you work from the back of the room to the front, so you don't walk in the already-cleaned wet spots. It only takes a few minutes to dry, though, so it's not a big drama if you forget.

At the end, you just remove the head cover, and throw it in your next laundry load. It's also really satisfying, because by noticing how dirty/clean it is, you can see how dirty/clean your house was.

I wanted to go all "American Gothic" like this one, but it looks too much like something Ariel's Dad would wield undersea

4) A Decent Cordless Stick Vacuum (Mine's a Dyson. It was around $500, with a number of "bonus" attachments - everything required from cleaning the car, to ... god, I don't know. I don't use any of those attachments. They sit in the closet and make me feel inefficient). 
What are the worst things about vacuuming? 1) The weight you're dragging along behind you, and 2) The cord that's never long enough, tangled, in the way, etc, etc, etc. I don't know if bags are a 3rd, because I live in a post-bag-vacuum society.

In comes my wonderful Dyson cordless vacuum to fix all of the problems of the world. You charge it for 3 hours, and it gives you around 15 minutes of cleaning time per charge. It's light as, a perfect height, has a motorised head, and makes cleaning as simple as basically walking around the house with it comfortably in your hand. To save on battery, you have to squeeze a "trigger" to activate the suction, so no moment of battery is wasted. OH MY GOODNESS IT'S SO EASY. For carpets or more heavy duty areas, it has a "max" button, as well, which I really only use on the rug or on cat litter pellets (AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS A CAT WHO FLICKS CAT LITTER ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE?! Gee those things hurt when you stand on them unexpectedly). 

When you're finished, you just press a button and a cover pops open, allowing you to just shake the collection receptacle area into the bin. Woohoo.

As a bonus - imagine if the witches of Hocus Pocus had this? I mean, no extension cords, they could just fly off into the night? I'm pretty sure the children of Salem would have lost that round...

Come here, Zachary Binx! Zachary Binnnnnnnx! Dueeeeell!

5) And finally, getting off your backside and just doing it. Get into a routine if you must. ($Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, and it develops discipline, which is priceless).
I have actually grown to quite like cleaning. It makes my home nicer to be in, it's a little bit of exercise, and it has visible results, which is uber satisfying. I've made it super easy for myself with the aforementioned tips, and I always feel great after relaxing in my newly clean home. BUT STILL, I struggle to get started. That little voice of procrastination in the back of my head tells me it's awful, it's a chore, that I don't want to do it, that it's boring, and it'll take me ages. Despite me knowing that's simply not true, it can still be a bit of a struggle to get started. But the magic is: once I start vacuuming, I almost instantly remember how easy it is, and how much I like cleaning (and the results - a clean house!), and I go for it, not stopping until my floors and dishes are clean. Then I have a shower and relax. 

To overcome this, I made a deal with myself. On the first day of my work weekend, before I do anything else, I clean. And in a particular order, so it gets into my muscle memory and helps the habit form. First I vacuum, then I steam mop, then I send the robot-sweeper on its mission, and finally, I do the dishes (if there are any from the day before). It takes me no more than an hour and a half before the house is spick and span, and I'm free to enjoy myself in or out of a clean house without the nagging feeling of guilt or grossness.

It takes about 5 weeks to form a habit, so stick with it. Set the same time every week aside at the start of your rest period, and just do it. Convince yourself to just get started on one task, preferably vacuuming. Like brushing your teeth, it'll become a habit, and you'll get used to it and do it without thought in no time. 

You'll be enjoying the benefits and relaxing afterwards in no time. Then you can lock yourself in your bathroom with a bottle of red wine and a book (okay, your mobile phone/ipod, which you constantly live in fear of dropping into the bath and electrocuting yourself with - NB. I do not advise this, but I know you probably do it anyway, so don't get litigious with me). ENJOY!


  1. I put on some daggy music (or those oldie goldie radio stations) for cleaning. I had a cleaner many years ago, I got home from work one day and saw the fridge was left ajar but didn't think much of it (cleaner might have stored her lunch there),BUT when I went to eat some of my tiramisu I noticed some had been cut away. Totes UNFORGIVZ. Anyway, gotta confess I'm a Dyson girl (ZOMG they made washing machines but stopped now, they were never available in Australia though), the robot cleaners freak me out a bit because I think of that movie Runaway with Gene Simmons and Tom Selleck. And like if I use it, Gene Simmons is gonna hack it to be evil and force it to play Shandi.

    1. Oh my goodness... A DYSON WASHING MACHINE?! PS I think this is my favourite blog comment post ever (other than the insanely creative insults people email me because I said Bamix were overrated.. those people are COLOURFUL).

  2. I loved this post and due to your fabulous photo, my lovely fiancé has conceded that a robo sweeper is our next household purchase! Hooray for robots!

    1. I'm so glaaaaaad! I've still got friends whose husbands need convincing - you need to tell us how it worked out!

  3. Michael wants a robot vacuum. Thanks.

  4. Upon reading, "...whilst talking in a very slow and deliberate voice, like he was The Lion King passing very important knowledge on to his adult son..." I knew I needed in on the further adventures of The Dilettante and The Academic. Plus we also have a cat named Sylvia semi-frequently vomiting up hair balls that need cleaning up.

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