Procter & Gamble conducted a study in 2006 on the number of hours per week women around the world cleaned. In America the number was 4. In Italy: 21 hours. Yes, 21 hours. This number seems nuts but does not really surprise me. If you step into any Italian home, what would surprise me is if you found if dirty.
For those who don’t live in Italy, they could be judging the level of cleanliness based on public spaces – in which case Italians fail miserably. Italians tend to think for themselves. THEIR homes will be clean, but why do they need to keep the park or street clean if it is not their property? This part of Italian life makes me very sad. Trash all over parks. For sure this aspect of Italian cleanliness could use some help. We need to get some “Don’t mess with Texas” action going on over here. (“Don’t Mess with Texas” was a slogan aimed at reducing litter on Texas highways by the Department of transportation. This phrase was actually shown on road signs throughout the state as well as on commercials and reduced litter by around 70% in the late 80’s. Eventually the slogan because a cultural icon and is used to this day.)
But back to obsessive cleaning Italian women. Where are they finding this kind of time? Why are they ironing underwear and socks? And not only are they ironing undies, look what kind of “iron” they are using.
Look at this monster. It must take at least 15 minutes just to get this thing out and set up. In addition to industrial size irons, they have separate cleaning products for every imaginable cleaning need. Keep in mind that Italian homes are small, space is limited and, and they use this precious space for things like cleaning chemicals and professional steam irons. Why are they doing this? According to Federica Rossi Gasparrini, chair of Federcasalinghe (Housewives’ Association) she states: “No woman will forgo a clean house, even if she works. It’s part of love for the family.” As always family comes first in Italy.
I love my family too, but I prefer to play with them at the beach as opposed to clean all day. The point of this post is to tell you how to cheat – yes – to make it SEEM as if you are an Italian woman with 21 hours to clean, but really you are an American with only four hours to clean. When company comes, I magically turn into a good Italian woman, cleaning for 21 hours. But for all the other times, here are my shortcuts.
EVERY DAY HABITS
1. Put things back where they belong – immediately!
The rule is not to touch anything twice if you don’t have to. Once you use it, put it back immediately. Don’t leave the salt, oil and vinegar on the counter after making your salad, but it up as you go.
2. Make your bed every day
A few months ago, this article came out about the benefits of making your bed. In the comments I saw lots of people saying it was a waste of time to make the bed. I USED to be able to relate to that way of thinking. I admit when I lived in Texas and our bedroom was at the end of the hall and out of sight, I didn’t make my bed every day. And every time I went into that room with the unmade bed, I felt a little – I don’t know: BLAH. When we moved to Milan, our apartment was so small and every room could be seen from the entry hall. Mandatory bedmaking ensued. I realized that it only took 3-4 minutes to make the bed and also realized how nice it made me feel to see the beds made. Beds take up a lot of room and if they are a mess, the whole room looks a mess. ALSO, if the bed is made, it makes for a great work space for other things like folding and ironing. Look at the difference:
3. Empty and load the dishwasher
Another thing I used to hate to do. But what a downer to come home to a sink full of dirty dishes. So one time I timed myself to see how long it took to empty the dishwasher and load it. It was something crazy like 10-12 minutes! That is it! Makes all the difference in the world coming home to a clean sink. And anyway, loading the dishwasher in Italy is not so bad, as you can see from this commercial – my exact experience every day:
GETTING DOWN TO THE NITTY GRITTY
Ok, so you make your bed every day, dishwasher is loaded, sink is empty, house is somewhat clutter free based on your daily habits. These habits will make you feel less overwhelmed and more inspired to clean. What next?
1. De-Clutter the house
Go through the house and pick up. Shoes away, papers on the desk, take the trash out, pick up toys. Whatever your circumstance might be, put everything where it belongs.
Working from the top down, dust all surfaces. I like to use a Swiffer duster because it gets between small areas so you don’t have to move everything. See? This would NEVER work for an Italian. And again, I am not suggesting you never move your books when you dust! But when under pressure for time, this works just fine.
3. Clean surfaces
I start in the kitchen and spray down all the surfaces with a multipurpose, antibacterial cleaner, including the cabinets. Let it sit for a while and then clean. Ditto for the bathrooms. Again, this would be a big no-no for an Italian because their love for specific cleaning products.
The vacuum is my best friend. Use it not only for the floors, but also the couch or even crumbs that get in your kitchen cabinets and drawers! Ohhhh, even for my kids’ backpacks that are full of crumbs. For cleaning the floors, I admit for the cooking area of the kitchen and the bathrooms, I just use a damp cloth and my all-purpose cleaner and do it by hand. Getting out the mop and bucket? No thanks. Also, doing it by hand ensures I get all the corners. It is amazingly fast.
5. Washing and Ironing
Ok, most Americans have a dryer. Already we are ahead of the game in a huge way because hanging out the wash piece by piece, then taking off each piece takes forever. But what about getting that freshly pressed look on every article of clothing we wear? I have found that if you remove the wash from the dryer while it is still hot and fold it immediately, the clothes will come out pretty close to an ironed look. Obviously you will not get that crease on the sleeve of your t-shirts, but it works relatively well. And obviously I am not including things like dress shirts or items that always require a trip to the cleaners.
What happens when you DO have to iron? I have found that ironing on my bed or table works just fine. Of course you have to protect the surface from the heat, but it is much easier than fighting with the ironing board. And also, you have a much bigger space to work with. (I guess it is clear, I REALLY don’t like to have to get things out and set them up)
Sometimes though – I DO hang out the wash (as mentioned in a post ages ago), because the experience is similar to that of loading the dishwasher:
Even though cleaning is an incredibly sexy event in Italy (as evidenced by these advertisements), on the off day it is NOT a sexy event, I do try to make it as pleasurable as possible. Good music, a tall, cold drink or maybe a movie I have seen 1,000 times to keep me company.