The “Oh Well” Method

  • Kristin van Ogtrop

[Note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2014 issue of Real Simple.]

Cleaning your house, if you really want it done well, is a full-time job. You could literally spend every waking hour of the day making something better, sparklier, less stained, dust-free. Yes, things fall apart, as Yeats famously explained, but things also develop a little film of grime that appears out of nowhere and is nearly impossible to remove.

After years of unscientific study, I’ve decided that to have a Truly Clean House, you need one of two things: to be a bit compulsive or to have enough money to pay others to be compulsive for you. (I think most of us got hooked on Downton Abbey the moment we saw feather duster meet chandelier in the opening credits. It’s like domestic porn.) Absent those, you need loads and loads of free time and nothing to do with it but clean.

Like many of you, I do not have compulsion, limitless income, or boundless free time. I still fantasize about having a Downton Abbey house, and I’m not talking about furnishings or size. But so many things get in the way of cleaning. My job, for one. Also reading books (just think of the dust that accumulated while I was reading all 771 pages of The Goldfinch), trying to make it to the gym, taking the dogs to the park, and nagging my children to empty the dishwasher.

And then there is the fact that I rely completely on the “Oh well” method of cleaning. As in: “I bet our air conditioner is pretty filthy. Oh well.” Or: “Wow, there are a lot of crumbs in that utensil drawer! Oh well.” Or: “That lampshade is a bit dusty…” You know the rest. And so my house always looks a little, shall we say, forlorn. I like to think this communicates a relaxed approach to material things. What it probably communicates is a complete failure as a homeowner and possibly as a human being.

But now, suddenly, my entire “Oh well” system has been turned upside down. Why? As I learned in the “A-to-Z Guide to Cleaning Almost Anything,” all my lampshades need is a two-minute session with a lint roller and a hair dryer. Life-changing! Perhaps I don’t need to quit my job or win the lottery to have a Truly Clean House. All I need is some Real Simple tricks and a smallish investment of time. And then I can use the “Oh well” method in another area of my life. Parenting?