Why cleaning is my favourite hobby
My name is Bryony and I have a dirty secret. I love cleaning. I mean I really love it. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then one day I shall be made a saint -- a saint with an exceptionally well polished halo and a nice line in Marigolds.
As the sun streamed through the windows last weekend, highlighting every bit of dust and slight smear of dirt in my home, I did not think: "Oh no, I am going to have to waste a glorious day up to my elbows in muck." Instead, I got up at 8am with joy in my heart and a bottle of bleach in my hand. Because I love the smell of bleach more than any perfume.
It came as no surprise to me, then, to read that one out of three women secretly loves cleaning. Researchers have discovered that many females find the process "relaxing", "satisfying" and "therapeutic" though, possibly due to horrid sexual stereotypes, only four in 10 would admit this to a partner.
I have no such qualms. My boyfriend enjoys tidying almost as much as I do. We fight over who gets to wash up ("me!" "no, me!"). We quarrel over whose turn it is to do the vacuuming. And we often have arguments over the iron, which will one day end in third-degree burns.
The study found that hoovering, tidying and wiping surfaces clean are the chores women most enjoy. Cleaning the lavatory and the oven are not so popular. On average, just over four hours a week are spent cleaning -- "just" being the word here, given that on Sunday I spent six hours vacuuming, washing, dusting and sweeping the garden of old leaves and discarded fag butts (so satisfying).
To me, the most shocking thing about this survey isn't that a third of women enjoy cleaning -- it is that two-thirds of them don't. Perhaps that is simply because I have chronic OCD. Most likely it is because we have been brought up to see cleaning as a chore, as something that poor, put-upon women of the 1950s did while their husbands earned money and seduced their secretaries.
The idea of a woman tending to her house became dirty, filthy, shameful, each mop of the floor a violent blow to feminism. But now that having a cleaner is no longer a Downton Abbey-style luxury and more of a middle-class necessity, the humble art of tidying has practically become a lifestyle choice. A hobby, even, like those trendy fashionistas who claim to knit and crochet in their spare time.
There is nothing more delightful than the sound of debris being sucked up a hoover (my hoover of choice being an old-fashioned Henry rather than a swish Dyson). Who could fail to be aroused -- yes, aroused -- by mopping away spillages from the kitchen floor? Plus, there is simply no lovelier way to spend a Sunday evening than ironing in front of the television, the smell of fresh starch and orange-and-pomegranate ironing water filling the room and your bed linen.
My idea of a thrill is no longer a whirl around Topshop. It is to go to Sainsbury's and gaze, undisturbed, at the cleaning products. Utter bliss.
I marvel at the pan-scourers and the dish-brushes and the antibacterial mops. I um and er over whether to buy Dettol or Cif or Cillit Bang. I wish I had blocked drains just to see the magic de-clogging liquid go to work; I imagine it would fizz and woosh and dissolve dirt in all sorts of miraculous ways.
If I am feeling particularly decadent, I will go to my local hardware store, where I can gawp at the proper professional cleaning products -- the floor-steamers and the heavy-duty carpet shampoos, not to mention the freezer de-icers and the brass cleaners.
As saintly as this all sounds, the truth is that my love of cleaning is entirely self-serving. It makes me feel smug and allows me to cleanse myself of all sorts of other sins, such as coming home drunk . . . Nobody can get cross with you if you have spent two hours cleaning the oven.
Tidying is a good way to claim superiority and get what you want. Indeed, this week sees the publication of a new survival guide for frustrated wives, by a woman called Kerri Sackville. It is called When My Husband Does the Dishes (He usually wants sex!).
But it can work the other way round, too.