Thursday, January 31, 2013

To Clean Or Not to Clean: What Is it with Bathrooms and Me?

Oh, how I miss the ablution chamber at the Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana, which came with daily cleaning service!
Shower in an outdoor bathroom? No problem — as long as I don’t have to clean it!
I just don't get it.

I must be the world's most anally retentive neat freak. The only thing I spend more time doing than writing and running is probably, possibly cleaning. At the end of my life, if someone adds up the time I spent making the bed/vacuuming/wiping kitchen counters and tables, it will probably add up to more time than I wasted on slumber.

As soon as anyone enters whatever abode I happen to be calling home at the moment, they notice the tell-tale signs: perfectly made bed, floors you can practically eat off of, a place for everything, and everything in its place. Until the day I stopped talking to him, the ex-husband of my best friend used to marvel at the wonder that was my bed, so painstakingly prepared that there wasn't a single crease in it.

"I wish you were my son," the head of housekeeping at Seasons Hotel in Melbourne announced as she entered my room to clean it for the first time. "You made up that bed even better than I probably will."

The long-stay resident manager at the Anantara Bangkok Sathorn had a similar reaction the first time she entered my suite there. "I don't think I've ever seen an apartment here that was this clean before," she announced as she removed her shoes. It's probably why the housekeeper who came by on Tuesdays and Fridays to tidy up loved me so much. I made her job ridiculously easy.

My mother -- the cleanest woman alive, from whom I inherited my neatness -- likes to tell a story about the time she visited me in New York City and stayed with me for a few nights in my studio apartment on 34th Street. I had an ionizer that I kept on the floor by my bed, right next to the cactus. I'm still not 100 percent sure what it did, but I figured it would do it even better if I kept it perfectly aligned with the borders of the hardwood floorboards.

"I kept moving it out of the way, so that nobody tripped on it," my mom would say while recounting the funniest story ever. "I'd go to the bathroom, and by the time I came out, it would be back where it was before, exactly where it was before, as if Jeremy took out a ruler and lined it up perfectly." Everybody would laugh, and I'd sink further into my seat. If my mother, who taught me everything I knew about tidiness, was making fun of me, I must really have had a problem.

It's not all my mother's fault, though. I'm a minimalist by nature, and I think it's influenced my approach to cleaning. I run partly to clear my head, to keep it uncluttered, and I clean for the same reason, too. I feel better, behave better, sleep better, write better when both my mind and my surroundings are free of clutter. I always think of the "White Box" episode of Absolutely Fabulous where Edina goes around clearing surfaces in her home in order to impress her interior-designer friend (played by Miranda Richardson), who has embraced minimalism in the most over-the-top way. That's so me!

If I'm so obsessively neat in the kitchen, in the living room, in the bedroom, though, then what happens to me when I get into the bathroom? Of all the rooms in the house, it's the one that's most likely to make or break it. On the road, I've moved out of hotel rooms because the bathroom wasn't to my liking. Only functioning Wi-Fi is as important.

When I interviewed Kristin Scott Thomas in Bangkok last year (in her suite at Hotel Muse, which I'm pretty sure had the most amazing bathroom ever), and told her about my bathroom thing, she nodded in agreement. She understood exactly what I meant. I kept thinking of the scene in The English Patient with her and Ralph Fiennes in the bathtub, wondering how clean it was.

But then, I didn't tell her how far my bathroom obsession goes. (BTW, have you ever noticed that it's the room where you're most likely to find a giant cockroach -- dead or alive?) I spent a month in the summer of 2011 living in an apartment in Bangkok that was almost perfect. It had a nice balcony off to the side of a fully functioning kitchen, a spacious living room and bedroom (both of which had large, flat-screen TVs in them) and two full bathrooms. When is the last time you've been in a one-bedroom apartment with two full showers?

It would have been the perfect pad, except for one thing: a spot of rusted-over mildew on the floor near the door of the shower stall in one bathroom. I couldn't get rid of it with a sponge, so I covered it up with a floor towel. Still, I knew it was there, and I thought about it every time I entered the bathroom and even when I didn't, regarding it in my mind as some unwanted visitor that might rise up from under the towel and come after me. I'm sure I must have had a few nightmares about it, too.

Now here's where my bathroom obsession gets really strange. For all my anal leanings when it comes to them, I can't bring myself to clean them. They're just so disgusting. I've always thought it ironic that the room we use for ablution is often the filthiest one in the house, and it gets that way with so little effort. Luckily, over the last two years of living in hotels and serviced apartments, I haven't had to make any effort to clean them.

Until now. The South Yarra apartment I've been calling my home in Melbourne for nearly three weeks would fall somewhere near the bottom of the middle on the list of the places I've lived in since leaving my last apartment in New York City (which was perfect in every way, except for the hideously outdated bathroom, which, in the only fixer-upper move of my life, I paid my aforementioned friend's ex-husband to redo while I was on holiday in London). But even worse than the erratic Wi-Fi, the lack of direct sunlight and the carpet (an interior design faux pas that's still surprisingly common in Melbourne) is the bathroom. Not so much because there's anything wrong with it, but because there's no weekly maid service.

If I want to get it clean, I'll have to do it myself. Unless, of course, I don't mind forking over a hundred bucks or so on a cleaning service (we're not in Buenos Aires anymore for sure -- I used to be able to pay cleaning ladies there under $20 to spend several hours scrubbing my pad spotless). Or I can let the dirt continue to sit and settle, or I can buy some sponges and disinfectant and do the job myself. (Speaking of Buenos Aires, I wonder if one of the after-effects of being attacked in my bathroom there was an intensification of my neurotic response to them.)

I have better uses for my hundred dollars, so I've spent the last two weeks and five days choosing the sit and settle option. I know I can't go on much longer like this, though. I have a stronger than average sense of smell, which might also partly explain my overboard cleanliness, and it's gotten to the point where I have to keep the bathroom door closed at all times.

And when you start having nightmares that you're trying to scrub something in the toilet that just won't go away, you know it's time to take action. But maybe tomorrow. There's a crease on the bed sheet, some lint on the carpet and a crumb on the kitchen counter that requires my immediate attention today.

No comments: