The Day I Had Nothing to Do

I often encounter an attitude from my still-working peers that retired people have time hanging from their hands like loops of yarn. I’m sorry to tell you this, but it just ain’t so! 

When I retired, multiple people, mostly those still working, warned me that I would often be bored.  However,  a long-retired relative gave me a very different warning: “Not only are you going to wonder how you ever got it all done before you retired, you’re not going to believe how much more there is to be done! It will suck you in!” I tucked her advice into the “Housework expands to fill all available time” file and promptly disregarded it.

Bad move.

She was right.

Following  a busy and stressful week, I woke on a recent Sunday morning pleasantly conscious that there was nothing I had to do.    As I stretched and swung my legs to the bedside rug, I congratulated myself on a “free” day.

And so I rose to immediately begin cleaning litter boxes, followed by feeding my complaining felines.  Necessary chores completed, I wandered upstairs to my computer, cup of tea in hand, to check my e-mail and read the news.  Then I wandered just as leisurely back downstairs to prepare breakfast and read a bit of my latest novel, sitting in my favorite battered green armchair by the living room window.  But that relaxation proved to be a mixed blessing, because the window looks out on my small rose garden.  Still blooming heavily at the start of autumn, the bushes looked awfully untidy.

An hour later, the roses were deadheaded and trimmed up a bit, the groundcover had been snipped back, and some dead hosta stems removed.  Carrying the detritus to the bin in the garage, I dropped a few leaves and stems on the garage floor.  Well, it wouldn’t hurt to move the car out and sweep the garage floor.  That done, though, I noted that the car mats could certainly use a vacuuming, and the whole interior of the car would look a bit better if it was cleaned of the pandemic-constant of disinfectant residue.  The windows inside were a touch smeary, too.  A bit of glass cleaner wouldn’t go amiss.  Oh, and before I drove the car back into the garage, I should run to the end of the driveway and grab the mail, still sitting in the mailbox since Saturday.

Returning the vacuum and cleaning sprays to the hall closet made me realize that I’d best get a bit of housework done: dishes to be washed, kitchen and bathroom floors to be swept.  Again responding to my pandemic-induced madness regarding cleanliness, those same bathroom surfaces should probably be disinfected. Although the floors had been thoroughly mopped four days previously, heaven alone knew what I might have tracked in since that time, so it wouldn’t hurt to fill the mop with solution and run it over just the traffic paths.  In fact, the carpet, also just vacuumed four days ago, should probably be vacuumed lightly along the traffic paths before the mopping was done, so nothing would track onto the hard floors.

Hauling the vacuum upstairs made me aware that my bed wasn’t yet made.  Just as well; the sheets needed to be changed.  I should change the towels in the bathrooms, too. Carrying these items downstairs to the washer, I noted that the medicine dispenser for my sick cat was sitting on the countertop and needed to be filled.  I really should do that now, and give her a dose, as well.  Oh, and the dispenser which held my vitamins and supplements was also awaiting a refill.  I should do that, too.  Drat, the mail was still sitting there on the countertop, unopened.  Ah, mostly junk…and bills.  Sigh.  Well, I should pay these bills.  And I really should update my budget spreadsheet.

While doing that update, though, it struck me that I had work to do for a friend, updating her business manuals and flyers.  Well, as long as the computer was booted, I might as well devote an hour to working on those.

But as I completed these chores, I glanced at my fingers on the keyboard, noticing that my cuticles were ragged and my nails all of differing lengths and badly shaped.  Hmmm, well, as I seemed to be finished with cleaning products for the day, it might be a good idea to tend to them, and give myself a quick pedicure, too.

By this time, it was now 5:00 p.m. An hour later, manicure and pedicure completed, I decided that I really should consider cooking dinner, since breakfast and then the leftovers that I’d reheated for lunch were beginning to seem a very long time ago.

Rinsing my dinner dishes and stacking them in the sink, I took a deep breath and called a halt.  Washing dishes could wait until morning.  I wanted to read my book again for a bit before trooping upstairs to have a shower and wash my hair and finally fall into bed, exhausted from my “free” day.

I really hope I don’t have too many more days with nothing to do.  I’m not sure I’d survive them.

If  you enjoyed this essay, you might also like “Clearing the Clutter”, which can be found in the Archives from January 15, 2020, or “Household Chores: Love ’em, Hate ’em”, published March 18, 2020.

The Trials and Tribulations of Houseguests

§  A young friend won’t be making her annual trip to stay with me and visit her “Indiana Family” during this difficult year.  But I hope she will get a smile from this essay!  §

Listening to a radio show as I drove one afternoon, I caught part of a discussion on the topic of appropriate behavior by houseguests when making visits.  The subject intrigued me because  it had often been covered by those original Agony Aunt columnists, Dear Abby and Ann Landers, to whose advice I’d been devoted in adolescence.

The interviewee, asked to explain what houseguests should not do during a visit, launched into a total bitchfest about guests who, having risen in the morning before their hosts, proceeded to brew themselves a cup of coffee and (horror of horrors!) use the mug which was sitting out beside the coffeemaker for that morning cup…their host’s favorite coffee mug!

 Now, I rarely have houseguests, and I don’t even own a coffeemaker; anyone unfortunate enough to be lodging with me is going to discover that instant coffee is the best available.  Tea, now, tea is a different matter.  Depending on their preferences, they might get a good quality teabag of regular or flavored tea, or even loose tea brewed properly using a tea ball in a china teapot.  But, those facts aside, the truth is that, as a good hostess, if I was providing for a houseguest who I knew might be waiting for a “cuppa” before I rose in the morning, I would have set out not only a cup, but a spoon and a spoon rest and real sugar and sweeteners and a napkin, all awaiting their use.  I’d have made certain they knew where all the other accoutrements were to be found too: the toaster, the bread, butter, jam, and milk.  And, even though I do, yes, have a favorite mug, I damn sure wouldn’t have gone on public radio making an ass of myself because a guest in my home had availed her or himself of simple accommodations.  To do so would be disrespectful.

Respect, as I learned from those long ago Agony Aunt columns, is what smooths the relationship between host and guest.  Both acknowledge the disruption to their usual lives, and treat one another with courtesy, making an effort to be especially respectful to smooth over any bumps in the road during a visit.

A much younger but extremely wise friend once related to me that her mother, having come to visit, was both very surprised and complimentary when she found the apartment beautifully cleaned prior to her visit.  My young friend, while admitting that her home was rarely in that condition, remarked that it was simply respectful to prepare for a guest’s visit by cleaning her home.

I agreed wholeheartedly.  Having a houseguest means that one looks at one’s home differently.  The worn but still useable bath towels that are perfectly suitable for my own bathtime would be disrespectful if put out for a guest to use. The chipped mug is placed to the back of the cabinet, and the nicer ones, including that favored mug—why wouldn’t I want a friend to have the best?– set forward prominently.  Bedsheets are fresh, TVs are turned down low when a guest has retired for the night, and favorite foods are offered.

But, returning to the memory of those Agony Aunts columns, I recall long, serious deliberations on whether a guest should, on the final day of their visit, make the bed (because that’s simply a nice gesture to one’s hostess) or remove the sheets and pile them on the mattress (since they now have to be washed).  Silly debates such as this enthralled me when I was a mere teenager, years always from having a home of my own, much less a houseguest.  Even more interesting (and often hilarious), were the disputes—many of which flamed into fury—over nosy houseguests, those people who snooped and pried into places they had no business being, and how they should be handled.

Putting a jack-in-the-box into a drawer to pop out and send the prying houseguest shrieking, was often favored. I particularly loved the suggestion by one host who claimed to have hidden notes in each drawer which said, “Too bad you decided to snoop here.  I put poison on the handle, and I have the only antidote.”

But then came the rejoinder from a woman who was obviously suspected by her friend of being one of those very sneaks, a charge which she strenuously denied.  While staying there, she related, she’d needed a thread of dental floss, something which she hadn’t packed.  She opened the medicine cabinet to search for some, and was sent screaming back from the sink as a cascade of glass marbles came tumbling out of the cupboard, pouring like a loud river onto the sink and bouncing across the bathroom floor.  When her host came charging up, ready accusation at her lips, the terrified guest was crouched in a corner, surrounded by marbles, stuttering, “I just wanted dental floss!  Just dental floss!”

I seriously doubted that the friendship between the paranoid host and the shocked houseguest continued following this fracas.  After all, it appeared that, just like that belligerent radio show speaker, someone had forgotten the first rule of having or being a houseguest: Respect.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Agony Aunts”,
to be found in the archives from February 16, 2018. 

Household Chores: Love ’em, Hate ’em!

§    I took an informal housework survey of some of the women I know and garnered the following intel on the housekeeping tasks that everyone loves and/or loathes.  §

I had an acquaintance once who explained rapturously that she just loved running the vacuum.  I looked at her like she’d lost her mind. There are two household chores that (despite doing them with monotonous regularity) I despise above all else: running the vacuum and changing the bedsheets. I have no explanation as to why these chore irk me so much. I don’t avoid them, but I absolutely and completely loathe doing them.

Of course, this same woman was one who, when guests were present and the evening had not yet quite wound to a close, always made everyone a bit uncomfortable by beginning to wash up the snack plates and wine glasses before people had even begun making “going home now” noises. Since her house was, like mine, an open floor plan, there was no disguising the fact that she was in there splashing merrily in the dishwater; she’d been seen to snatch up a cheese plate just as a guest popped the last toothpicked cube into his mouth. The sight of an unwashed dish in her sink apparently drove her to distraction, as she mentioned once while pointedly eying the neatly rinsed-and-stacked plates and glasses in my own sink whileI tidied up after a get-together. On that occasion, I thought she choked a bit as I turned out the kitchen light and walked away from the sink. But as I’ve explained before in an earlier blog post (The Dishwashing Analogy, 06/29/18), those dishes were going to sit in the sink until at least after breakfast the next morning, and quite possibly lunch, when enough would have accumulated to waste my time and water on. This was despite the fact that I actually enjoy washing dishes–so much so that my dishwasher is run only once weekly, and then just to keep the belts from rotting from disuse. I find dishwashing to be almost a meditative act; it proves to me the truth of what one of my grandmothers (a simply marvelous housekeeper) told me: When the hands are busy in a simple task, one’s mind is completely free.

Nevertheless, Grandma’s maxim doesn’t explain why some of those simple and repetitive tasks just drive me, or others, to the brink.

I took an informal housework survey of some of the women I know.  (I did not include any men because, [a] there are few of them in my life; and, [b] the only man I know who actually willingly does housework is my son-in-law).  I garnered the following intel on the housekeeping tasks that everyone loves and/or loathes. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were a lot more responses for the “LOATHE” column than the converse—including one heartfelt reply from a woman who said bluntly that she was “totally over” enjoying any form of cleaning. But what struck me in their responses was that I found myself not to be so odd, after all: tasks that one person simply could not stand doing were actually enjoyed by another person.

Into the Love To Do column fell the tasks of vacuuming (obviously, I do not choose my friends on the premise that companions must think alike!), folding laundry, washing windows, dusting, mopping, and (bizarrely) shampooing rugs. Many more responses, though, were entered into the Loathe Doing category, which included the self-same dusting and washing windows, along with scrubbing floors, cleaning baseboards, unloading the dishwasher, cleaning toilets…and on, and on, and on. I genuinely felt the pain of one woman who replied that there was nothing worse than dusting furniture that had grooves and curves and hollows. And I nearly dropped to my knees and praised heaven that I, OCD as I am, had never, as one friend explained, been in such housekeeping competition that when she learned someone had put three coats of wax on her kitchen floor, she rushed home to put a fourth coat on her own!

I am already in the throes of spring cleaning, the madness of which always overtakes me at some point near the vernal equinox and Easter–cleaning out the cave after a winter’s habitation, I always think of it. Preparing for that psychological and physical onslaught, I’ve also been considering my informal housekeeping survey. It struck me that, since few of us, if any, are in a financial position to hire our housework done, then how sad that we can’t all form some sort of housekeeping commune.  Each person would bop happily about to the houses of the others, accomplishing the tasks that she finds enjoyable—while someone else, who actually likes doing  her most hated chores, works at her home accomplishing her  “Loathe List” of housework.

If only…!  I feel absolutely certain that, not only would our homes be totally spic and span, we’d all be a much happier bunch of women!