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laurie lafrance The Globe and Mail

I wrestled the vacuum out of its precarious place in our overstuffed closet, a delicate dance indeed. I was on a mission: operation clean house.

Witnessing the struggle, my three-year-old son innocently asked, "Mom, who's coming over?"

"No one," I said. "I just want a clean house."

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He was unconvinced. "Mom, you're teasing me. Are Papa Jerry and Granny 'Reen coming over?"

I had to laugh. So he was skeptical. And rightfully so. He had only ever seen me vacuum when guests were on the way. A visit by either set of grandparents would light a fire under me.

But 2010 was going to be different. I was going to have a clean house, all the time. Heck, I'd even made a chart. Week one: vacuum house. Week two: vacuum house. Week three: vacuum house.

Yes, the chart placed a disproportionate emphasis on vacuuming. But I had two cats, so vacuuming was important.

This wasn't going to be like the messy years of past house-cleaning (or lack thereof) failures. Two years ago, my mantra was "after 8," which coincidentally conjured up images of chocolate. How could it have failed?

By 8 p.m., my little one would be sound asleep. And, without any distractions, I could do the housework. Dirty dishes? I'll tackle them after 8. Is there a sticky floor from a sippy cup that runneth over? I'll get out the cleaner after 8. Is that strained peas on the carpet? I'll get to it after 8. You get the idea.

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Unfortunately, 8 p.m. would roll around and housework suddenly wouldn't seem so attractive. Frankly, it was more enjoyable to relax with a nice, hot bubble bath. At least I was getting cleaned.

Last year, I decided if I couldn't find the time in the evening, I would use any spare moment I could. I would pick one thing and clean it quickly. I think it's called micro-cleaning. It would provide fast-paced house-cleaning rewards.

While I was in the bathroom anyway, why not stay in there for an extra minute and quickly wipe the bathroom sink?

The bathroom sink was spotless, but the micro-cleaning movement never really branched out beyond the bathroom, or even the sink for that matter. I had to change my approach.

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I decided to develop a cleaning strategy. Every house, I reasoned, could appear clean if one or two key rooms were clean. In my case, I decided it was the bathroom and the kitchen. This way, I wasn't working harder, I was working smarter.

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Keeping the kitchen clean sort of worked. It's the first room you see in my house, and it gave a great impression, at least temporarily, of a clean home.

But trying to prevent guests from leaving the kitchen, for the living room or the dining room, say, where they might be more comfortable, was proving harder.

"Don't leave, Mom, I want to show you my new garlic press. Oh yeah, you gave it to me. It's really nice, do you want to see it again anyways?"

Cleaning the bathroom became downright unrewarding. My guests never seemed to need to go. I couldn't understand.

"You must need to freshen up after that two-hour car ride over," I'd say.

"Here Mom, have more water," I'd offer. "Dad, can I top off your cranberry juice?"

But I was met with defeat. No one ever seemed to have to pee when they visited.

Finally, my cleaning philosophy switched to an as-needed basis. How can you lose with that, I thought?

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The problem is that as-needed degenerated into a quick scramble when company was coming over. This was the style with which my son was so familiar. The phone would ring. It would be my in-laws. "Grandpa Jerry and Granny 'Reen are almost here," I would tell him. Now, it was time to clean.

At first he helped, gathering toys and dusting. We were racing against time. "Quick! Quick!" we'd shout in unison.

After a few visits though, he stubbornly withdrew his help. "Quick! Quick!" I would plead. "They'll be here soon, we need to clean!"

My son was suddenly a relationship expert. "No mom. They don't care about a clean house. They're here to visit us."

"Okay. So they don't care but I do. Well, I don't care enough to actually clean, but I care enough to care that I haven't."

My son looked at me half blankly and half with pity.

I realize I don't pull my fair share of housework compared to my partner, while I manage to create an overwhelming amount of mess. This is why I put pressure on myself to clean more.

As I review my chart, I see that I managed to vacuum the house during week one of 2010. And that's it so far. Oh well. My son is right. Family and friends come over to visit us, not to see a clean house.

I just hope they don't have to pee. Cleaning the (underutilized) bathroom got taken off the agenda.

Michelle Peters lives in Winnipeg.

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