I had a carpet man come today to clean my carpets and he wore me out.

First thing he said to me was, “I could also do your kitchen tile after I clean the carpet.” I looked down to see if the kitchen tile needed cleaning and – GASP – it was atrocious. “See the difference between the grout under your cabinet here and the rest of the floor?” he said.

See the difference? It was black and white. Literally. Under the cabinet, where no one but the spiders go, the grout was a nice pale grey. Two inches out into the real world, it was a rusty black – the color of dirt ground into grease. All that fried food my husband loves is bad for our arteries, I know that, but it’s even worse for grout.

I was embarrassed to crimson. “Well,” I stuttered, “I used to get down on my hands and knees with a toothbrush every year after we first moved in, but I’ve been busy the last decade.” It came out in a pitiful, “I’m such a bad maker of homes” voice.

“I can do this and the front hallway for $400,” he said.

“Or I could get down on my hands and knees and do it in a couple hours,” I said, shocked at the price.

“But isn’t your time worth something?” he asked.

“It’s worth about $200 an hour, apparently,” I said. “I think I’ll hold off on the kitchen floor until I win the lottery or have two extra hours, whichever comes first.”

We have the good fortune of living in a house surrounded by leafy trees so it’s somewhat dark in the summer, even with all the windows. A dark house hides many horrors. He started going through the house turning on every single light. With all those spotlights the rug looked like it was covered with giant polka dots of stains.

Before I could start rationalizing about the kids and the dog, he said, “Looks like all the Scotchgard has worn off so even if you clean every spill up right away it’s probably going to leave a little discoloration. I can add Scotchgard for an extra $75.”

Finally he offered his hefty price. I was in no position to turn it down because I couldn’t imagine having to go through this humiliation with another carpet cleaning guy. “That’s way more than I’ve paid before,” I said, hoping to talk him down. He started ranting about all his magnificent equipment and how many horsepower his German-made vacuum cleaner had and the torque of his suction thingy and I finally held up my hand and said, “Oh. Okay, well that sounds great! Let’s get started.”

He moved a chair and it was FILTHY under there. Candy wrappers featuring the first Star War movie were cocooned in wool carpet lint. “Those darn kids,” I laughed, cursing them under my breath. I scurried in front of him to move other things before he could get there and find a feminine hygiene product or something worse.

While he was cleaning, I had nowhere to go but the kitchen. I started looking at the cabinets and couldn’t remember when the last time I’d really cleaned them. When I was a stay-home mom, I’d soap and rinse and dry and polish them while the kids were playing with Flubber or doing art projects at the kitchen table – hanging out but being productive. Since I’ve been working, I spend as little time in that kitchen as possible. My husband likes to cook, but he’s sloppy. At that very moment, the sun streaming through the skylights reflected off long streaks of shiny stuff not visible any other time of the year except about a month during the summer when the sun is high overhead and finds a peek-hole through the tree branches. Would my humiliation never end? I got out the cleaning stuff and went to work on the cabinets. When I got to the microwave I noticed years of dust in the little space between it and the built-in cabinet. Continuing on, I found similar nooks and crannies harboring grease and grime that I’d never noticed before.

One thing led to another, and I was covered in suds and dirt and grime when I wrote the check out to the carpet man. You are all invited to my house today because it is sparkling clean. This is only today, though, because that mess will be right back tomorrow, which is why I don’t fret about cleaning like I used to. The dirt will always return, whether I clean today or not. That’s my new philosophy, and it works for me, except when the carpet guy comes. Thank goodness I won’t have to go through that for another decade!