Updated 18 July 2013

Buried in filth - and loving it

When Susan Erasmus read that 74% of state health facilities are not clean enough, it made her feel right at home.


When Susan Erasmus read that 74% of state health facilities are not clean enough, it made her feel right at home.

Here are the facts:

A report of public health facilities conducted in 2011 that was presented to Parliament, revealed that 74% of state health facilities failed to comply with cleanliness rules. Also staff attitude was found to be sub-standard in 69% of facilities and 55% did not have the necessary medicines and supplies. Shocking stuff, but before you get huffy, just how shiny and spotless is your home?

Mine isn't. My friends assure me there is nothing wrong with the standards of cleanliness in my home. Clearly I have raised this issue often. I know I am untidy, but a 20-minute cleaning frenzy before they arrive usually does the trick. A closed door or two also helps. So, I smile knowingly when they say everything is fine in the full knowledge that they would change their opinions had they arrived 20 minutes early.

Watching the programme 'Hoarders' on TV is also a great inspiration. Whenever I watch it, I go into scrubbing mode for at least half an hour afterwards. I know hoarding is a psychiatric disorder and so forth, but I get hives from just watching the mounds of rotting trash some of these people live in. Perhaps I just have a sensitive nose, but I can smell one less than fresh item in the fridge from the front door. How anyone can get by without noticing a dead cat in their home is beyond me. But I know these are extreme cases. That's why they get to be on TV, and I don't. Not yet, anyway.

The real world
Let's just get one thing out of the way: the houses you see on soapies and TV commercials don't exist in the real world. Maybe I am just saying this to make myself feel better, but homes that contain living people don't always have clean floors, there are often dirty dishes in the sink, and yesterday's clothes are draped over chairs. There are wet towels lying on bathroom floors, toys and newspapers scattered on the carpet, and when keys get lost, it can take several people searching for half an hour to locate them. (They are under the piano, in the dog's bowl, in the fridge, or in the laundry basket.)

 An absolutely spotless house always makes me feel slightly edgy – it means someone lives there whose level of neurosis could possibly be tipped into psychosis with little provocation. Red wine on the carpet might do it. Or cat vomit. There are people who have killed for less.

Don't get me wrong: I like order and cleanliness as much as the next person. I am just not always very good at creating or maintaining it. Real life just sort of gets in the way: a ringing telephone, an urgent errand, a friend with a crisis, a really gripping book.

But I wouldn't necessarily take things as far as Quentin Crisp who said that "there was no need to do any housework at all.  After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse."

Double standards
I have also noticed over the years that people are always rather stringent in the high standards of hygiene they expect if they do not have to create it themselves.

Let's face it, you've eaten many meals you cooked yourself at home that you would have sent back to the kitchen if someone served them to you in a restaurant.  Or reprimanded a domestic worker for not doing something that you would never have done yourself. Or used towels in your bathroom you would not have touched in a hotel.

But then you are paying for the service in hotels or restaurants. And hospitals. Private ones. Your tax money funds state hospitals and with a lot of sick people around, they should really make an effort given the seriousness of hospital-acquired infections and all that.

Will I pass the test?

I just dread the thought of those same hospital inspectors in my home. Will they spot the mould in the corner of the bathroom? Is that a spider's web? When last were these brass doorknobs polished? Does anyone ever clean behind the fridge? (The answer is no.) I might get 50 – 60%, but I doubt it would be more. Barely a pass rate. But if there's an outbreak of bubonic plague in the Western Cape, I don't think it would start in my home.

I am still constantly amazed by how quickly a home can get dusty and grimy – even when there's no-one there. Dishes procreate, dirty washing multiplies, and clutter increases in volume. They just wait for you to turn your back. Heaven knows how people coped in the days before grease-cutting detergents. Either they scrubbed for hours, paid someone to do it, or simply lived in filth. I put my money on the last one. Sometimes the immune system needs a real challenge.

I seldom give domestic matters much thought, but if I were told I could keep only one appliance, I knew which one would win hands down: the washing machine. It would beat the stove, the TV, the fridge and the tumble dryer. Maybe we should start a new reality show called Survivor: the appliances.

This is getting depressing as I am making lists in my head of things I need to do when I get home. Take down the washing, pack away the washed dishes, take out the trash. It never ends. Maybe I will just leave it all and settle down with a glass of wine and hope no-one pops in for an unscheduled visit.

I will let you into a secret: it cost me R25 000 to have an electric gate and fence installed in front of my house several years ago. It was worth every penny, but it wasn't for security purposes only. The bell is hidden very well, so unexpected visitors are simply ignored. This is why my friends think my house is tidy.

I have a huge amount of sympathy for the state health facilities. If you're struggling to keep things shiny in your own home, imagine taking on the grime of a massive institution with a mop and a duster- and that at minimum wage.

The last word belongs to Erma Bombeck: 'My second favorite household chore is ironing.  My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint."

(Susan Erasmus,, September 2012)









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