My Mom’s Biggest Cleaning Pet Peeve Is Now One of My Top House Rules

published May 1, 2024
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I’ve carried so many of my mom’s lessons in taking care of a home into adulthood. My household is full of routines, habits, and ways of doing things that I learned as a child, including a nightly scouring of the kitchen sink with a powdered cleanser and putting a damp paper towel over the emptied contents of the vacuum cleaner. 

Most of the tasks my mom taught me were learned through observation or simple instruction. But there’s one habit that my mom insisted on, with a kind of an out-of-proportion (or so I thought as I child) vehemence. I can say that because as a mom with my own home to run, I totally get it now. My mom’s pet peeve was a dirty dining table, and she insisted that it had to be always wiped down and cleaned. And these days, I confess to getting nearly apoplectic when our own isn’t clean. (I’m working on it.) 

Keeping the dining table clean at all times has to do with so much more than maintaining a clean surface. Our dining table then, like our kitchen dining table now, is the scene for so much more than just eating. It’s the setting for chatting over tea with visitors, doing homework, filling out school forms, and even working. And this all doesn’t even touch on the myriad of items that get set down on the kitchen table, such as mail, items that need to get put away, the sweatshirt someone just took off, the pitcher of lemonade, etc. 

If the dining table isn’t clean, anything that gets set down on it has the potential of getting dirty, which doesn’t necessarily seem like a big deal until you consider the specifics: grease stains on clothing or homework, sticky mail that then gets your desk messy, or your guests setting their arms down on crumbs while you’re talking. All annoying and, most importantly, unnecessary. 

Even if you don’t notice this right away, the crumbs, spills, and sticky spots also transfer from the table to other areas, such as when condiment bottles get dirty on the bottom and then that dirt transfers to the fridge, pantry, or cupboard. In this way, keeping the table clean helps keep other areas cleaner for longer.

So once mealtime is over or as soon as anything is done at the table, it immediately gets wiped. The habit is in my bones (and I’m trying to tease it out of my children’s genes too!). I also practice this with the kitchen counters because the same principles apply. Anything that gets set down on a dirty counter makes other areas dirty. Wiped-down kitchen surfaces make me calmer in the kitchen — like I don’t have to be as on-guard. And in a room that sees so much activity, any small measure of peace I can achieve is worth the effort. 

This tip of keeping the dining table perpetually clean is so characteristic of the advice my mom has always given when it comes to cleaning and taking care of the home; it embodies an attitude of taking care of things in the moment. Making sure the dining table is clean isn’t only a matter of having one clean and clear spot amid any other chaos that’s going on; it’s a matter of efficiency and order. An unwiped table might have been my mom’s pet peeve, but — for very good reason — it has also become mine.