- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2007

Queen Elizabeth hit the jackpot while puttering around the palace recently.

“For most of us, a spring clean will yield nothing more valuable than the handful of loose change that slipped down the back of the sofa. But in the royal household, things are a little different. When the Queen decided to dust off an old painting for an exhibition, it was to lead to a discovery that would shake the art world. She has unearthed not just one but two Old Masters by the Baroque painter Caravaggio, so rare that Sotheby’s was unable to put a price on them,” noted a March 31 account in the Herald Sun, an Australian paper.

Some scholars estimate the art is worth about $134 million, not bad for a spring cleaning moment that may or may not have found the queen wearing a do-rag and holding a can of lemon Pledge.

Who knows? Perhaps the White House would have similar luck. Maybe Mamie Eisenhower left behind an entire collection of Fiestaware now worth a fortune on EBay. Or shoes.

Imagine the riot there would be among the retro-loving set when word got out that a secret cache of Mamie Eisenhower’s mint condition Enna Jetticks had been found at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. during a routine spring cleaning — along with a Suzy Perette velvet cocktail dress with matching gloves and pillbox hat.

Yes. Trust me. There would be a riot.

The Pentagon should definitely get a good spring cleaning. Surely they’d find a spare B-52D and a couple of snappy lamps and credenzas on the E-Ring, which would fetch a fine price at a garage sale.

The rest of us, meanwhile, are looking askance at the hall closet where dormant winter scarves have twisted themselves into a wool wad the size of a Corolla. There is hat monster in there, too. Innocent dust bunnies have expanded into dust behemoths at every turn; the rugs are genuine archaeological layers of petrified things and ancient coins. The refrigerator may have a previously undiscovered life form growing in it.

And still we stand, gazing at the dubious evidence of our domesticity — or lack of it. Sometimes, in a moment of righteous energy, we’ll rearrange a few things on the bookshelf or transport a beloved gewgaw from one room to the other. Perhaps we will heed the admonitions of Martha Stewart to de-clutter our homes and make sure that we have all the proper cleaning “tools.”

Ah, the siren call of cleaning “tools.”

It causes us to race down to Giant to buy $178 worth of lavender/bergamot-scented sprays, angled brooms, microfiber wipes and assorted poufy things that either attract or repel dust.

But then it’s cocktail time, the cat is having a crisis or something intriguing is happening directly across the street involving the local police force. We throw down the poufy thing and the lavender/citron stuff to address the distraction, while the dust behemoths loom and multiply.

Such is the nature of spring cleaning. It is as emotional and complex as, well, a cat in crisis or a police action at cocktail time. It’s a good thing law enforcement does not issue slob tickets, come to think of it.

Really, officer, I meant to get to the lint trap. And the vegetable bin. Honest, officer, I was just about to address that parsley.

We mean well, though. According to a survey of 1,014 adults from the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), 65 percent of us swear that we “engage in spring cleaning.” We hit the kitchen first, then the living room and bedrooms, followed by bathrooms and the family room, the survey found. Another 23 percent say cleaning the kitchen is the “most rewarding.” Washing clothes is second, followed by a cleanup of garage or basement, the baths, floors, windows and, in last place, dishes.

Ah, but the cleaning mind-set is fraught with secrets. The survey also revealed that 38 percent of us have been embarrassed by a dirty house when guests come to call. But a whopping 72 percent said their neighbor’s house was dirtier than their own.

“Cleanliness is often in the eyes of the beholder,” says SDA spokesman Brian Sansoni. “We get so used to our surroundings that we don’t see the dust bunnies in the corners, streaks on the glass and stains on the walls. It seems to be much easier to spot those at the homes of our families and friends.”

And sometimes we think we can’t be clean enough. Yet another survey — this from Proctor & Gamble — found that 68 percent of us feared we didn’t have enough time to clean our homes to white-glove perfection. Such sentiment is not confined to the hoi polloi, either.

Actress Jennifer Aniston has publicly proclaimed her trust in therapeutic kitchen cleaning; singer Britney Spears so loves to clean that she admits it verges on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Actress-singer Ashley Judd is also an inveterate house cleaner.

“It’s not about germs,” she said recently. “It’s about control.”

Here at the Wash ‘n’ Wear Desk, we concur. Hey, a little Pledge, a little Ajax, a waltz with the vacuum cleaner, and who knows? There may be a Caravaggio in the hall closet.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and hat monsters for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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