Off the shelf – Notes on spring-cleaning

One of the weird things about this job is that you can’t touch any of the stuff you’re working with. Nowhere is this more bizarrely evident than when we are cleaning the house. In we come, armed with our $1400 vacuum cleaner, our white gloves, our specially treated electrostatic dust cloths with no unnatural ingredients, our horsehair dusting brushes, our large pieces of unbleached muslin and our fluffy, all-cotton, washed without dyes or perfumes, dried without fabric softener sheets, white towels and diapers. Yup, the humble cloth diaper is one of the chief weapons in the preservationist’s arsenal!

springcleaningSo we bring all this into the house and lug it up those oh-so-narrow stairs with that railing that is specially designed to catch and hold vacuum-cleaner hoses, and we put everything down. The only trouble is, there isn’t any place to put it down. Except the floor or the windowsills. Can’t put your dusting brush on the dresser, can’t lay your vacuum attachments on the trunk, can’t sit on any of the chairs when you get tired. Ever tried putting together a vacuum cleaner while wearing gloves? Ever tried vacuuming in a house that has exactly two outlets? Ever tried vacuuming in a house where you can’t touch the furniture with any part of the vacuum or with your bare hands? Where you have to vacuum with the grain of the floorboards instead of across? Where, to get behind or under a large piece of furniture, you have to have two people wearing gloves lift it up to move it so you don’t scar the floorboards?

Then there’s the dusting. At home, where everything is smooth and shining, you just spray your spray stuff on your rag and sweep it across that gleaming wood. In the Hez House, all the wood is older than your great great grandmother. It has chips and cracks and uneven finishes and splinters. If you run a dust cloth across it, it ends up wearing bits of the cloth. So you have to use a brush to dust it, then pick up the dust with the vacuum. Even if the wood is smooth enough to dust, you aren’t allowed to spray anything on it, hence the fancy dust cloths. And the diapers. Now, often you have to move an artifact to dust the furniture under it. You have to remember that if it has a rim, you can’t pick it up by that, and if it has a handle, you can’t pick it up by that, and if it’s made of glass or ceramic you can’t use gloves, and if it’s not glass or ceramic you do have to use gloves – by the time you remember what you are and are not allowed to do, seven more layers of dust have been deposited.

I think the hardest thing to remember is not to put anything on the beds. The majority of the coverlets and many of the sheets are historic textiles, so the nasty sharp things you took off the table in the boys’ room can’t be put there unless you remember to put a thick pad of muslin over the bed. The other thing I have trouble with is remembering not to lean on the furniture. It’s so automatic to put your arm on the dresser for support when you’re trying to find the outlet behind it, or to lean against a bed so you can reach the far side of it to tidy up the linens. Well, let me tell you, if you lean on some of those beds, they’ll just keep on leaning over until you and bed are on the floor! So, as you watch your maid whisking about your house making tidy all your little indiscretions, have pity on your poor collections staff, cleaning up after hundreds of children not their own while trying to figure out how not to lay hands on the very things they must clean….

Well, got a little update work to do on the database. TTFN



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