Argg! Martha Stewart’s Coming Over!

by Katy on January 13, 2012 · 31 comments

In honor of having to pull my I-worked-yesterday house together for the Japanese exchange teacher who’s moving in today, I present to you a dusted-off old gem of a blog piece. Enjoy!

Martha Stewart

really don’t like cleaning.

I don’t like tidying up, I don’t particularly like getting things organized and I especially hate doing dishes.

I’m proud of the fact that Peg Bracken, author of the classic “I Hate to Housekeep” book was a Portlander.

I respect people whose houses are always at peak condition, but I know I’ll never be that person.

When I was in college, my apartment would get pretty bad, so I would play a game called, Martha Stewart’s coming over. The idea was to pretend that the diva of domesticity would be gracing my one bedroom Albuquerque home in, say, a half an hour. This would throw me into a cleaning frenzy that would result in a decently clean apartment. Maybe not Martha Stewart clean, but definitely Wolk-Stanley clean.

I know, I’m a bit insane.

This game would work for awhile, but then I got to a point where it wasn’t so effective anymore.

Who is this Martha person? And who the heck does she think she is, being so judgmental about my housekeeping skills?

I haven’t played this game for probably 15 years, and have actually gotten a lot better about keeping the house at a level of tidyness where an unexpected visit doesn’t throw me into a white-hot panic.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

I was going about my business this afternoon, mixing up some tortillas to make the kids some late lunch when I heard the phone ring. It was my step-mother Lindy, wanting to know if it’s okay to bring her mother Mary over to see the terrific job my sister did building the brick patio and rock wall in the backyard.

“Sure. C’mon over. How soon should I expect you?”

“In two minutes, we’re at a restaurant in your neighborhood.”


Gammy Mary is as close to Martha Stewart as this house is ever going to see. Not only is she a drop-dead gorgeous octogenarian, but her housekeeping skills are the stuff of legends.

Two minutes? I’d better get my act in gear!

I was able to:

  • Clear off and wipe down the dining room table
  • Take laundry to the basement, (not into the washing machine, but close to it.)
  • Wipe down the bathroom sink
  • Wipe down the kitchen counters
  • Tidy the entryway
  • Vacuum the living room
  • Arrange the couch pillows
  • Straighten the furniture
  • Load the dishwasher
  • Send the bedraggled teenager up to his room.

And you know what? The house didn’t look half-bad. It might not have been up to Martha Stewart’s standards, but it met the highly lax Wolk-Stanley standards.

And . . . I think I just invented a new motivational game called, Gammy Mary’s coming over. I may even turn it into an infomercial and take it on the road.

What do you do to get yourself motivated to clean your house? Tell us about it in the comments section below. Extra points for sounding more insane than I am. Points deducted for phrases that include the words “enjoy” and “housework” together.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie January 13, 2012 at 9:52 am

LOL! I love this! I look at my house and ask “What would Auntie do?” I have an Auntie who keeps an impeccable home and I use her as my gold standard.

I love mind games!
Annie at


Thrifty Household January 13, 2012 at 10:18 am

If I want/need to to a quick clean but don’t feel in the mood I go for Bob’s Abba cleaning routine (taught to me by a friend called Bob). You put on an Abba track- Dancing Queen was his favourite, then you clean like crazy until the track has finished. It’s amazing how much you can get done in about 3 minutes…


Ellie January 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm

OMG, I thought it was just me!!! Abba is the BEST cleaning music, and cleaning is the SOLE reason I have Abba music! Sometimes to get motivated, I put on my one Abba cd and clean for the duration!

I didn’t learn it from your friend Bob – I picked it up in college! One of my roommates used to have an Abba tape (or maybe it was cd’s by then- no, I think it was a tape!), and for some reason, she’d always put the tape on when she was packing to go home for vacation or at the end of the year. (And, for some reason, that was the ONLY time she ever seemed to put on that tape.) Somehow, Abba became the whole gang’s “packing music”, and we’d always have it on at the end of semesters when packing. Years later, I bought an Abba cd just so that I could motivate myself to pack for something – and figured out it motivates me to clean too!

So the question – are you, Bob, my friends and me all just coincidentally totally weird, or is there some subliminal message in Abba that makes people want to jump up and pack or clean? LOL!!


Kim W January 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

About 15 minutes of an episode of “Hoarders” will get me to cleaning like a crazy woman.


Katy January 13, 2012 at 10:58 am

Love it!



Elaine in Ark January 13, 2012 at 11:10 am

O Lord, Kim, me too! Every time I leave a mess somewhere, I immediately think “This is how hoarding starts!!”, and clean it up.

Those houses scare me to death.


Frugal Down Under January 14, 2012 at 2:11 am

Same here. I watch Hoarders or other clutter bugs on You Tube and that gets me up and going. It’s the best motivation trick I have up my sleeve for myself 🙂


Lisa S January 14, 2012 at 8:32 am

Ha! I once told my husband, while he was at work, that there was a Hoarders marathon on. His response was “Is there a bonfire on my front yard?” I go into massive declutter mode every time I see it.


Dogs or Dollars January 13, 2012 at 11:25 am

Scheduling friends to come over works every time. My house is always cleanest before people show up, and after, well I usually just don’t give a poo.

On the daily, I can usually ho hum my way through a couple tasks, or try a new playlist/albumn on the iPod, or bribe myself with a promise of crap tv post cleaning frenzy.


Lisa Under the Redwoods January 14, 2012 at 5:15 am

I do this. I will often make deals with myself about how much work I need to get done to sit down and allow myself to watch a show. Sometimes, I will do 45 minutes of cleaning, make a cup of tea, and sit down and watch 15 minutes of TV. Then get up and do more cleaning, wash, rinse, repeat.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land January 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

For me, it’s my sister. She’s so persnickety, when her 5-year-old came over, she said to me, “Aunty Laura, why is your house so messy?”

I had to explain to her that the kids can play in the upstairs and don’t have to be down the basement. The kids can help cook. People can walk in with their shoes on, and while I don’t prefer it, it’s not a big deal. I think she understood the trade-off, and realized a messy house (and it’s not THAT messy) is just a badge proclaiming that fun happens here.


dustimc January 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Laura, I love that response. I often have to remind myself that my house looks like my children live there. They’re learning to help take care of it but it’s a process. And they know its a safe comfortable place to come home to. Thank you for that reminder.


Lilypad January 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I’m 27 years past high school, but I’ll never forget visiting a friend at his home for the one and only time he was allowed to have friends over: the living room and dining room were off limits to us. They looked like Ethan Allan showrooms. I remember seeing the expanse of pristine white carpet and thinking how sad it was that his mom valued that more than her only child. Flash forward to my current home—it couldn’t be more different. MY only child is welcomed everywhere. There are books and art supplies in almost every room. (We’re homeschoolers.) And that’s the way I like it.


Renee January 13, 2012 at 11:52 am

When I feel overwhelmed, I make a list of all the stuff I want (need) to do, write down how long I think each think will take and add it up. You can tell right away if there are enough hours in the day. Pick the most important, set the timer and see if you can beat it.

Funny, I know….but I really want to beat that timer! Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating how long things will take.


cathy January 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I know, in theory and sometimes in practice, that putting things away as soon as you are done with them is the way to go. Done in the bathroom? Then leave it cleaner than when you entered. Cooking? Clean as you go. Just got home? Hang up your coat and purse and sort the mail NOW not later. It really is soooo much easier! But, when that all hasn’t happened, I do Plan B and C. Plan B…I have played “Martha Stewart is Coming to Visit” for years too! Plan C…I imagine the cameras of “Hoarders” entering my house! True inspirations both of them!


Jennifer January 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm

When I was first married, I almost had a panic attack each time my in-laws were due to come over. I realized it was the conditioned response from watching my mom go into uber-cleaning mode when her in-laws came to town. The linchpin in exorcising the Martha demons from my mind was seeing a poem my Mom-in-law put up called Dust If You Must, highlighting all the things she’d rather be doing than housecleaning. Now my motto is “This house was clean yesterday, sorry you missed it.” 🙂


Barb January 14, 2012 at 6:02 am

Love it! that’s my new mantra. The house was clean yeaterday, sorry you missed it.


Indigo January 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I’m one of those people who can either do a little everyday or wait until I just can’t take it anymore and I go into a frenzy, but I get overwhelmed and just leave it if the list of things to do is somewhere in the middle.

So I have a schedule of cleaning for things like vacuuming. For other things I make rules like I can’t sit down to read after eating until I clean up from cooking, and I set up efficient habits like the wash cloth I used to dry my face I then use to wipe down the bathroom sink before I pop it into the laundry basket. It take 5 seconds, keeps it clean, and since it is habit I don’t clutter the sink with stuff I’d have to move.


Becky January 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I play “not my house.”

I pretend I have just walked into someone else’s house, whom I care about very much and who is unable to clean – they have the flu, or a new baby, or are elderly or (considering the appearance of the house) possibly deranged. I have with me a nice young person who wants to help but who doesn’t know how to clean. In my head, I show them how to quickly and ruthlesly whip the place into shape. And ta-da – I have heroically done someone a big favor, and incidentally, someone else just cleaned my house for me.


Elizabeth January 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Ha! When I was a kid and was told to clean my messy room, I invented an imaginary man named “Frank.” Frank would be coming over the hill and down the street in any second and if he showed up and my room wasn’t clean, well, there would be dire consequences. Not sure what those were, I just didn’t want to disappoint Frank! Frank is long gone and now I pretend that my cute neighbor is coming over and the place better look decent and not smell like cat 🙂


Katy January 14, 2012 at 9:53 am

That’s too funny. My sister and I had a “play room” in the basement that was pure chaos. Although in our defense there was no system to follow and or places for the toys to get put away. We would just push everything against the walls, which actually made the room look 90% better. As an adult I’ve been tempted to repeat this method.



Practical Parsimony January 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm

First of all, I thought MS at the head of the column was you, Katy! Am I that blind??? Then, I decided it was not the glasses that need changing, it really could be you. You should play her on tv. That’s right, you are channeling her in the house cleaning….okay.

Mode 1:
Kitchen–I am frantic, inelegantly loading dishes into dishwasher with clean ones, in the oven and even in the refrigerator. Wet dishcloth whirling whereever I see and me moving double time to remove any brown gunk ring around the top of the sink. If the drain is dirty, I throw a cleanish plate in there….same for the other side. Swish the top of the stove and put a slightly dirty dish on top of stain that needs soaking. Take a broom and sweep anything behind the door or put the stepstool over it.

Living room–take garbage bag and load all up and shove in hamper. Stuff things in closet that are too large to go in hamper, that includes pictures in frames that I don’t have time to dust. Run dust cloth over the most obvious surfaces. Don’t turn on a light. If it is dark out, just turn on one light where there is no dusty wood.

Drag out the vacuum and leave it like you were cleaning and change into cleaning clothes. Fold three pieces from the laundry basket like you were doing laundry. Or, put the basket in the laundry room.

Bedroom–close door.

Bathroom–remove all washcloths and handtowels, wiping with them as you go. Take one and really clean the mirror. Actually, get the ring from commode, wipe bottom of commode seat, and the rim of bowl. Call it clean.

Laundry room–since it has a door to close, just throw things in there. A pan of dishes on the washer or dryer works. Clean the last of the spaghetti off the washer later. A pillowcase of shoes flung on the dryer will fall off. I just retrieve it later. No need to shut cabinet doors because no one is going to look in this room. Of course, you cannot do laundry for 48 hours either.

Turn off the tv and be careful not to smudge the dust.

Look with eye of stranger.

Commode and sink get more time than anything else. Get the drain halfway clean in the sink. Never mind the tub: “That clawfoot tub is so old that those stains come everytime I take a bath.” Lie.

Never let anyone in kitchen if you can help it. Even if it is someone close, don’t allow them to look in the refrigerator for anything.

Get a cold wash cloth and wipe the dampness from your face and neck and try to calm down. Optional: run comb through hair or put on lip gloss. You cannot do both.

Mode 2:
I entertained once a month for 2 or 3 years. That works best. It was potluck, so my costs were about $10 each time, at least less than a cheap meal at any restaurant (not fast food) in town. This way, I worked on the yard, too. One year, we ate outdoors 8 times, 8 months in a row. However, after all that time, I discovered the small plastic bag for each month. Each bag was the last minute clean-the-horizontal-surface-since-you-don’t-want-to-file-anything effort to have an immaculate house.

Mode 3:
This only works on some type of people. Swear you are too ill for company and you will give the person some horrible disease/condition the person does not want to catch, on the way to an appointment you have had for six months, would rather meet to eat someplace because you are famished. Then, order just a bit and mumble about how your stomach feels upset so you will have just tea or pie.

Actually, I started doing this when church people came unannounced to proselytize. I would have my purse on arm, coat on, and be opening the front door as someone reached for doorbell. It scared the living daylights out of me! I thought I was being attacked. Try opening the door and screaming to make people in the town talk.

Extra credit:
If I did enjoy housework once upon a time, I got over it.


Renee January 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Hysterical!!!! I have been known to fill laundry baskets and stash them in the garage.


Practical Parsimony January 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I did not make any of this up. This is true life. Only true life can be worse…lol.


amber January 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm

After my kids go to bed at night (about 7:30) I play a cleaning game while I am waiting on my husband to come home from work. I will read a book for 10 mins, then go clean for 10 mins, then read another 10 mins, ect. This way I can usually get an hour of reading and cleaning in before my husband comes home. I know most people would just do an hour of cleaning and then read when they are done but, this seems less painful to me.


Melinda January 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm

I have to leave the house a lot for little things (taking son to school, running farm errands, etc) and I always think, “If i was in a wreck and couldn’t come back home because I was hospitalized, what would my sister (who is Martha Stewart ‘s twin) think?” It motivates a person, I tell you what! This actually happened to my dear sis-in-law. She didn’t yet have her housekeeping up to snuff (only being married a couple years) and she and my brother were in a horrible car wreck. I went over to their house to straighten things up before she came home from the hospital and it was a pigsty!!! I never said a word to her about it (because my home has seen similar days!), but after she was all recovered, her housekeeping improved tremendously 🙂


Megan January 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

My Martha is pretty much any company. I swear I invite people over just to have a reason to clean! I don’t let “her” in my bedroom or basement though 🙂 That would require major motivation- which just happens sometimes!

I’m also a fan of 10 second tidy. Taken from “The Big Comfy Couch”??? This is more like the 3 or 10 minute tidy. It usually involves blasting music and signing loudly and my 3 year old picking up his toys while I load the dishwasher, dust, vacuum, or fold laundry. I hope that no one ever walks in on this embarrassing concert!

I also find it helps when someone other than me is cleaning as well. It is SO not motivating to clean when my hubby is sitting in front of the TV.


Trish January 14, 2012 at 6:41 am

My mom always said – a clean house is the sign of a misspent life. Yeah, I am not going to spend time worrying whether my house would shock Martha Stewart.


Shelley January 14, 2012 at 7:57 am

Boy, do I feel at home here! My Dad was a spoilt only child who never had to lift a finger with Grandma following him around; Mom grew up with a maid, so never really learned housekeeping routines. I grew up in chaos and have spent all my life trying to go against that grain. Having company for dinner is the best bet. Also, having Bill’s kids come to stay. Also, having very neat friends ring to say they are dropping by – I was doing just what you did not long ago! If ever there comes a day when I don’t have a ‘junk room’ where I stash everything I don’t know where to put, then I’ll know I’ve graduated to the next level and become a saint – or that I no longer have a life. I am making progress, but I don’t expect it will ever come naturally to me. This post and the comments are hilarious!


Lisa S January 14, 2012 at 8:34 am

I used to quickly vacuum my living room and then scuff my feet around on the carpet so it didn’t look like I just vacuumed my living room. I don’t mind doing dishes, but I absolutely hate to vacuum.


She-Ra January 18, 2012 at 5:38 pm

That story reminds me of one frantic cleaning episode back in college. My grandparents called to say they were almost there (they were early!) and our room was a WRECK! My roommate and I cleaned so fast we must’ve been a blur! Thank goodness we were in the dorms and only had one room to clean. We would always laugh about that frantic cleaning session.

Now I do what I call “express dishes”. I don’t want to clean up the kitchen after dinner/before bed but know that I really should… so on those nights I decide that I am only going to do express dishes – I load what fits into the dishwasher and that’s it. No hand-washing, no countertop wiping, nothing but the bare bones. Sometimes I stop there (and figure something is better than nothing!) and other times I have tricked myself into getting started and I go ahead and finishing cleaning the kitchen properly.

Another trick is the Flylady timer… anything for 15 minutes! Same results as the express dishes. Sometimes that’s it and sometimes I keep the momentum going.


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