How to Keep a Clean House like a Southern Mama

If your mother dutifully scrubs what you blithely Swiffer, read on.

This is a cry for help. You'd think somebody who grew up with Suzy Homemaker could handle a broom, but the housekeeping gene appears to have skipped me. Please tell me I am not alone—that I am, in fact, part of some great Southern sisterhood.

You can't blame Mama. Heaven knows she tried. As a child, I had a toy kitchen sink with plastic dishes to wash; I had toy mops, brooms, and even a vacuum cleaner and washing machine. For a while, it took. I kept my room spotless when I lived at home. But once I went away to college, far from my mother's tutelage and well-curated collection of cleaning products, I went astray. And I've never quite found my way back into the freshly mopped fold. Are you guilty? Here's how you can tell:

Vintage photo of child helping mother clean dishes
Lambert/Getty Images

Dusting Mama's Way and Your Way

Mama's Way: Remove all bric-a-brac from surfaces. Spray generously with Lemon Pledge and wipe with a clean, soft, cotton cloth until wood is buffed to a shine. (For antiques, Old English Furniture Polish is recommended.) Spray more Pledge on your dusting cloth. Individually dust each framed picture, figurine, etc., and return it to its place. Do this weekly.

Your Way: Swiffer duster. Be careful not to knock over the pictures when you dust around them. Do this whenever the dust appears deep enough to support a good stand of okra.

Ironing Mama's Way and Your Way

Mama's Way: First, make sure the surface of your iron is spotless. A scouring pad might be called for, after which you should dry the iron thoroughly and fill it with water to ensure a good head of steam. Set the proper temperature. Work slowly. Remove every wrinkle; iron crisp creases into khakis and jeans; make sure the collars on dress shirts are just so; give pleated pants that fresh-from-the-mall look.

Your Way: Hang wrinkled clothes in the bathroom. Turn on hot shower. Proceed to the living room, closing the bathroom door behind you. Watch one to four Designing Women reruns (number of episodes to be determined by degree of wrinkle). Finish a second cup of coffee. Retrieve clothes. Get dressed. Go to work.

Caring for Window Treatments

Mama's Way: It's simple, really, and you only need to do it seasonally. Remove curtains and dust hardware. This is a good opportunity to give windows a good washing. Send fine drapery to the dry cleaners; hand-wash cotton curtains (from the kitchen, bath, etc.) in Woolite. Hang outside for a fresh, sunny scent. Iron and rehang when dry.

Your Way: They've been perfectly happy up there since the summer of '96, so . . .

Mopping Mama's Way and Your Way

Mama's Way: Remove ottomans and other small furniture from the room. First, sweep thoroughly. Then take a heavy cotton mop (which you should replace regularly to avoid "strewing germs from here to kingdom come") and dip it in hot, soapy water (which you should change regularly to avoid "smearing grime from room to room.") Mop vigorously, scrubbing over stubborn dirt to remove it entirely. Move couch; mop underneath it. Don't dare set foot on that floor till it's completely dry, at which time you can evaluate the need for wax.

Your Way: It's called a Shark. Look into it.

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