On Your Mark, Get Set - Clean! Jeff Campbell's method is fast and thorough - but get ready for a workout. HOUSEWORK IN A HURRY
FOR a man who founded the Clean Team, a service that regularly scours 500 San Francisco single-family homes in 41 minutes each, Jeff Campbell uses the word ``fun'' a lot. In his book ``Speed Cleaning'' (Dell Publishing, New York, $5.95), Mr. Campbell shares the secrets of the trade. He tells you how to cut your cleaning time in half by working in teams and not wasting a motion. He tells you in no uncertain terms:
``No arguments. No discussions. No compromises,'' he writes, before he even gets to the instructions. But follow them, and in about 12 minutes, the grout on the bathroom tile is white again, that awful daisy sticker is gone from the mirror, the toilet gleams, and you feel as if you'd just had an aerobics class.
Campbell came to Boston to promote the sequel, ``Spring Cleaning,'' and this interviewer was surprised when a tall, relaxed, positively sunny Californian stepped off the elevator. He wasn't wearing a whistle around his neck, nor did he check for dust gathering around the light cords as he ambled through the newsroom. He did hang up his raincoat, but admitted right off that no one remarks on how clean his house is, and that his personal cleaning goal is ``to have two minutes with no dog hairs - that's about as long as you get.''
He started a cleaning service only because his job in marketing at Pacific Bell didn't suit him. It was 1979. There was a recession on, housewives were returning to work, and someone was going to have to clean their homes. Campbell saw an opportunity, but ``I only wanted to do it in teams, because it sounded like the only way it would be fun at all,'' he recalls.
THINGS really picked up when he discovered the apron. The idea ``comes to a man faster than a woman, even though you associate an apron with a woman. But the way we use it, it's more like a carpenter's apron. You wouldn't even hire a carpenter who had to come down the ladder every time he needed a nail.'' Yet that was the way he, his mother - everyone, probably - had always done housework.
``You have one thing in your hand, and anytime you need anything else, it's a trip somewhere.'' Wearing everything they needed around their waists, Clean Teamsters ``did'' a room from picture rails to baseboards by walking around it once.
But the fun - and efficiency - really began when he made them partners in the business. ``There's 35 of us. We split profits. We're like a little law firm; we have meetings. That's also what allowed me to get speed cleaning information.''
The partners, artists and writers in need of cash, people on leave from other jobs, and some who just liked housework, ``all interested because we all loved it,'' had a common desire to bring cleaning time down and profits up. They would debate the best way to clean shower doors. Three different teams would try three different ways, time them, and compare results.
``So we'd find out which way was the best, and we all switched to that and moved on to a different subject.''
He wrote down this body of knowledge as a manual for new partners. In 1985, it was published as ``Speed Cleaning.'' Campbell received more than 10,000 fan letters.
``If there was a common thread'' in the letters, he says, ``it was hope. And hope for different reasons, whether it's clutter, or whether it's home, whether it's marriage, whether it's children, or whether it's dogs.'' The basic problem he'd solved for them was that they had never learned to clean.
``Mothers say to their children, `Go clean your room.' That's it. I mean, that's the sum total of everything that was passed on from that generation to this generation.'' Besides, ``grandmothers didn't work 40 hours a week,'' he points out.
``What little we did get handed down to us we're still doing, but we have a giant chunk of time that's missing. We're trying to take what was full time and do it on Saturday morning and it's not possible. What we have to do is change the way we do it.''
His system is plotted expressly for Saturday morning. He maps out a schedule for a model team of three: ``Duster,'' ``Kitchen Person,'' and ``Bathroom Person,'' who dash through their chores in 45 minutes and finish with, respectively, ``movies,'' ``nap,'' and ``beach.''
Not all teams are in one family. He's heard about three ``yuppie housewives'' in Memphis who formed a squad.
``It's this fun time when they get together and exchange houses. They clean each house. It's very successful.'' One team member moved to Boston; four people volunteered to join the team. ``So now they've got two [teams],'' Campbell says. ``I like that. I think it's a fun idea.''
That's Jeff Campbell. One suspects that what he relishes in the schedule is not movies, nap, and beach, but the 45-minute workout. Why would someone who just wanted to get it over with tell you how to get the brown stuff off the toaster-oven window, or advise you to dust the light bulbs?
Not that he ever lets nitpicking throw him off his pace:
``The spice rack may get moved to dust behind it, but that's all,'' he commands in the chapter on kitchens.
``Dealing with those individual containers is not light housecleaning, so just hit at the spice containers with your feather duster and save cleaning each bottle until some night you feel like doing it in front of TV. Besides, the easiest way to clean out a spice rack is to throw out all the old spices.''
``Spring Cleaning'' is about the yearly jobs the Clean Team is rarely called upon to do, so Campbell talked to experts like Miguel Cosio, who actually did learn from his mother. As an eight-year-old, he helped her in her work cleaning houses. Now he's manager of the custodial staff of the City and County of San Francisco.
Campbell distills the nitty-gritty of window washing: Use a squeegee; newspapers and water will drive you crazy. And Cascade dishwasher detergent is the closest thing to the formula that the professionals use. Then he tells how to do a whole window with one fluid-wristed squeegee stroke, like the pros, in case ``you are jealous. Or you just want to torment the neighbors by showing off.''
Or, like Campbell, you think cleaning is fun.
``Everything is so convoluted,'' he says. ``With cleaning, it's a very simple, straightforward thing: It's dirty; I'm cleaning it; now it looks better. You're not going to gloat over it all day long, but it's a nice feeling.''