In fact, when people with tidy houses invited me in and apologized for the "mess" i couldn't help but think that in a way they were rubbing it in. What they considered a mess was fixable with a few runs around the room, picking up here and there. I couldn't believe they actually believed it was a mess, and therefore they were, subtly and probably even unknowingly, pointing out the difference between their house and mine.
It is therefore interesting and possibly understandable that now I look almost obsessively at the details. The first house cleaner I had used to sit on the floor and clean baseboards with her little spray bottle and cloth. If there was anything that distinguished her it was this baseboard focus. So when I took on a new cleaner I expected to see those baseboards clean again. And they weren't. I would be sitting in a chair and my vision would wander to the wall and I would see smudges and dirt creeping into cracks and I would wonder why the baseboards were not clean.
I even went so far as to take on the moldings and baseboards in my small guest bath one day, because I saw those, noticed those, perhaps more than others. And somehow those dirty baseboards symbolized everything. Creeping chaos, even.
Yesterday my current once-a-month cleaner came. We have an arrangement that she will do a once-over of everything, dusting and mopping and vacuuming, then she will single out one thing to deep-clean. This way I figure the house will not need twice-a-year deep cleaning, that it will stay even. Yesterday she found the baseboards. I saw her spraying and rubbing out little marks on the walls near the baseboards as well, and asked if she were finding the remaining Bullet sprays. Yes, she was, but she also was seeing the baseboards. She told me she usually doesn't notice them but that the other day she noticed them in her own home and they were dirty and now she is paying attention to them. She got to most of the ones in my home and will get the rest next time.
My relief was perhaps out of bounds. I was so happy that she went for those baseboards.