Like the time my dad started a food fight in the middle of our kitchen. He threw a spoonful of sweet potatoes at my mom, and let’s just say things escalated from there. My mom had borrowed my sister’s favorite pink angora sweater that day, and I’m not sure if my sister’s ever forgiven either of our parents!
And then there was the time my dad and my uncle broke the pool table. We know they had some sort of disagreement, but exactly what happened in the basement that Thanksgiving remains a mystery to the rest of the family. (And we all figure that’s probably for the best.)
That’s the strange thing about the holidays. No matter how much your family loves each other, any underlying conflict you manage to suppress during the rest of the year is bound to surface when you spend a whole day (or days) together.
It doesn’t help that the holidays put a unique kind of pressure on just about every member of the family, especially the host. Between preparing an elaborate meal, making sure the house is spotless, scheduling family activities, and making sure everyone arrives on time and conducts themselves appropriately, the holidays can be more work than fun.
As a result of all that planning, holiday meals tend to be some of the most formal family gatherings, and this was especially true when I was younger. Not only are adults and children alike expected to be on their best behavior, but the meal itself has be spectacular. That means that if the turkey is dry or the pumpkin pie is burned, whoever is responsible might face disappointment and even judgment from his or her entire family.
To an extent, I understand why we put this kind of pressure on ourselves. Everyone wants their family holiday gatherings to be special, so we continue to idealize the holidays no matter how many food fights or broken pool table incidents occur.
At the same time, aren’t those crazy stories precisely what make the holidays memorable? Take those sweet potatoes my dad threw at my mom, for instance. I have no recollection of how they tasted, whether they were cooked perfectly, or even who prepared them. What I remember is the hilariously stunned look on my mom’s face when my dad threw them at her—and the joy my family felt to see a formal holiday dinner interrupted by something so unexpected and fun.
That’s why I think the perfect family holiday dinner is overrated. Because when it comes to family, we don’t always remember the things that went well—but the imperfections can be unforgettable.
I admit it. When it comes to hotel rooms, I’m a germaphobe. Like a won’t-touch-the-comforter, wear-shoes-at-all-times, sleep-in-a-silk-sack kind of germaphobe. That’s right, I said a silk sack. It’s a thing.
I’m not so unusual—everyone has their own idea of a travel nightmare. For some, maybe it’s long lines at the airport, accidentally taking someone else’s suitcase at baggage claim, or a hotel losing their reservation.
But for me? The thing I dread most while on the road is a hotel room that isn’t totally clean.
Let me explain. I don’t necessarily mean an obviously filthy hotel room. For me, the real horror lies in a room that seems clean until you look just a little closer. That’s when you may notice a mystery stain on the bedspread or maybe some unwanted hair in the bathroom (and I mean hair of a particularly disturbing variety).
Because that’s the thing about dirt and germs: no mess you or your family could make will ever be as disgusting as a mess left by a stranger.
And as it turns out, I’m not the only one who thinks so. While it may seem fitting for the president of a cleaning company to have an obsession with perfectly clean hotel rooms, a recent survey conducted by CLR® revealed that finding a clean place to stay is a priority for the vast majority of vacationers. In fact, 86 percent of survey respondents list cleanliness as one of the top criteria they look for when reading online hotel or vacation rental reviews.
And it’s no wonder. Whether I’m on vacation or traveling on business, I find it impossible to feel at home if I don’t have confidence in the cleanliness of my surroundings.
For example, once I arrived at an upscale hotel only to discover that the bed sheets had a “crunchy” texture, and let’s just say I found that deeply unsettling on many levels. Since it was too late at night for housekeeping to change the sheets, I had no choice but to sleep fully clothed—in jeans and a long-sleeve shirt—during the summer in Florida. And needless to say, it’s a little tough to get a good night’s sleep when you’re struggling not to touch—or think about—what’s on your sheets.
It’s because of these experiences that I can relate to the 54 percent of survey respondents who said they’d be willing to pay an extra fee to make sure a vacation rental is clean when they arrive. Personally, I would be thrilled if every hotel I stayed in offered me the option to pay for an extra-thorough cleaning. Because let’s be honest: can you really put a price on knowing you don’t have to worry about encountering a previous occupant’s germs, hair, or bodily fluids while you’re trying to enjoy your vacation?
That must be why many travelers are taking matters into their own hands, with 31 percent reporting that they clean their own hotel room or vacation rental property upon arrival. To me that’s taking it a bit far, given that I can’t stand cleaning and can barely bring myself to clean my own home. But I definitely get it. Spending just a little time cleaning when you arrive at your hotel enables you to feel comfortable and calm for the rest of your trip. And that’s exactly what vacations—and cleaning—are all about.
And some of them REALLY love Jelmar products.
Maybe they’re inspired—really, really inspired—by our famous late-night TV ads that demonstrate the wide range of uses for CLR®. These are the customers who take it upon themselves to come up with inventive ways to use our products, as if our ads were intended to be some sort of personal challenge.
For example, we were once contacted by a customer who said he regularly takes a big gulp of CLR® and gargles it. He even suggested that we should start making a denture cleaner. I mean, CLR® is versatile, but I definitely don’t condone using any household cleaning product as a mouthwash.
Then there was the customer who told us he took a bath in a tub that was recently cleaned with CLR® but not rinsed. After his bath, this gentleman was thrilled to discover that our product had cured his toenail fungus. Technically it makes sense because of the lactic acid in CLR®, but let’s be clear that Jelmar does not endorse using our products in place of a doctor’s prescription!
Of course, the feedback we most like to hear comes from everyday people whose regular chores become a little easier thanks to our products.
For example, there was the customer who told us that CLR® Stainless Steel Cleaner is the only brand she’s tried that doesn’t leave streaks on her appliances. And the one who told us she was about to replace her stained bathtub tile, but then she cleaned it with CLR® and it was good as new. Stories like these sum up everything that’s great about running a cleaning company.
People who love our products often ask where we get our inspiration. Denture guy and toenail guy notwithstanding, we do look to our customers when developing new products. In fact, their feedback and ideas play an integral role in every new product we develop—whether they’re looking for a cleaner they can use on their entire outdoor space without harming plants or something that really works on the oil on their garage floor.
And I think that’s why CLR® has such an intensely loyal following. It’s formulated to get rid of any buildup caused by contact with water—but because it doesn’t contain harmful acids, it won’t damage surfaces. CLR® does so much that it appeals to just about anyone, no matter where they live or what their cleaning needs are.
In other words, we have such avid fans because our products just work—everywhere you need them to (including toenails, apparently).
It will be forever stored in my memory as the distinctive scent of the cleaning product my family’s housekeeper used to polish the wood paneling in our home (it was the ’70s, after all).
I always begged him to let me help with the cleaning—which I know seems a bit laughable given my notorious hatred of this chore today. But at the time, cleaning seemed like play, as so many things do to small children. Unfortunately, because I still habitually sucked my thumb, our housekeeper never let me help for fear that I’d ingest some of the cleaning product.
My disappointment at being prohibited from cleaning was so pronounced that I remember it to this day. Children learn by imitating adults, and, like driving a car or cooking, cleaning seemed like a grownup task that would bestow maturity and purpose on a little girl.
And yet, there was something special about cleaning—a singular power that elevated its importance above those other activities. Even as a child, I could see that cleaning is one way we care for our families, helping to ensure their health and safety. And cleaning is how we prepare our homes for guests, setting the scene for great life experiences.
But cleaning isn’t only something people do for others. The act of cleaning can be personally healing. A quick Internet search of terms like “emotional cleaning” reveals the extent to which pop psychology and new age spirituality have embraced cleaning as a metaphor for emotional growth. Regardless of whether we buy into either of those cultural trends, we all can relate to the idea of calming internal distress by imposing order on our external surroundings.
Even our popular idioms speak to the idea of cleaning as a healing process. To “air one’s dirty laundry” is to make known the darkest aspects of one’s past and inner life. And, of course, to acknowledge these difficult emotions is to take the first step toward becoming a healthier and more balanced person.
No wonder, then, that cleaning appealed to me as a child. As adults, we often forget how emotionally turbulent childhood can be. Even the happiest childhood is often simultaneously fraught with a variety of anxieties and fears. My desire to help clean my family’s home was certainly an expression of love for the people who loved me. But surely it was also an effort to gain control over a chaotic world—an opportunity that children rarely have.
Today, my young daughter and son love cleaning. My daughter is particularly fond of organizing her closet, and my son enjoys helping me wash the dishes. May these tasks bring them growth and fulfillment.
I’ve been fired from Jelmar.
Actually, as long as I’m being honest, I’ve been fired from Jelmar several times. But don’t worry—my dad has always rehired me. It’s just that after having led the company for many years, my dad developed a particular set of ideas about how the business should be run. As my role in the business grew and I increasingly asserted my opinions, we often had disagreements (which, admittedly, sometimes ended in screaming matches, throwing office supplies at each other, and, yes, the occasional firing.)
Don’t get me wrong, my dad was pleased that I was interested in taking over the family business. But that still didn’t make the transition easy, and we weren’t alone in that struggle. In fact, a recent article in Forbes points out that while the vast majority of family business owners express a strong interest in transferring control of the company to a family member, generational succession remains one of the most daunting challenges faced by family businesses. I know from my experiences with my father that this couldn’t be more true.
For example, I’ve found that deeply ingrained patterns of family interaction can be hard to integrate into a professional business setting. The relationship between an employer and employee becomes infinitely more complex when your employer is someone who’s read you bedtime stories, helped you with your homework, and disapproved of all your high school boyfriends. Case in point: when I first began working at Jelmar in my mid-20s, my father and his business partner (a close family friend) would send me faxes addressed to “the little pixie”—a nickname from my childhood that no adult woman should be subjected to in her workplace!
But just because my father sometimes had trouble seeing me as his equal, it didn’t make working for him any easier. In fact, I often felt that I had to work twice as hard as employees who weren’t family members. My dad wanted me to fight him for his job—to prove I really deserved it. In retrospect, I think he feared that acknowledging I’d grown into an independent, capable adult might somehow undermine his role as my father and protector. Of course that will never be the case.
Despite the challenges of working with my father, I don’t mean to suggest that family isn’t profoundly important to Jelmar. On the contrary, family relationships are woven into the fabric of our business. Our close connections with one another beget a special kind of trust that enables us to accomplish a great deal with a small staff. There’s nothing like having personal ties to your company and colleagues to inspire you to work that much harder.
That’s why the key to running a family business isn’t to ignore or overcome the complexities of working with family—but to learn how to use them to make your business relationships stronger, richer, and more productive.
- Why an imperfect holiday dinner can be totally perfect
- Why a clean hotel room is even more important than you think
- Why customers love Jelmar … and why we love those customers
- The unexpected emotional benefits of cleaning
- Why working with family is the worst … and the best
- The Question that Says a Lot About Gender Bias in Business
- Teaching Your Children How to Be Successful
- On International Women’s Day and Empowerment
- A Valentine’s Day for Everyone
- Resolving to Keep Your Resolutions
- Advice for Myself As a Young Girl
- The Importance of Giving Back