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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cleaning House: How a Hoover and some Lysol Brought Me Back to Sanity

I'm typing this post with achy arms, a sore back, and a sense of satisfaction because yesterday I cleared my calendar and took the day off from work to clean my house. I know, it sounds crazy and a bit backwards to hear a woman praising her domestic side, but I'm not writing this as a woman craving to bring back the days of "Leave it to Beaver" and the high-heeled pump posse who vacuumed the living rooms of yester-year, rather, I'm writing this as a human being who finally had it up to here with my mess. The catalyst for this wasn't a specific event, nor was it the result of a marathon viewing of "Hoarders" or "Clean House." It was, instead, a call to order the disorder that's surrounded me.

For the record, I've always liked certain aspects of the housecleaning experience. Dusting the furniture was always cool because of the shine and the lemony scent of the wood polish that was left behind. The best was walking back into the house and getting two nostrils full of Lemon Pledge - it was like all was right with the world. I took to mopping for the same reason because who doesn't dig the fresh clean scent of Lysol. Growing up, Saturdays were devoted to Mom, my sister and I cleaning the house. Out would come the bag of dust rags - mostly old t-shirts - the vacuum (in which I once caught my dead dog Tory's tail - go figure!), the brooms, dustpans, mop and bucket, trash bags, and all of the liquids and polishes needed for the tasks at hand. We would pick our desired area of dust-busting and hop to it, with the Metropolitan Opera broadcast blaring on the stereo. A few hours later, our work complete, we'd head out for some fun, and, returning home, we'd be greeted by the smell of clean.

Cleaning the house wasn't a political act when I was growing up, but it easily could have been. My maternal grandmother earned her living cleaning the houses of others, and my paternal grandmother was still cleaning office buildings well into her 70s. For these two women, cleaning for money was what they had to do for their families' survival, but there was also personal pride and peace of mind in keeping their own homes spotless.

By the time I got to college, though, a clean house was the last thing on my mind. I blithely made piles on top of piles, creating a mighty tower of shirts, skirts, and pants that was architecturally impressive but structurally unsound. When my parents visited me on campus, the state of my room was tops in all of our discussions. Fueled by the feminist thinkers who demanded an end to the rituals of cooking and cleaning that had imprisoned women, I made my mess my mission.

My rebellion continued through graduate school, and, by then, I was joined by several of my girlfriends, all of us questioning the value of Windex in our post-grad lives, but already cracks were beginning to show in my hardened stance. In an effort to reduce parent-child tensions, I'd taken to cramming my clothing piles into a bedroom closet whenever Mom and Dad visited. After they'd leave, though, I started to notice the extra square footage and I liked what I saw. Soon, I started thinking of making my temporary solution a permanent state.

Bit by bit, I made my way back to a clean house, until I got married. It seems that somehow, through some freak hiccup in the Matrix, I, a former maker of piles, had inadvertently fallen in love with a serial stacker. Backsliding was inevitable, and epic. My husband suggested getting a maid, but I resisted, and not because I like my mess, and not because I had come to believe that it was my duty as the lady of the house to clean. No, I resisted because getting into the habit of having someone else clean up the mess that I've made is a dangerous habit. It can produce a thoughtlessness, an unconcern for the consequences of my actions.

We give children chores because it teaches them responsibility and shows them the value of contributing to group living, but as adults we shirk these duties. In the nuclear family, it's the woman who cleans while the men folk and the children make the mess. I have lots of friends who, in order to keep their sanity, happily fork over money for a cleaning lady. They figure it's better than the argument they'd have with their husbands. And maybe they're right, but it still doesn't solve the underlying problem of the mess that your mess leaves behind.

Which brings me to my clean-a-thon the other day. When I finished cleaning, I walked from room to room, inspecting my progress and I felt calm. My mind wasn't racing, I was relaxed and I cracked open a book. My physical connection with my space had resulted in peace of mind. I could smell the Lysol and the memories of my childhood, and I was home:) I'm just saying.

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