It’s not the cleaning itself you see, it’s the fact that less than a minute after it’s clean it needs cleaning again.
I realize today that my method of “housekeeping” is more a variation on the term “picking up.” I pick things up, I put them in piles or I throw them away or I stuff them in the closet. Once I labeled one of several piles “VERY IMPORTANT: ANG!!” so that I’d actually look through the pile. It didn’t help. I just ended up putting that pile in a box labeled: “VERY IMPORTANT: ANG!” I think the box might be in the garage.
I never look through the piles. I glance at them as I walk past, sometimes I’ll look past them at the shiny objects that hide behind the piles but no, I don’t look through them. Things that are REALLY important I have to staple to my forehead to have them really see any action. It’s sad. I’m not proud of it.
But that’s picking up, tidying…cleaning is different. Cleaning involves not only clearing the dishes from the table but then also wiping the table down. Cleaning means washing and drying the clothes and then putting them away too. It means not just cursing the thick layer of dust I see on the baseboards but then also curbing the thick layer of dust using a wet rag.
Each time I approach the table of the laundry or the baseboards I’m greeted with same sinking feeling, the well worn phrase echoing in my head, “why bother?”
Generally I pass this off as a kind of endearing personality quirk, my ongoing domestic goddess apathy. It’s come to my attention though that actually, underneath it all, I do like to clean. I mean clean, not just tidy, I do like cleaning. I found this out because we’ve been running this little retreat house out in the country and it’s renting quite a bit. Just about every week I’m out there to clean up after one group and get the house ready for the next group coming in. When it’s quiet and I’m there alone I can clean this 4800 square foot home in about 4 or 5 hours. It’s a constant stream of movement, I have it down to a science, I have all my tools on hand, I know where everything goes. I pay attention to every detail trying to see it through the eyes of someone coming in there for the first time. I like making it ready for them. It’s oddly comforting, this ritual of making all things clean again.
So I get back to my city house after a long day of housekeeping the other place and I realize how chaotic then my homelife has become. It’s one thing to clean up after 12 people who have rented my home for a week but it’s another to clean up after 6 people who are ALWAYS around and NEVER pick up their stuff. At least when someone rents the house in the country they take all their stuff home with them. It makes a difference.
And then I start to think about the people in Japan who have lost everything…everything and I am struck by the strange feelings that creep over me…we have too much, we care too little, we give away nothing,
And I’m lost in the sea of self incrimination even as I acclimate myself back into the chaos. It’s no surprise to me that I live in “why bother.” In that moment I enter my house and I become my own emotional tsunami, rushing in not with the sense of relief that water can and should bring but as this terrible force of nature, unleashing my fury fueled by my own lack of discipline, my own lack of patience, my own lack of reason. I walk back into my house after a day of murphy’s oil soap therapy and I’m crabby, I’m mean. I say shaming things to my family and then I am ashamed. We’re awash in shame, all of us, on some makeshift raft hoping for rescue.
Rescue comes, it really does. It when I realize that this group of castaways on the raft is my group, when I realize that I haven’t lost everything in this raging torrent, not everything. Maybe I’ve lost some time, some credibility, a little of my pride (hopefully) but there is still much to be thankful for here on this drifting bit of wreckage. It’s at that moment I can see again the value of this present place, even in the chaos, this place that teems with living. I’ll take that. I would not trade that for any amount of murphy’s oil soap.
Although, I’d still really like someone else to clean the baseboards.