So I know most of you long-time readers are aware that I'm kind of a clean freak. I'm sure you also know, without my even saying, that it is very hard to maintain a home's cleanliness levels to standards pleasing to a clean freak when three small kids spend the bulk of their time in said home. They even EAT in there, for frick's sake. (They keep rejecting my suggestions to eat outdoors for every meal. WHATEVER.) So, how does one survive the daily defeat of trying to clean up even as people make messes all around you? How does one lower their standards just enough that they do not become a resentful and miserable slave of a housewife?
I have two tips, both somewhat new found and both of which have proved enormously helpful to ME, anyways. Tip number one: read Biting the Dust and discover all about the crazy cleaning habits of yore, as well as some pretty crazy things people still do today. The book is both hilarious and informative, particularly in the chapters talking about how consumerism and ads really fanned the flames of housewives everywhere to out-clean each other (you know, back before feminism and the discovery that we could do things OTHER than clean our houses, if we wanted.) It really made me reconsider how certain standards came to be the norm, and who is really benefiting from all this cleaning fervor (hint: not housewives!) I think the main thing it changed for me is my use of the word "need" as relates to house chores.
I often say fretfully things like, "Oh I need to mop so badly!" But, what constitutes a need? Do I just mean that the floor looks dirty to me and so I WANT to mop it (or for someone, anyways, to mop it)? Do I mean that the baby is crawling around on the floor so it NEEDS to be germ free at all times? And if so, is that even possible?
Which brings up the other important issue the book addresses, namely, our modern obsession with killing the germs in our homes and whether this is necessary, harmful, or even attainable. Example: does the toilet bowl NEED to be sanitized? Is someone DRINKING the toilet water? Or is just that we don't want to look at smears or smell nasty odors? As long as we're practicing good hand washing habits and not constantly sticking our fingers in our mouths, does it really matter that much if every surface and every light switch has been Lysol-wiped religiously? Or, if we have small kids who very likely are not always practicing good hand washing and very likely ARE sticking their grubby hands into every orifice of their bodies and then all over every item in our house, is it even possible to hunt down every germ, anyways? Should we still try?
It's just a very thought provoking read, and really helped me relax about all the things I think of as "needing" to be done regularly. I came to the conclusion that each house has it's own comfort level of cleanliness/tidiness, and housekeeping is all about keeping it at that level. But it is literally impossible to have the entire house entirely clean at any one time. As soon as we're done wiping something, the dust begins to accumulate again, so... there's no point in striving for perfection, I guess is what I'm saying.
A few days after finishing the book, I had another epiphany, while happily dusting my living room late at night after the kids were in bed. (Yes, happily. I love putting on a good movie, getting out the Pledge, and really taking my time. Whatever. Don't judge.) It occurred to me that deep cleaning is basically my hobby. It's the thing I like to do when I have some free time, just to mellow out and kind of clear my head, all while feeling productive. I hate rushing around trying to cross things off lists, but I love to just kind of... zen clean, I guess is how I'd put it. Wipe hand prints off picture frames, dust bookshelves, scrub down every nook and cranny of the shower. This is deeply satisfying for me.
So, that's how I'm looking at cleaning from now on. It is my hobby, something fun and productive to do with my free time, but something that is not necessary for anyone in the house to carry on with their daily routines. Dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, picking up toys? Kind of necessary. Scrubbing the floors? Not necessary. NICE, especially to me, but not necessary, i.e. not something I should rush around trying to fit into my day, or should feel guilty about if it goes undone. It's just my hobby, no more or less virtuous than scrap booking or coin collecting. It's something I do if I have the time to sit down and enjoy doing it well, and something I just don't do if I don't have the time. Obviously, since I enjoy it, I do make the time frequently, but again, there is no inherent VIRTUE to it, or necessity.
I realize this might not work for every personality or household. Some people hate cleaning, but also hate messy houses, so they still clean just as much as I do, but grudgingly. Other people hate cleaning and don't care about mess, but the people they live with DO care, so there is an uneasy balance of who is obliged to does what and how often. This would suck, clearly, and you have my sympathy. Also, my ears. Tell me all about it. Also, tell me what things you consider to be NEEDS in the realm of house chores.