Sunday, September 11, 2011

Frame of Mind

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.


Scottish Twins said...

Well, we've talked about this a lot, so I think you know where I stand. I'm one of those people that needs to have a clean house in order to feel organized and sane (but my version of clean is way different than yours, I think), however I don't have the motivation to do it. It's one of those things that is so far down on my list of things that are fun to do, that it just ends up not getting done. Then, of course I feel DISorganized and INsane because everything around me is chaos.

I threw away my chore lists when I had the baby because I told myself I was just going to enjoy the baby stage and not worry about anything else this time. That was a mistake! Lists are the only thing that will keep me on track - I thought about this a lot after we talked about it the last time and realized that clean to me is more of a feeling than anything else. My house could be covered in filth (and is usually), but as long as I have a list hanging up with a bunch of things crossed out, I feel productive and my environment feels a little more in order. I just need to feel like I'm doing something to tackle the mess and it all feels cleaner, regardless of whether or not it actually looks clean to anyone else.

Point is - I hate cleaning. And although I am nuts about outside germs (public restrooms, doctor offices, etc.) the stuff inside my house doesn't bother me. Since we don't use conventional cleaners and bleach in our house, I know it is probably a little more germy than other people's homes, but since it's OUR germs that doesn't bother me. I actually think the reason we rarely get sick in our house is because we don't use harsh cleaners and allow germs to sort of fester. lol

Swistle said...

I find I have a high tolerance for clutter and dirt, but there are certain things that make me feel unsettled or even berserk if they're not done, so I make those a priority. The carpet in the living room needs to be vacuumed or I'm not happy (the rest of the house, it doesn't bother me). A clean dishwasher needs to be unloaded. The shower curtain needs to be unmildewy. Dirty laundry has to fit into the laundry baskets in the bedrooms: if it's overflowing, I get fidgety and crabby.

Tess said...

I like the idea of certain types of cleaning as a hobby. I would say I have a very high tolerance for things not being "clean", but a very LOW tolerance for clutter. So, dirt on the floor will probably not bother me, but a pile of mail on the counter WILL.

Nik-Nak said...

Ugh. I am going through this thing right now where I am totally pissed off at hubby ALL the time because why am I the only one worrying about cleaning around here?? It wouldn't be so bad if he didn't find out his family was coming over and then want to know why our house is always so messy!
New Flash: Because you only help me when you are told and I'm tired of telling and doing all the doing so I just give up!

Cleanliness of our house is the biggest fight inducer of our marriage. Nope, it couldn't be something normal like money or child rearing. It's cleaning.

I'm glad someone I know how a semblance of normalcy in this department.

Lisa @ Trapped In North Jersey said...

I care about the appearance of tidiness. I want everything put away behind a closed door, or in a basket, or stuffed in an ottoman. I don't care about the state of things behind closed doors. Also, I hate mopping. I will sweep up on a daily basis, but I can go months (years, even) without mopping the floor.

artemisia said...

Why is this so hard? I used to be positively obsessive about cleaning. Then I moved in with A., and well. Our definitions of clutter and clean are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

For the most part we've met in the middle. But my sister and her family are coming in two weeks and I am ALREADY stressing out about the house.

Stupid. I love this post. Thanks.

Nowheymama said...

I must read that book.

So, I have your sympathy. For I am a slob who married a tidy person. Welcome to our hot button issue. :)

CAQuincy said...

I am a clutterer, but I DO get annoyed with myself and clean up my clutter--at least once a year.

I hate dusting. The dusting really only happens when we're about to have company. Or we can't see the TV screen.

I do keep my kitchen moderately clean. Once you get past the clutter of mail/recipes/school handouts on the counters, the counters themselves are actually clean. I like my kitchen floor to be clean enough so that I can walk on it barefoot--if I want to. I spend a lot of time sweeping the kitchen floors.

I like the bathrooms to have clean surfaces, but I don't usually use harsh chemicals (until I'm expecting company). I try to keep the bathroom floors barefoot friendly also.

I have done a better job since I've been unemployed keeping the house mostly presentable. But I don't go out of my way to make it sparkle!

B said...

I fall into the "hate cleaning, but also hate messy houses" category. I am fortunate enough to have someone else do the deep cleaning once every two weeks, which is enough to keep me satisfied. I clean the kitchen counters and floors almost daily. I need things to be tidy to feel sane. There are certain areas of the house where I will allow clutter, i.e, the kids' playroom, their bedrooms to some extent, and one particular kitchen counter where things like the kids' craft projects accumulate. If we spend a rainy Saturday at home and all of the toys make their way sporadically around the entire house I insist they are all brought back to the playroom. And if my husband leaves dishes in the sink and too many of his clothes on the floor I have been known to consider throwing them away/leaving his messy self. I wish everyone else in the house had a better handle on their personal clutter. That would solve a lot of my crankiness around here.