I have a confession to make. This confession will surprise anyone who has seen my house, which looks like a weather system has just blown through my living room and the Red Cross has not yet arrived to relieve the disaster. (Not for nothing, but the weather system – a triple threat involving stuff-tossing wind, furniture shifting earthquakes, and water/soda/juice downpours – has the non-coincidental name of the other people who happen to live in my house.)
My confession is this: I like to clean. I do. There is something very therapeutic and powerful about creating order out of chaos. Think about it. Nature doesn’t particularly care for order and right angles. (Don’t talk to me about the rhythmic beauty of fractals and crystals, and how soap bubbles always join at 120 degree angles – as these patterns of nature do not support my analogy, I am conveniently ignoring them.) Rivers don’t flow in straight lines. Wild blackberries don’t grow in neat hedgerows. My hair, which is naturally very straight, so you’d think it would just hang straight down in a boring way, doesn’t even obey the laws of gravity. Right now, for example, only an hour out of bed on a lazy Saturday morning, I am sporting a ‘do that is best compared to the Heat -Miser’s.
I feel like a pioneer when I tackle a big cleaning project. Like I’m going into unchartered territory with the goal of civilizing a plot of unused land for crops.
In my house, these expeditions can also be archaeological. For example, yesterday I uncovered a notebook that my kids used for scribbling and doodling some years ago. Apparently after discovering “Harriet the Spy” in approximately 2009, my son decided to spy on us and take notes. Dad was “huming and washing dishes loudly.” My husband then came over to me and said, “want some fried cheese.” My son’s opinion was that “fried cheese” “might be cod name.” [Sic.] If we kept things neat and organized, I wouldn’t have the pleasure of finding these little treasures.
The biggest problem with cleaning, however, is that you start to realize the filth you have been living in. I guess I get accustomed to the level of basic grunge and it just starts to look normal to me. Then I clean the bathroom. And suddenly, the sparkly clean countertop and bathtub makes the grout look dull. So I wipe it with a washcloth and realize from the residue that the texture of the tiles has allowed dust to collect on top of the swells. There goes another twenty minutes of my life. More, if I need to get a Q-tip to get the dust out of the uneven places in the caulking. Then the newly uncovered white grout between the tiles on the wall highlights the dull grey of the grout between the floor tiles. So there I end up, on hands and knees in the bathroom with an old toothbrush, wedging my head behind cabinets and bending my arm in unnatural angles so that there is no clear line of demarcation anywhere between where I have cleaned and where I just got tired of trying to reach.
I can only do these things when I am in the house by myself, which isn’t often, and probably explains why it gets to the level of bad that it does before I do something about it. I recognize how ridiculous these things are and how obsessed I become. I am conscious of my over-sized posterior sticking up in the air as I reach behind the commode to clean out the crack between the porcelain and the floor. No one needs to see me like this. Plus, I like to do this while listening to my ‘blocker outers,’ which is what I call my MP3 player, because the ear buds block out everything outside my head and allow me to reside entirely in my brain. When I am listening to music like this, deep inside my own head and unaware of any sentient beings not living in my skull, I have a tendency to sing along, loudly, whether or not I know the words. There is not a person in the world whose life is improved by hearing me sing.
Eventually, I finish. I am usually bone tired and a little bit sweaty, and maybe lightheaded from being in close quarters with cleaning fluids without proper ventilation. But it smells clean and looks shiny. There is order and harmony in a little corner of the world, and I made it happen.
There are so few things in this world I can control or even adjust to my liking. It is such a powerful feeling when I can. The feeling doesn’t last – eventually – usually shortly -- someone else comes home and splashes water on the mirror or gets toothpaste on the sink and/or leaves a wet towel or dirty laundry on the floor. But for a moment there, the world bends to my will, and I like it that way.
Lori B. Duff is the author of the Amazon ‘Hot New Release’ Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza, a collection of autobiographical humor essays. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/loribduffauthor