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August 3, 2007

How Clean Is YOUR House?

Drew has gotten me completely hooked on this television show called "How Clean Is Your House?" It comes on the BBC America channel and I have it set on the Tivo so I get three whole episodes a day and I am addicted now. ADDICTED.

If you have never seen the show, I will give you a brief description: There are two lovely proper English ladies who go to messy houses in the UK. These are REALLY messy homes, usually stocked with clutter and unkempt for years on end. The folks who live in these house often embody the exact pictures of my Fear Life, the life with all the clutter and detritus. (Also in the show the hostesses use the word "detritus" and I think I am kind of in love with the way the British speak. They could say "this is a poop sandwich" and it would still sound very posh.)

The hostesses, Kim and Aggie, gross out over the dirt and grime, run lab tests to see what sort of deathly bacteria are on the countertops and sinks and then with the aid of a whole team of cleaners they get the place in super-clean and tidy shape. The transformations are miraculous. It's not a makeover show with all new furniture and decor -- it's just the cleanest, most uncluttered picture of the house using its current conditions. Then in a follow-up piece (which you see at the end of each episode) Kim and Aggie return to the home in two weeks' time to see if the offending parties have kept the household clean.

If you are squeamish, DO NOT watch this show while attempting to eat dinner. Nosiree, Bob. These are dirty, grimy houses.

Drew had been telling me about this show for weeks on end when I finally decided to watch an episode just so he'd stop mentioning it. Sometime in mid-July I set the Tivo (FINE DREW I WILL WATCH YOUR SHOW OK) and it recorded three half-hour episodes. The next night I went home and watched it. I'm a good best friend.

Midway through the second episode, I had to pause the Tivo and go scour and clean my sink. I am not lying to you. I HAD TO SCOUR MY SINK IMMEDIATELY. (And I do not think I need to tell you I am not under normal circumstances a person who comes home after ten hours at work and just gets her relaxation on with a scrub brush. Unless by "scrub brush" you mean "wine glass.")

Anyway, now I am completely addicted to this show and it has truly been a lifesaver. In the same way that looking at books of beautiful, decorated houses inspires me to have a beautiful house, watching this show inspires me to clean. It also put the fear of God in you, appealing to my germaphobia and needing to REALLY get that sink clean. And in a quirky twist of fate, I have always found that maniacal cleaning is an excellent distraction technique. When I started watching this show two weeks ago, I was shocked and kind of enthralled and also somewhat spiritually comatose. Cleaning felt like action, and action felt better than being morose.

I think that cleaning can be a form of active meditation. Now, don't get me wrong ... there is nothing at all stress-relieving about cleaning up a messy, cluttered house for unexpected guests when you have been on deadline for a bazillion weeks while working long hours at the Real Job and commuting and being crazy and so on. At those times you want to hide under the covers and make sweet love to a gin and tonic.

But when you have a Sunday morning to yourself, and it's not hot yet outside and the windows are open and the breeze is nice and you have on some music or maybe a book-on-CD or maybe just silence, and it's just you and a single cleaning project ... well, that's when the act of cleaning becomes more than a to-do list item. It's accomplishment and activity and self-care all in one. This is the same reason I love knitting, because it can be a form of active meditation, too, and I have always loved sewing for the same peaceful freedom from my own thoughts and worries. Intense concentration on one action, one very productive action, is something I just lose myself in.

I think sometimes I forget to put "cleaning" on the list of activities that zen me out because I often associate it with duty and work. But cleaning, when it's just for the sheer joy of a pretty sink or a sparkling fridge or a single shiny pane of window glass, can be happiness and meditation all in one. (This works particularly well for those of who who find sitting still and meditating a near impossible task.)

The best part about "How Clean Is Your House" is that they give you all sorts of hints on how to use natural things around the house as cleaners. Hostesses Kim and Aggie use a LOT of lemon juice and vinegar and plain old table salt and baking soda. (They are so adorably British and kept saying "bicarbonate of soda" and crackerass me was wondering what the heck bicarbonate of soda was... was it coca cola? Was it something only British folks had? Then I had a DUH moment. It is baking soda.)

Anyway, I had no idea you could clean the copper bottom of a pot with a lemon and some salt! Or remove rust with a potato and some salt. I also didn't know about running vinegar through the coffee pot -- how did I not know about that? -- to clean it and disinfect it naturally.

Mainly I love this show because it reminds me on a daily basis how I want to live and how I definitely do not want to live. One of the side effects of bringing the clutter level way down is that you can simultaneously bring the tidy level way up. It's hard to keep a clean house when half of the surfaces are under an avalanche of stuff. Decluttering and cleaning go neatly (!) hand in hand.

And living in a clean space isn't just beneficial for your physical health. For me it's a huge mental shift. Living in a clean house is a little gift every day to me and the furballs. My environment always seems to reflect my mental state (when I first went through my divorce, Shannon came over one night and saw the complete disarray and said, "Yes. This is the house of a terrible divorce." No judgment, just the truth. We laughed. Then I probably cried, and we drank wine. Ya'll understand.)

But a few weeks ago I began to wonder, what if I want to change the inside of me by changing my environment? Is that possible? Instead of being a reflection, can it be a catalyst? Then Drew got me hooked on this show. And now it's August and cleaning has already commenced! My goal is to deep clean every room of this house during the month. I work long hours during the week so my deep-cleans can reasonably only happen on the weekends. There are four weekends in August and I have five rooms: kitchen, living room, bathroom, two bedrooms. So I started the kitchen already... kind of a little jump start.

And of course, there may be a last-minute flurry of decluttering. Again. I sigh thinking about it. But I know it's easier to clean a simple, uncluttered house and it's way easier to keep it clean. The goal now is to have just what I need and what I can reasonably manage. August may be the month of moving in, but life is too short to spend ALL of my hours and days and months cleaning and managing clutter!

Somewhere in the middle of 2006 I got the house clean and passably decluttered and then I kind of got stuck. I kept up the maintenance, vacuuming, always keeping the litter box tidy, washing up on the weekends, but I didn't deep clean anything. This house had needed a really thorough deep clean for a few months before Drew got me hooked on "How Clean is Your House?" but it was during that very first episode that it clicked with me. Cleaning isn't just an obligation. It's also a way to honor your life, a way to show yourself you're worth that much effort.

I'm working on that one.

Posted by laurie at August 3, 2007 9:00 AM