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April 18, 2011

In defense of We Who Clean

Since I had about six hours to find a move-in ready apartment (that was pet friendly) (and affordable) (with covered parking) (in Los Angeles) I took the lightest definition of move-in ready. This apartment was empty and the carpet had been put in but nothing had been cleaned. There was no time to clean it myself ahead of move-in day, move-in day being the next day and all, so I moved in and then cleaned.

Cleaning is therapeutic for me, and every time I mention my love of scouring or scrubbing it sends some folks into a bad place. Readers caution me that I should be on OCD medication, that I need therapy, that it's unnatural to love cleaning house, that my behavior is worrying.

I thought about this last week as I scrubbed the bathroom floor. I wanted to write about the floor, about the sensory experience of that morning, I was as close to happy as I had been in days. The bucket was filled halfway with hot water and swirled inside the bucket was a touch of Dr. Bronner's eucalyptus soap and a sprinkle of baking soda. I wore my heavy-duty rubber gloves and beneath them I wore my moisturizing gloves, giving my poor old hands a break. While Sheryl Crow sang in the background, I used a stiff-bristled brush to scrub away the detritus of the renters who lived here before me. And probably the ones before that, too. Clean tiles, clean grout, clean baseboards, clean and so good-smelling.

After scrubbing for half an hour and wiping down the tile floor with a clean towel I smiled at my handiwork and felt good. My arms were pleasantly tired and aching like they'd had a good workout. The room smelled fresh and the floor and baseboards were finally clean.

Oh yeah, can't write about this, those people already think you lost your damn mind.

But it's no wonder I love cleaning -- it's a physical activity, one that burns more calories than a midday stroll. It's repetitive in the wax on/wax off zen way, it uses different muscle groups, you sweat, you get to use interesting products and tools, and at the end you have a tangible visible result. In that way it's like knitting -- you knit for two hours and something is visibly created from your needles and yarn. You clean for two hours and get the same good feeling of a tangible creation.

Of course I get the luxury of enjoying cleaning because I don't have to do it. No one expects me to wash up or do laundry or dust. No one cares if I have vacuumed today or yesterday or two weeks ago. Not one person on the planet is looking over my shoulder, taking inventory of my homemaker skills. I'm accountable to no one, only myself.

This idea of being accountable to no other soul on earth seems to terrify many people. I mentioned it to my brother once, and I could see him become visibly discomfited.

"That's crazy, sis," he said. "You need that kind of security. I need all those people around me, my wife, my kids, my friends, my business partner, the folks from church."

And he does, and he has built a good life out of his accountability to his wife and children and work and church. He and I are just wired up differently.

Many people believe that if they are accountable to no one -- not a spouse or a roommate or a child or an employer -- they will go entirely off the rails, act out, go crazy.

I like being free and responsible only to myself. I prefer it, really. It made me grow up, for one thing. It brings out the best parts of my personality: self-reliance, fiscal responsibility, acceptance, action, humor. There's no one to blame but me so I'm learning to make better decisions and to cut myself some slack about them.

Since I'm not being checked up on or watched or graded or reviewed I can choose my behavior and do what feels right to me. This has had the odd result of making me more socially aware. For example, I stop at stop signs even when no one is around because it feels right and I like voluntarily participating in the rules of the road. That's a nerdy example, but you get the idea.

With no one asking me to clean up after myself, and with no humans living with me, cleaning is completely optional. I used to hate cleaning my room as a kid, I loathed all the chores I had to do. Clean the bathrooms every Saturday morning, vacuum, do laundry. Every day there were dishes to be done and shoes to be put away. When I got married I did all the housework and resented every minute of it. I got so angry once I went on strike but I was the only one who noticed.

All those years when someone expected me to clean house I was resentful and irritated and didn't want to do it. I tidied up out of obligation and necessity. I loathed it.

A few years after my divorce I went on a particularly zealous cleaning spree in the tiny Encino-adjacent house. I noticed I lost four pounds in six days and slept so hard each night that I woke refreshed and happy. It wasn't from healthy eating or drinking, I can promise that much. So I thought about all the cleaning and scrubbing and floor-refinishing I'd done and looked up the calorie counts online for housecleaning. That was the day I made the connection between cleaning and stress relief. Of course it's stress-relieving! It's a physical workout as good as jogging (especially the way I do it) and at the end you have a visible result, like you do in knitting. And I can clean for hours on end. Put on some great music, open the windows, wear comfortable clothes, get out the good-smelling soap.

It's not OCD gone wild, or part of my scary transformation into Girl Who Lives In Bubble, or some condition of crazy that requires medication. I enjoy having a clean home. The cats very much enjoy it. It's better than starting a heroin addiction. And cheaper.

- - -

My cleaning tools are remarkably low-tech:

Scrub brush, toothbrush, sponge, Mr. Clean Magic eraser, heavy gloves, good bucket and tool caddy.


My go-to cleansers:

I use cleansers that are low or non-toxic. Mostly Dr. Bronner's soap (I love the different scents), vinegar, baking soda, and Shaklee H20. The Shaklee cleanser is very expensive but it lasts forever. I've had this one bottle since 2005. You put a few drops in a spray bottle, add water and it's a glass cleaner and surface spray. It works like a charm and is so non-toxic you can bathe in it. I do not bathe in it, though.

That pizza shaker is full of baking soda. I use baking soda everywhere, it cleans everything! Try it on a sponge to remove soap scum off a shower door. You will be shocked how well it works.

The heavies:

These cleaners are toxic, and I use them sparingly. I use Ajax with bleach for the toilets, especially in a new rental place. Bleach if necessary for sinks, tubs, general disinfecting. To remove the black mildew that was in the tub grout, I wet cotton pads with bleach and pressed them into place and let them stay for a few hours. It worked!

I try to limit the amount of toxic (heavy) cleaners but used sparingly they can help keep your home disinfected and clean.

And this is my main man when it comes to cleaning:

It's also a calorie-burning king.

Posted by laurie at April 18, 2011 8:46 AM