What is it About Cleaning?

OK fellow writers and readers – I’ll tell you one thing about me – two hours of cabin cleaning makes the writer’s desk that I couldn’t get away from fast enough this morning, look pretty darned good!

The other day I was fortunate enough to read a great little blog post by The Jilted Genius – entitled Monday Muse  The Genius mentions the Monday morning blahs of coming back from her walk to an apartment that needs cleaning. The words really struck a chord with me.

What is it about cleaning? I am a well-organized person – except when it comes to cleaning. I have always wanted to be one of those people who are super organized about housework – the type of person who schedules certain jobs and keeps up with things. This person – who lives only in my imagination – approaches the daily tasks of cleaning with the calm of a koi swimming idly in a peaceful pond among the beautifully blooming water lilies – swishing gently to and fro through the cleaning tasks with dignity. Well – suffice to say I have never achieved this Zen of Cleaning. I am always behind the eight ball. Jobs get done because we’re having company or because I have reached my maximum level of tolerance for mess – or my maximum level of denial about what is actually surrounding me. Call it what you will. I tear madly through the cabin looking like something from a horror movie – on my face is a look of pure malevolence – all I need is a chainsaw screaming in my hand, waving it over my head to complete the picture. I literally want to kill every person who has put a single thing out-of-place in this cabin. To hell with the fact that there is only Bruce and I and the dog – and we can safely assume the dog doesn’t misplace her things. I assure you, I am as messy as Bruce so my homicidal thoughts are definitely uncalled for.

When I taught at the university and lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in the city – mostly all by myself – I had to hire a cleaning lady. I couldn’t seem to organize myself to clean the bathroom – ever. Like that Taylor Swift song – never – I mean like never, ever. It was embarrassing. I claimed I was too busy teaching and holding down a couple of research positions. The reality is that I have always viewed my life as one that is too busy for cleaning.

It’s the starting that is the biggest challenge. I liken this to the anxiety that can often accompany the beginning a writing project – be it a paper, an article, or a work of fiction. There is this poised on the edge feeling that I find quite uncomfortable. I suppose it’s about knowing you have to step over that edge into something else. I usually bargain with myself a bit. I say something like – OK – I’ll do this for thirty minutes and then stop. Or I put some music on and challenge myself – can I finish 1000 words before the end of this album? Can I get the bathroom done in fifteen minutes? Once I do start – on the writing or the cleaning – the anxiety disappears along with the need for bargaining and challenging. And of course, like many of you, when I push the chair away from the desk after a good day’s work, or put the vacuum cleaner away and look around the tidy cabin – there is this amazing sense of satisfaction. I always tell myself – remember this – remember how good it feels when you’re done. But – I never do. I mean never – like never, ever.

Lake Tahoe – me being way too busy for cleaning