Thursday, October 09, 2008

Is Cleaning House Actually Important?

I grew up in a household where nothing was put away, nothing was cleaned, dishes were not washed, and there was a coating of black Cocker Spaniel fur on everything. My mother smoked which made everything in the environment sticky - all the better for dog hair to stick to it. When I was seven, my mother decided that it should be my job to clean the house. Unfortunately, I got no instructions on how to do it. I was a pretty precocious kid, but this was beyond me. I washed dishes after a fashion, I tried to dust and run the vacuum. I did a really bad job. I could hardly tell any difference when I finished because of all the "stuff" sitting around. My mother always said that when she saw a clean house, she knew that boring people lived there because they thought about cleaning and spent their time cleaning.

After I left home, I kept house pretty much the same way. There was always a shedding dog and I smoked. As I accumulated kids, the clutter grew. I was married twice during those years - first to a person who didn't care at all and then to someone who liked things neat and clean. Unfortunately, the neat and clean husband wasn't willing to spend very much time neatening and cleaning. He did some but quickly became discouraged. I tried really hard to get the kids to clean, but they were not as afraid of me as I was of my mother, so sometimes they cleaned and sometimes they didn't and the mess grew.

Eventually I made it into recovery. At first my mess didn't bother me. Then I started throwing everything from the rest of the house into my bedroom, which made it almost impossible to walk in there. I married again to a person who liked things neat and clean but who in his heart of hearts really thought it was "women's work." BOTH of us smoked and both of us were messy. Oh dear. Sooner or later, usually later, one of us would get overwhelmed by the mess and start cleaning. Then the other one would feel guilty and clean. So sometimes things were clean and sometimes they weren't. About a year and a half into recovery, both of us stopped smoking - which did cut down on the dog hair sticking to everything.

Then I grew in recovery and woke up to the fact that cleaning house wasn't about some rule somebody made but about serenity and beauty. I began to think enough of myself to want my surroundings to be serene and beautiful. In the year 2000 we had a fire and lost most of our belongings. We didn't replace a lot of stuff so in a way the fire helped us get rid of clutter. Since then my motive for cleaning is to give myself the gift of a lovely place to live. And sure enough I have a lovely place to live and it nurtures me. So I guess the answer to the question of whether cleaning house is actually important is: it depends on the goal. If I'm just trying to follow the rules - probably not. If I want to nurture myself, the answer is, "yes, defnitely."


Eric said...

well said. I agree.

Liz said...

Well, I am glad that I clean house for the RIGHT reason...and darn it! I do not think I am boring. spouse on the other hand...??? hmmm. I will have to ask (in the pass the salt and pepper voice, of course) what his goal is regarding a clean house. Maybe I would be surprised!

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