This weekend I’m back to an “in between” stage of life: one of those periods where there is no serious crisis, and overall things are pretty hopeful, but if this were to be the last weekend of my life I sure as hell wouldn’t want to spent it like I’m expecting to spend this one. I’ve got to basically plow through a bunch of less inspiring things and get some fundamental details taken care of so that relatively soon I can move on to the sort of things that I find make life properly worth living. I’ve been told that one of the basic things I need to get taken care of during this time is some house cleaning.
Why is this such a reoccurring theme in my life? Philosophizing about it may or may not make it less tedious and painful.
What is the point of what they call “cleanliness” anyway? I suppose there are a few. Let’s see if I can convince myself that some of them are important.
First would have to come the health aspect. We should have the sort of environment which limits the concentrations of bacteria, parasites, mold and other sources of physical irritation that could damage our health. If your house is in the sort of condition where there are smells which stick to your clothes, where your bedding makes you wake up itchy, where preparing food your kitchen entails risks of poisoning and where the dust bunnies under your furniture are growing ferocious, it may well be time to clean up for health reasons.
When it comes to my apartment though, rumors of fleas are actually unfounded thus far. The worst health risk is probably dog hair, which is only a problem for those who happen to be allergic to such. And in fact it could even be argued that a certain amount of exposure to other mammal species on a day-to-day basis is natural and healthy for humans, educating our immune systems to the difference between genuinely harmful bacteria and totally benign biological materials. Studies show that kids who grow up with pets are far less likely to develop all sorts of allergies. (Don’t ask me to find those studies for you; I just know…) After that the biggest risk is microscopic dust mites, which are killed by hot washing your sheets regularly, and which are far less likely to multiply in your bedroom if you don’t bother making your bed. So I can claim that regardless of the mess, my apartment is actually healthier than average.
The next consideration in favor of cleaning would have to be an advantage in terms of finding what you are looking for on any given occasion. Not being able to find papers, keys, tools, gloves, etc. is one of the banes of my existence. It also figures into the problems I’ve passed on to the next generation: my son as well regularly misplaces official papers and keys, and hand a major scare this last week when he couldn’t find the keys to his work place for a couple of days. If there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place, arguably such difficulties would not arise, at least so easily.
Experience tells me otherwise on this one though. My particular genius for misplacing things functions perfectly well even within the most sterile and systematic of environments. No amount of added cleanliness would have saved me the trouble of spending hours last month looking for items that I had misplaced in plain sight at home, at work and in my car. Likewise for my son, when the keys in question finally showed up in a duffle bag in the back of the trunk of my car, in hindsight no amount of cleanliness could have counteracted such absent-mindedness.
The closest thing I can think of to a correlation between cleanliness and ability to locate items of temporal importance is that the further someone is towards the J end of the J-P scale in the MBTI system, the less problems he/she will have with both slovenliness and misplacement issues. In simple terms it’s a fair bet that a control and regularity freak like Immanuel Kant never had a sloppy room and never misplaced a key in his entire life. Neither would have been consistent with his hyper-organized personality. For those of us who are more prone to live spontaneously, creatively and improvisationally, however, a certain amount of chaos is the price we pay for such freedoms. Sure, some balance will always be necessary in these matters, but in a choice between the extremes I will always prefer my own lifestyle to a more Kantian one.
What other reasons are there to clean up here? Perhaps a certain sense of harmony with one’s environment can be brought about by means of maintaining some aesthetic order in one’s personal space. Perhaps we all need a certain level of feng shui to get by. Even if you don’t take the concept of Qi or the process of balancing yin and yang literally, there is something instinctively appealing about the idea of balancing tranquility and stimulation within one’s environment. It sort of helps not to have so much visual or spatial clutter that it messes up the sort of life flow we want to have within our personal space. Perhaps, for sensitive souls in particular, having a sense of pattern, order and visual simplicity in their environment enables them to function more efficiently.
Interesting as it is to speculate about such things though, I doubt that anything I can do will put a dent in the messed up energy flow inherent in the design of my current residence; nor have I noticed anything noteworthy about the effects of such disturbed energy flow patterns on my personal sense of balance and productivity. Financial security, for example, strongly affects my basic productivity; as do sleep rhythm variations, exposure to daylight, romantic success levels, family health concerns and a host of other considerations. The general sense of order in my environment, on the other hand, seems to have little if any discernible impact on what I am able to accomplish. If anything it would seem that cleaning as a process creates more stress and eats up more time than are pragmatically justified by its positive effects on my productivity levels.
This leaves me with just one reason for house cleaning that I can’t really wiggle my way out of, which in the big scheme of things is actually pretty weak, but which has a significant effect on pretty much everything else, all else being equal: social acceptability. As individualistic and self-sufficient as I may be, and as self-determining as I strive to be, I want to be able to share my space with others, most of whom care deeply about image questions and societal expectations. In particular I want my son to feel more or less at home here, I want each of us to be able to have friends over with limited embarrassment and I want this space to be usable for minor social events like small parties and informal meetings. For those things to be able to happen I need to find more or less permanent places for things that are still in cardboard boxes and other impromptu “miscellaneous” files, I need to assemble storage systems that are not so prone to collecting dust, I need to reduce the free floating dog hair levels here, and I need to do something about the God-awful color of our bathroom.
In some ways it goes against my grain to limit my laziness and quirkiness just to satisfy others, but in other ways it feels oddly rewarding to be able to do things for no other reason than that there are people you care enough about to make sacrifices and personal adjustments. If this is part of an understanding of reciprocity or voluntary commonality, so much the better. What greater sense of simple connection with others can I really hope for?
So here goes (deep breath): I get this sent, I hang out the laundry and then I break out the vacuum cleaner. 1… 2… 3….