Turning Cleaning Your Row House Into a Happy Ritual

20th Century Row Houses in Philadelphia.

20th Century Row Houses in Philadelphia

In a recent article for his blog called “Turn Green Cleaning into a Game,” which appeared on November 10, 2008 on The Daily Green, Michael de Jong shared a story about how his mom used to make the dreary task of cleaning the house into a game. She would write the day’s tasks onto little slips of paper, toss them into a hat, and have her kids draw slips. The person who finished all their tasks first, won. He says there wasn’t anything actually won but the idea of winning was enough to keep everyone motoring away on the cleaning. He says that even today he likes to write the cleaning tasks onto a list and check each one off as he completes them. Seeing everything checked off gives him a warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. Michael is working on a book about the “Zen” of house cleaning. See his blog, http://www.thedailygreen.com for more information.

Homeowners used to be able to look outside of their homes for pleasure with vacations and eating out. They had the luxury of owning a house and yet hardly spending any time in it. Domestic tasks like cleaning the home were easily cast off for a seemingly small fee. The home was reduced to a place to sleep and show off your posessions. But these days, hardly anyone can afford to be so luxurious.

When times get tough, people get back to basics. Since there is nothing more basic than your home, what better way is there to get back to basics than to reacquaint yourself with the rituals of domestic life? Society has been in such a rush to make everything easier and faster, that the simple joy of cleaning has pretty much been eradicated. It’s a shame because most domestic tasks are easy to expidite with excellent results. It’s a great way to feel good about something, especially now, when it’s hard to feel good about anything.

A clean house is good for your health. Left unchecked, those pesky bacteria and microbial beasties will breed and eventually contaminate your entire house which, in turn, will make you ill. Everyone knows they should clean their house but this doesn’t make people any more happy about having to do it.

The trick to enjoying cleaning is probably to take your time doing it. Anything over too quickly is less likely to be appreciated, such as taking very small bites to savor each morsel of a decadent dessert. Taking small bites of cleaning also makes it far less daunting. Pick the tasks you like and take your time and imerse yourself in the process. Strive for perfection. It could be folding the laundry and getting everything shaped into a perfect square. Or vacuuming every little crevice and making patterns on the carpet. It could be washing and putting away the dishes according to color and size. This is not insanity. This is taking an ordinary and mundane chore and turning it into a work of art. After all, look at what Warhol did with soup cans.

Like most people, we have a coffee table. It’s technically on loan. We love this coffee table because it’s rustic, looking like it’s had a very long and colorful history, and because it’s small enough to fit in our small living room. Every week, my husband sits with the furniture polish, the old fashioned, pre-Swiffer variety, and he massages the table lovingly until it shines and smells like a lemon grove. This process of polishing the table makes him very happy. It’s not that he particularily likes to clean but within the dusting and making things shiney, he has found his cleaning bliss.

It’s a matter of perspective and economics. The human mind is wonderfully capable of looking at things in a multitude of ways if it is open enough. In so many ways we have to work very hard for others and hardly have any tangible relationship to the results. In cleaning your house, you benefit from the results of any work you put into it. Additionally, because things are not so easily replaced, perhaps there will be a newfound appreciation for keeping what you have already, in pristine condition.

Happy cleaning!

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