Philosophical Cleaning

When my aunt and uncle said they were coming for a visit this weekend, I looked around the house and saw it desperately needed some cleaning. Both kids were home, since the older one was sick the night before, so they played while I cleaned. Over the course of the morning, I scrubbed both bathrooms, vacuumed the whole house, changed all bed sheets, dusted the bedroom where the guests would be sleeping, did three loads of laundry plus cloth diapers, folded and put away two of the loads, and started the slow-roasted beef brisket in the oven. At 1 p.m., when I put the boys down for a nap and collapsed onto the sofa, I realized with surprise that I’d spent four straight hours doing housework – a personal record for me.

You see, I rarely clean my house, since my approach to housework is entirely piecemeal. I clean and tidy single objects and rooms when the need arises, but that’s it. If I happen to move a piece of furniture and the floor is dirty, then I quickly vacuum, but I’d never pull out a piece of furniture specifically to clean it. I wash sinks and toilets when they become dirty, but rarely do I clean the whole thing, let alone both bathrooms at the same time. I do one load of laundry every few days, but never two or three loads in a row. My approach is a slow-moving assembly line, where each part is completed in its own time to create an overall, semi-organized appearance.


Why do I clean like this? Probably because I hoard my time jealously. It would never occur to me to clean while my children are away at school, since that’s my time, and nothing should occur during those hours that I could do when they’re around. During the day, there are so many countless demands, plus the huge task of planning, shopping for, and cooking three hearty, healthy meals a day. My husband does all the night-time dishes, but when our kids go to sleep at 7 p.m., once again I flatly refuse to do any housework whatsoever – because it’s my time. It’s my only time, and dirty bathrooms and laundry mountains and hairballs can wait forever, for all I care.

There’s also the question of getting my creative work done. The only way I get any writing done is by refusing to engage with any housework that’s not immediately necessary. As the stay-at-home mother, I’m pulled in so many directions by various forces that I’ve developed this blind eye unconsciously. I love this paragraph that author Carrie Snyder wrote on her blog recently. As a mother of four, she knows what it’s like:

“I’ve yet to meet a woman artist whose husband takes care of the day-to-day minutiae, the child-care, and the domestic logistics so that she can be free to roam inside her own head, pursuing her vision, and disappearing, even if only metaphorically, for days at a time. Sure, those of us with artistic inclinations, who also happen to be women and the mothers of young children, find ways to pursue our ambitions and get things done. But in my experience, it’s squeezed in. It’s one among a cascade of urgent and important calls.”

She’s so right. Creativity is always squeezed in. My writing is a perpetual afterthought, something I’m grasping to fit in whenever I have the chance. No matter how much I love it, and feel that I’m working toward a true career with every post and article I publish, it still has to be put on pause when my toddler trundles by with a smelly diaper, or five-thirty rolls around and our stomachs start to growl. Actually, it seems very unfair, but that’s how life works for us mothers.

So I’ll continue to be a less-than-ideal housekeeper. Cleaning falls far lower on the list of priorities than all the other more appealing and useful activities in my life – although my four-hour ordeal on Friday goes to show that the piecemeal cleaning may need to step up a notch so I never have to go through that again. It was rather traumatizing, feeling as though I’d thrown away four hours of my life. Never again!!

you might also like:
Less Martha, More Matisse
The Chaotic Pursuit of Home Improvement
Viewing the world through mom-coloured glasses


7 thoughts on “Philosophical Cleaning

  1. I tend to do sporadic mass cleaning sprees like yours, but only for an hour or so at a time. Usually its when I’m stressed out or angry. Call me crazy, but I find the act of cleaning to be incredibly cathartic.

  2. I clean on a schedule, a little bit each day. Its a very flexible schedule but I find mess & dirt and lack of organization very stressful. Once a week all the major areas of my house are cleaned, but rarely all together.

    1. That makes a lot of sense, since I also find disorganization and messiness extremely stressful. Somehow I still manage to keep it under control without a schedule, though it does mean the occasional scramble when guests are due to arrive.

  3. Every time I clean my house my children (then younger) would ask “who is coming over?” Now my 28 year old said “Why don’t you do 1/2 hr per day?” It seems, I am just too busy.

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