The Joys of Cleaning the House

There must be some irony in this title, surely? It is an activity perfectly designed for procrastination. I’ll do it tomorrow, or sometime later this week. An activity also started when things are truly desperate; it is, as in chess, a forced move, when the King has no alternative but to move to a certain square to get out of check, for example when visitors are about to arrive. And the joys, if there be any, are rather in the result, rather than the activity itself, you may surely claim.

Certainly, a sense of virtue steals over one, when the deed is done, or rather the process has finished, another battle against the dust has been won, even if the war cannot ever be concluded. The virtue is linked to the defeat of inertia, as well as the sense of cleanliness, even if is fleeting. The house glows, a little.

One of the reasons for this, is that a kind of metaphysical levity has entered the home. (What?) Yes, it is because of the attention energy, you see. It is not just because you have “gone over” all the surfaces, but that you have given attention to the objects that clutter all homes, and this is being reflected back. Everyone likes attention, and so do the apparently banal blocks, items that are arranged, stored, around our houses, called furniture and other names. Carpets are especially pleased with attention, other than footprints. They get a thrill from being shaken.

So, for a short while, we can relax. We did our duty, possibly avoiding those judgements from visitors, and also we participated in the afterglow, consisting of a victory over our inertia, a victory in the on-going dust war, and a chance to bask in the reflection of the attention energies coming back gratefully from our objects.

But what of the process itself, isn’t it tedious, time consuming, the very reason why we put if off so readily? This is where our attitude comes in. If only we realised how much the house likes to be cleaned, we might do it more often! Yes, it is common sense that the longer you put off the task, the grubbier the place will become, nothing to do with attention energy, you say. Agreed, but you can come into an agreement to share your attention just a little more frequently.

Aids to this process are, of course, a Dyson V 11 Absolute Extra and a good pair of noise cancelling bluetooth headphones. Part of the stress of traditionally vacuuming was the noise: listen to me, how hard I am working to clean this house which you keep neglecting, it huffed. Now, the Dyson is so quiet that you can use this cordless wonder without headphones and not feel stressed, but the headphones transport you to a new recording of Chopin’s Scherzi played by Seong-Jin Cho (streaming from idagio.com). The Dyson provides a good feedback loop as well, as you can see what has actually accumulated in the collection chamber, from the innocent looking floor tiles that were actually hotching with dust, crumbs, hairs, skin fragments, all imaginable detritus, and the tiles themselves are crumbling into dust.

Now comes the bit that I actually enjoy: swabbing the decks! Really. Yes, because the mop aborbs any latent resistant particles, and the tiles really change colour pleasantly during their humid phase, and the speckless pristine floors gleam. Tell me this is not a good use of attention energy! It is a good counterweight to any dusty country, like Spain, that with tiles and movable rugs, you can get a sense of fresh surfaces, even for a day or so.

There are opposing cleaning tribes. Probably some readers will recall Quentin Crisp’s approach, which was that after five years there can be no point in dusting, as nothing will change. But he had a strict rule about picking up organic matter that fell on the floor. On the other extreme are cleaning obsessives, who might get up from a conversation and reach for the Bang as they have seen a spot that shouldn’t be there. And a word of warning: the vast array of cleaning materials are to be used cautiously, since there is evidence that inhaling all that stuff is not good for the lungs over time.

Once I shared a top floor flat in the Marchmont area of Edinburgh, typically with about another five students, heavy tenements all with bay windows to keep tabs on who is out and about and passing below. Of course, there must have been disputes about whose turn it was to clean the kitchen and bathroom and hall. The opposing flat on the top floor was occupied by a lady who lived on her own. Whenever I had occasion to knock on the door, one looked into an immaculately kept hall with a dark shiny antique table and vase filled with fresh flowers. Once I asked, well how do you keep the house looking so sparkling? Oh, I just do a little dusting, whenever I have a moment. It looked as if it was dusted every half hour. You see, the attention energy hit me in the face!

Balance is needed. Too much attention energy going out from our bodies leaves a deficit where it matters, the inner growth area. So, yes, we must keep the house in some order and cleanliness. This is why minimalism has become somewhat popular too. But that is another subject. How to reduce the clutter and bring order to the inner environment in the house (as well as the inner being).

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