Cleaning

Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance? 
Phyllis Diller

For many years, I took this quote to heart, and never cleaned anything. I had a full-time job, three children, a side art-career and a housecleaner. Once a week, my husband and I would come home from work and smell the faint scent of bleach, which let us know the cleaner had come that day. We would have lingered longingly in the clean house, except the children ran by us and quickly dispersed toys, pee and fruit gummies on every surface in sight. The cleaner must have felt like Sisyphus, each week leaving a pristine house only to return to a sticky wreck seven days later.

Then one day, my husband read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, and he stopped putting up with snack food wrappers under his feet. On a prim Saturday, he threw out everything that didn’t spark joy, which included small-sized forks and the moldy dog bed. After that, he began tidying up at 5am every morning, which drove me mad with guilt. I would rise and find the house looking neat, which implied it could and should look this way all the time. What was a woman to do with such high standards?

When my company eliminated my job in 2016, I delicately suggested to my husband that perhaps I could take some time off. If we gave up the school aftercare program and the house cleaner, I explained to him, we could squeeze by.  To my surprise, my husband did not leap at the chance to have a slob stay-at-home artist-wife. “I already do all the tidying, the shopping and the cooking! I cannot do all the cleaning too!” he said, turning purple. From this response, I deduced that I would either 1) have to get a new job or 2) learn the life-changing magic of real cleaning. 

For the sake of art and family, I bought cleaning supplies that afternoon and attacked everything with a vengeance. As I began, I had allotted one hour maximum in my mind. Four hours later, I was still sweeping Annie’s chedder bunnies packets and half-licked lollypops out from under the couch. When it was all over, I looked like one of the witches from MacBeth, but the house sparkled.     

The unexpected benefit—and the reason I am writing this post—was that after cleaning the house, I felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders. All the worry about whether I was contributing anything to the family by being at home was gone. The house now seemed like a charming and attractive home for grownups, instead of a large storage facility for popcorn kernels and singleton socks. The best part was, after several hours of scrubbing, my mind was gloriously clear.

One thing I have noticed, when trying to write or paint, is that I do my best work with a clear mind. I noticed, for example, that I always painted well after spending an hour mixing colors before hand. For a long time, I attributed this to the fresh paint, but recently, I have come to believe that mixing paint is a type of mind cleaning. In the hour that I spend moving oil with the palette knife, I am scrubbing my mind of the dirt buildup of everyday living. 

So next time you want to do an art project or write a novel or just not get divorced, I suggest cleaning the house or studio. After you have scoured your environs, take a bath and appreciate the virtue of an unblemished space. The world will seem like a brand new canvas, gleaming white and ready for the hand of a clear-hearted, pure-minded artist.