I like lists. I like color-coding. I like Google Calendar and neatly arranged bulletin boards. I think a good spreadsheet can be unspeakably beautiful, and that the coffee table book on organization that my grandma gave me for Christmas might be the greatest gift ever. I have two Martha Stewart books on hold at the library (but I should probably buy them, right, so I can turn to them at any time?) and “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” magically changed my life.
I’m particular, is what I’m saying. Fastidious, even. Anal retentive, if you’re a mean psychoanalyst. I’m an orderly lady and I keep an orderly house.
I’ve always liked organization (“Alphabetize your spice drawer, Mom?! What a delight!”), but the housecleaning thing is relatively new. I wasn’t a tidy kid. The inside of my car in high school was a disaster. My dorm room was an experiment in how high a person can pile dirty laundry. Pretty high!
But sometime after graduating college, I became a person who must live in a clean house. Not a person who wants to live in a clean house. A person who must. Like a fish choking in an algae-covered pond, I suspect living in clutter would slowly suffocate me and ultimately end in my body being found, belly-up, doing its best to float through the top of the gunk. Not to be too dramatic or anything.
How did this happen to me?
- I became aware of other humans. And in an effort to be considerate towards them/not drive them off with my disgusting garbage self, I started to keep the area around me clean.
- I am an oldest child. The perfectionism that rears its ugly (perfect) head in every other area of my life was bound to turn up in this area eventually.
- I started to rent or own my own stuff. It’s a much bigger deal when my carpet is the one that’s getting stained, and it’s my house that will get ants.
- I developed some other issues. Like an obsessive need to be as efficient as possible at all times, which is easier when you know exactly where everything is. Also some control issues. Some people get weird with food; I control my experience with Clorox wipes.
- I wanted to be more adult. A clean house fits my mental image of adulthood more than a cluttered one does.
- I watched Hoarders. No. Nope. No.
It was a combination of all of those things, mixed with the seductive smell of Murphy’s Oil that got me. I became a clean person. The Felix in any Odd Couple situation. An order Muppet.
But it gets weirder. Now I don’t just clean to have a clean house. I clean to get through things — anger, sadness, obsessive thought loops. I clear my house to clear my head, and since my head is a real weird place, I clean a lot. If you’d like to clean until you stop thinking, too, I put together a brief how-to:
Clean the pain away
- Pick a room. Any room! You’ll go throughout the whole house, but maybe mix the order up a little to keep things spicy. Have you ever started cleaning in the hallway before? Who does that?! You do, you saucy minx.
- Collect all the things that shouldn’t be in that room and put them away. Away away, not just piled in the room where they go. You’ll thank me when you get there.
- Get out your duster. I recommend Swiffer’s disposable variety because it does a great job of trapping dust, cobwebs, and despair, and when you’re done, you can tie the whole mess up in a trash bag and send it far, far away from you. Plus they smell nice!
- Wipe every surface with your Clorox wipes. Use some elbow grease to get the sticky, grubby spots. The ones on your soul, I mean.
- Give your windows a good cleaning. Wouldn’t it be nice if your twisted-up insides had the same streak-free shine?
- Sweep every corner of the floor and gather it all into a dustpan. It’s like gathering your thoughts, isn’t it? Your nasty, petty, unspeakable thoughts. Throw that dirt in the trash can and get it out of your house as soon as you can. It’s evil and it has soiled you.
- Vacuum the rugs. You’ll need a good vacuum because there’s food, and dirt, and dreams crushed in there. Trap everything in your vacuum like you’re Peter Venkman trapping a class 3 vaporous full-torso apparition. It can’t haunt you anymore.
- Pay special attention to those hard-to-clean places like toilets. Scrub hard! Harder! Scrub until you can no longer hear the person who used to yell at you to clean your room calling you “persnickety” at the last family gathering. Say persnickety out loud. Yell it into the toilet bowl as you fill it with cleaning fluid. Embrace persnickety. Become persnickety. You’re not hurt by it anymore — you’re persnickety and powerful.
- Look around. Your house is sparkling. Mr. Clean is nodding approvingly in a corner. You did it! Your house is clean, and now your body, mind, and soul are, too. You healed yourself! There was nothing wrong with you that a little bleach wouldn’t kill.
- Watch a dust mote fall slowly in a sunbeam. Begin to silently cry.