Honoring the Space as Object

I did a fair bit of apartment cleaning when young. It was a natural second or third job to pick up, because I grew up doing a lot of general cleaning of what was not at all an easy house, with old cabinets and counters, terrazzo floors, and pine walls. When I began cleaning for others, it surprised me how few people knew how to clean their own spaces, or found satisfaction in doing so, and therefore, how large my own bang-for-buck could be. There would be so much appreciation for something I hardly thought about at all, and more money than average for 2 to 3 hours of work.

It was spiritual work, too. At the time I was fairly religious, often meeting my clients through church, and would spend the cleaning time also singing or praying. That was an early imprint for me actually, the sound of my great-grandmother singing and praying as she worked around the house, so it was a natural pattern to fall into that I didn’t think much about at the time.

Image result for snow white cleaning"

Then, how did I arrive to the place where I found myself at the beginning of this year, madly scrolling through cleaning service companies online? I don’t know. Everything had just slipped. I looked around and felt the weight of things not cared for well. This is a feeling I think many people try to fill with shopping, and maybe a tendency I was quickly falling into as well, but buying new things only distracts for a while when what you are really going for is the cumulative contented feeling of daily care. That’s something – that something in you – can feel regardless of the status of a surrounding.

So, for the third time in my life, I asked a service in to help.

It felt great to arrive home with things done, everything smelling nicely (usually I can’t smell any difference, since I’m immersed!) but I can’t say I felt in the end, that it would be worthwhile to spring for such regularly. So I’m updating my game.

Some little things I’ve learned so far:

1 – As with wardrobes and beauty, cleaning methods become outdated. THE TWIST is, in our time, most methods need to be updated BACKWARD. In many instances, we can learn more from our grandparents and even great-grandparents’ generation, than from our parents’, because the availability of newer and newer and shinier and shinier things that last shorter and shorter periods of time, is the wave most have ridden. I know that in my own upbringing, even when we were struggling financially, buying generic groceries or second-hand clothing was just not done.

Maybe sometime I’ll write about the odd balances I grew up with in terms of status and outward impressions, versus the reality. I was thinking this morning about how often as a teen friends would dress me… how I wore a borrowed top to take my 11th grade school photo, a borrowed dress on my first real date with my later-to-be (first) husband… and how when I ran into a friend in college she said to me, “I never realized you were poor like us.” I hadn’t either, actually.

It was one of the things that I loved about that same husband’s family – that it was the reverse. They shopped in thrift stores and skimped like a family just coming out of WWII, but they also took trips and traveled to see one another, kept up the family camp. Not that there weren’t downsides to their way of life, but in our time of growing consciousness about the effects of mindless wastefulness, there is much to learn and appreciate from their model, which I have and do.


By the third video I gravitated toward, I realized my apartment was full of terrible chemicals that had always felt like compromises, but which I thought I couldn’t do without because I’d never seen it done any other way. I mean, when I use straight bleach to clean things, I’m likely to feel ill for days afterward, but still use it! Or did. I’m going to try to forego bleach from now on, in favor of baking soda, castile soap (my new obsession), vinegar. So far various combinations of these ingredients are working better than fine, but you have to use the right instrument, or leave things soaking a bit longer.

2 – Beware even of brands that use eco-friendly labels! “Greenwashing”, a term I learned from You-Tuber and environmental scientist Shelbizleee, is everywhere!

A few years ago, a friend began to sell Norwex products, and most of them have been fantastic, eliminating the need to use lots of paper towels especially. Still, I somehow categorized in my mind that daily tidying and deep cleaning were different, so the Norwex products have come in alongside my keeping the others mostly. They did make a significant dent, since so many of their items need just water to work, but I still fell into a sort of self-satisfied complacency.

Phase II is about putting products using eco-friendly labels (a standard that is NOT regulated in the US), under a more powerful microscope!

“Let it go… let it go…”

3 – On a site called Clean My Space, I was reminded that gathering all the tools in one place cuts down time, therefore cuts down the tendency toward procrastination. This goes for anything, but I’m terrible about it. My toolbox consists of a battered Prada shoe box, and you can find random cleaners in every cabinet that I have to go on a scavenger hunt into each time. This falls under the category of “I already know that!” I just don’t DO that. 🙂

There’s more, of course, but I’ll end at the importance of:

4 – Basking in the feeling of completion at the end! We’re all too often on to the next thing, but one way to be motivated to do things well and to finish, is to pause and appreciate having followed through when you do it. This may be especially important for tasks, like cleaning, which others do not usually see, which there is no fanfare for.

I, like a lot of people, find inspiration in Japanese or French going against the grain when it comes to what is thought to be refined or beautiful, and when I really stopped to consider what it is, that quality… I found that appreciation, dwelling on the whole context rather than one part that may feel to fall short, etc., has a lot to do with it.

The term wabi-sabi, for instance points to not trying to hide injury or imperfection – to acknowledging the full life of an object once it has set out and become part of the world, not giving up on it so quickly. Everyone has seen the photo of the tea cup repaired with gold (a technique called kintsugi) that actually emphasizes the broken places.

Recently, I added to my reference saori weaving, which is the technique of weaving remnants and scraps into a piece, or constructing the entire piece from threads broken away from their original purpose.

The main thing is, in the new context, the sense becomes that those fragments have already always been in the right place. Spending time to make it so, is perhaps paradoxically, still important.

Photo from American Swedish Institute, advertising a new class.

For me this means honoring the end point, declaring, by finding flowers for the cleaned space, or lighting a candle, or putting on music… something to respond to/thank the environment, and the one (now previous you, also part of the environment) who offered their (imperfect, broken) resources and time.


3 responses to “Honoring the Space as Object”

  1. Wow! Exhilarating post. You seem already into “Spring cleaning” mode! I can easily picture you singing & praying as you swept the floor in your Snow White young self 😉 I’m a great procrastinator in these matters but enjoyed reading this as I’m packing for a trip to Cuba, thinking I will apply your resolve to house cleaning when I come back! I have been using baking soda, vinegar & essential oils for a while now ( also French black soap in liquid form which is truly great). I often remember my grandma when I clean, she was inspiring and trying to teach me how to do it. My Mom was protecting me and my sister from domestic tasks, wanting us to have a playful childhood, which I had and kind of stuck in that mode too 🙂 Your tip about admiring and enjoying a clean house is great. Thanks for this post and I will enjoy the wabi-sabi procratinator in me until I kick into Spring cleaning mode in a few weeks
    (months?) But I will!


    • French black soap! I’ll try that!

      Your comment taps me into notions of deep maternal lineage, generations of women keeping up with things, perhaps not feeling ‘seen’. I really love when that feeling can be turned around. It is always the outlook, right? We had a plaque on the wall that read, in part: “The work that I am trying to do is to make my family content, so bless my eager efforts Lord, and make them heaven sent.” I always liked the turn at the end, implying that not much is inherently valuable, but can be *made* (in that time’s sensibility) heaven sent retroactively.

      At least that’s how I read it. 🙂

      I’m so glad you’re going back to Cuba! I love the thought of your being almost in waving distance. ^.^ Maybe I’ll find time to drive down to Key West where I can just about see you! In the meantime, I hope I can keep up the feeling of joy and celebration about ‘all the things’ for a while, then compare notes when you return.


    • Oh! I just remembered a favorite line! “A woman should never learn to sew, and if she can, she should never admit it.” 🙂 It is from The English Patient, and captures that generational shift away from allowing all women’s time to be consumed with (everyone else’s) chores!!


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