Have you ever felt like by the time the house/car/garden is finally "clean enough", the day is done and it's time to go to bed? Worse, do you never really reach the point of "clean enough", no matter how hard you work?
This is yet another manifestation of our obsession with stuff: we want everything to be spotless.
Decluttering is good, as is keeping relatively clean surroundings. Spending endless hours dusting, wiping, scrubbing and polishing? Not so good.
In addition, there are a variety of things that do not need to be cleaned at any point in time; in those cases, cleaning can even be harmful. Random examples include power cleaning your driveway, removing fallen leaves from your lawn, wiping your baby's face in between each spoonful of puree, giving a bath to your cat, or using scented wipes on your genitals. Don't do it!
By no means do I consider myself a clean freak, yet I have pressured myself into making sure my house immaculate before I let anyone show up. I know it has sometimes gotten in the way of spontaneity: on a random Friday night, feeling like having some friends over, I will hesitate because I haven't had time to clean. Or I will get in a cleaning frenzy instead of relaxing while I wait for them to show up. Foolish of me. When your friends show up and exclaim "wow, your house is so clean", it might be a sign you overdid it (note to myself here).
Last summer, I became very resentful toward all the weeding work that kept me away from the beach. Eventually I went on a multi-week strike, left the flowerbeds to fend for themselves and allowed myself to fully enjoy the true pleasures of summer. I never regretted it, but I did feel the need to apologize for the state of my garden to impromptu visitors. Why?
When it's not us worrying about the state of our house and property, it's others: I have heard countless stories of well-intentioned parents and in-laws showing up and ending up cleaning their grown children's house while the latter would prefer just enjoying each other's presence. Offering help to young parents is definitely commendable, but it will probably make them feel like they have to join in the hard work when in fact they might simply want to chat with you.
Our obsession with cleanliness not only robs us of our precious time (and money, thanks to all those unnecessary cleaning products we feel compelled to buy, or thanks to the people we hire to do the work), it is also bad for our health and for the environment. The types of products we use and the frequency at which we use them deserves to be questioned.
Some questions to ponder:
- Does cleaning get in the way of other more meaningful activities? For example, do you refrain from inviting friends over, from playing with you kids, from going on a little trip - or from resting - because the house or garden is not quite up to your standards?
- How often does one really need to wash their hair or their clothes (with the exception of underwear of course) if they do not show signs of dirt and in the absence of significant sweating?
- Are our bodies and houses so dirty that we need to use the strongest detergents, disinfectants and abrasives on them? Really? Or are we destroying our skin's protective oils and useful bacteria, and breathing toxic fumes?
- At what point do we cross the line between preventing common colds and minor odors and giving ourselves cancer?
- What impact does all that cleaning have on the environment? How much water and harmful products do we use, and how much trash do we create (e.g. disposable wipes and other such horrors)?
- Do you sometimes "cover up" problems with strong products instead of actually tackling the underlying issue? For example, do you keep swirling the mouthwash (a useless product) instead of seeing your dentist about that recurring bad breath?
- Do we want to be the "victims" of marketing, which creates a false need for cleaning and beauty products that we could in fact live without?
What is your relationship to cleaning?
For more on alternatives to "traditional cleaning", click here.
WEEK 18 IN REVIEW
I succumbed! I bought one piece of clothing I did not really need. It was right next to the one piece of clothing I actually needed. In a moment of weakness, I took both. The price was good, it won't take up that much space, and I truly love it and will wear it a lot... but I still broke my rule, and I'm not proud to report it. I won't bring it back to the store, but I will make an extra effort to get rid of other clothes in an effort to "compensate". Lesson of the week: you can still have relapses five months into a new habit. Vigilance is essential!
What is your weakest area, and what do you do to prevent relapses?
Donations (good riddance)
On the bright side, I am very happy to report that I finally pulled up my sleeves and took care of the one room I was apprehensive about: my home office. Paper is the worst, when it comes to decluttering, because you need to look at every single sheet and read it to assess where it belongs. This is probably where the "touch it once" rule came from: if you file or discard your papers as soon as you receive them, they don't accumulate in piles everywhere! The office now looks like a place where organized thoughts can happen. And I can quickly access any document I need now that I know where everything is.
What room, cupboard or drawer are you tackling this week?
Observations and cogitations
This ongoing reflection on my consumption habits and their impact on my health and well-being, the environment and the economy has me question my intake of animal products. I have been a vegetarian in the past (although not at the moment). From an ethical perspective, being a vegan sounds even more appealing. But it all seems so complicated in a society that gives meat (and dairy) such an important place.
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