Cleaning is messy business.

Last Saturday, Frederik and the kids left for a week of visiting family and friends in Belgium. As I already spent some marvellous vacation days in Seattle, I unfortunately could not join them now (but I am doing so next Saturday). They literally had not left yet and I was doing what I had planned all along: CLEANING. I started with the kitchen – deep cleaning of the microwave and coffee machine included but skipping the oven, did the living room and our bedroom. I also washed all the sheets of all the beds in the meantime. Next day, I cleaned up and sorted through all the kids’ toys and ended with the bathroom. And honestly? I had a good time, getting rid of all that dust while catching up on all the This American Life’s that I had missed over the last few months. But in the back of my mind was also a little voice crying out: “WHY?”

When I told my friend what I had been up to, she said: “You did your spring cleaning! It is time for Easter!” Well, that is definitely part of my motivation. Sorting through a lot of stuff and making it shiny and fresh again has this wonderful transforming ability of making things new again. A fresh and new beginning.

And I had another great feeling while cleaning: It felt like reclaiming the house, appropriating my own home and making it just the way I like it. Living with other people, even if you love them dearly is sometimes a pain. Not to mention the kids! Sticky handles on the kitchen cabinets, sticky doors and stuff everywhere where you just cleaned up can be kind of aggravating. Going through my house, making it look like I want without compromises gave me a sense of victory. Of course, this feeling was mostly due to my knowledge it would stay this way for a full week! (Cleaning with kids around feels more like a Pyrrhic victory.) 

And there is one more reason why I cleaned: it clears my mind. If I have a problem to solve, something I need to think through, if something is occupying me, I don’t sleep over it (because I will simply not sleep). If I am stressed out and I need to clear my mind, I don’t go for a walk or do yoga, I clean. I have done so for as long as I can remember and during college, it was my favorite procrastination method. 

All in all, all good reasons right? Well, I need to add one more, one that many women will know, while men quite often do not: guilt. Or shame. Whatever you call it. The feeling that you are failing when your house is not up to your (quite often impossible) standards. While Frederik cleans the house so as not to have to live in his own (and our) filt, I clean the house to be a good daughter, a good mother, a good wife. To Frederik, a messy house does not say anything about his abilities of being a good son, a good father or a good husband. To me on the other hand, the state of the house projects on me like a deer in the headlights. If it gets too messy or dirty, I cannot function anymore until I have done something about it. The different baggage that cleanliness brings along also explains why we like to fight about it. 

So, last weekend, I cleaned all the guilt of being a working mom away! Self-awareness is the first step, right?

Next time. COOKING! Another hot issue!

Leave a Reply