What’s not to love about the expression “cleaning house?”
Don’t we toss off the yoke of Winter – or whatever is bothering us – by throwing open the windows and airing out our rooms?
Isn’t cleaning therapeutic? Or, as the New York Times suggests in “Unhappy? Clean House,” we perk up when we launder the linens, sweep the sun room, and in general – tidy up. And oh by the way, perfecting our environments expedites perfecting our lives – or so we like to tell ourselves.
Cleaning Capers, No More Vapors?
Leading us through highlights and mentions of our 20th century attraction to the minimalist aesthetic, author Will Wiles refers to “domestic perfection,” and challenges our notions equating the clean and stylish home with happiness.
Referring to the early modernists, he writes:
… The better home would lead to better people. Love of purity, in the words of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, “leads to the joy of life: the pursuit of perfection.”
Yes, indeed. We do take pride in our appearances – including where we hang our hats. And who will deny our American aptitude for aspiration, along with a touch of keeping up with the Joneses?
Incidentally, I plead no contest to a dash of this as well; I adore beautiful design, and I am visually hyper-sensitive though not to mess.
It makes for an interesting irony – or collision course? – our obsession with simplifying, and likewise, acquisition. Still, isn’t there value in streamlining our interiors? In periodic purging? In neatening our desks to lighten the emotional load?
Who would disagree with this Psych Central article from Gretchen Rubin?
… when I want to calm myself, or cheer myself up, I often take an hour and clean my office…
The Pick-It-Up Pick-Me-Up
One could easily argue that a quick clean-up results in more efficiency, and therefore alleviates stress. But do we busy (and distract) ourselves with straightened stacks and shiny surfaces?
Of course, in a 24/7 world in which little feels finished, cleaning yields a visible result – albeit temporary – and thus, satisfaction.
But cleaning as therapy? Domestic design as the path to contentment?
I prefer this approach, equating the psychology of Spring cleaning to our emotional interiors in need of attention.
It is easy for most of us to see the clutter in the rooms we inhabit. Too many books, stacks of paper, knick-knacks; some treasure, some trash. Likewise, if we are lucky enough to be able to… we have decorated our rooms to suit us.
But, it is harder to see the rooms that inhabit us… harder still to de-clutter those rooms… Our inner world is often like a house we inherited from our parents, fully furnished and full of their stuff… We walk around in the rooms and barely notice the mess that fills up the house… rules and lists… regrets, resentments, obsessions
I confess to less stress in a more organized setting. But appealing as “minimal” may be, or even “minimalish” – not only is it a headache to maintain, but a little mess is inevitable in life and for some of us, conducive to creativity.
As for neatening my files, dragging out the vacuum, taking sponge to the granite countertops and cloth to the stainless fridge, I’m more inclined to clean house metaphorically – clearing toxic tricksters from my environment and naysayers from my path.
Mr. Wiles rightly reminds us we’ve somehow imbued our homes with the power to “make us happy,” and cleaning as a therapeutic activity. Yet he juxtaposes our late 20th century penchant for perfect places with a necessary nod to more realistic expectations.
Most of us still find the idea of purging our surroundings to be an overture to more virtuous behavior… A good tidying up is what’s needed, and then the human factor will fall in line…
Minimalism had a short life. Its asceticism was at odds with the rising consumer spending of the latter half of the 20th century. Designers started to preach comfort…
(Hello, Consumerism? More pillows on that sofa, please!)
The Pleasures of Cleaning House
Are my interiors a reflection of my, well… interiors? Sure, but only to a certain degree.
A statement of identity? That, too, though more an indication that I work from home, lead a writer’s life, and kids are part of the lingering landscape.
I certainly feel some sense of accomplishment when I clean, but pleasure? Happiness?
I know women who routinely soap, soak, and scrub their way to feeling better about life. I admit I could likely use a visit by Jeff and Jenny should they re-enter the universe of Interior Therapy, but my home is not “who I am.”
As for de-cluttering in ways I deem important, I struggle as the caretaker of familial possessions, and with an inability to process certain losses and goodbyes. Were I able to do so, this may not prove a path to happiness, but it could result in a measure of relief.
Returning to the Times article, Mr. Wiles suggests that some of us may throw our energies into domestic duties as a matter of avoidance: cleaning over counseling, refinishing over reflecting.
Noting the ways in which contemporary culture reinforces these behaviors, he concludes:
… the idea that our lives can be perfected by perfecting our environments — lives on in the rhetoric of a thousand marketing departments. It is backed by television’s pop psychology, where the mental health of hoarders is restored by de-cluttering.
Mr. Wiles, I quite agree.
Then again, I’m most likely to scramble for Bounty and Lysol when I don’t care to finish my taxes, to examine my relationships, or inspect the state of anything substantive that might need tending to.
Now… where is my Windex, dammit? And will someone, please, locate my mop?