The apex of housework

This post is about the most mundane part of my life: housework. It is also the bane of my life. I detest it, and yet I hate living in a dirty apartment even more than I do cleaning it.

Now, we all have our standards and arguably mine are relatively good, but it’s all relative. I defer cleaning day to the edges of acceptability, especially when I know that no one is due to visit. It’s not even about cleaning – it’s about tidying too. Work for my projects seems to collect in piles on the sofa. Piles of books (either read or unread) accrue on surfaces from the bedroom to the living room. Bathroom items are left out because it’s easier than putting them away. The kitchen is the only room that I make sure is tidy and clean every night before I go to bed; it would be too much to wake up in the morning and come face to face with carnage in the sink. The recycling piles, however, are a different matter. As if the destruction of the planet isn’t enough to make me consider going zero waste, avoiding the mountain of recycling might just do it.

Last weekend I spotted an opportunity: I had a hiatus from my PhD proposal whilst I awaited feedback from people, which left me with an expanse of time available. Suddenly the general mess was like a red, flashing alarm – I couldn’t mentally focus on anything else. All I could see was the cleaning that I had neglected. It was creating brain wave blockages. It’s time had come…I made a plan:

Identified my optimal time of the day for cleaning. I didn’t want to waste precious time when my brain is usually firing on all cylinders (usually in the morning). And I wasn’t prepared to give up my me-time (training) or nap time (yes, I schedule weekend nap time). The best solution was to allocate late afternoon when I had no more mental energy to devote to something but could quite happily take on some physical labour and philosophically ponder the meaning of life whilst I was at it. I think this is where I’ve gone wrong before – when doing housework first thing (believing it would make me feel productive), it’s left me feeling sapped and therefore peeved for the rest of the day.

Dedicated it to the future me. I knew that when it came to the next day, or the next weekend, I’d be grateful that the apartment had been cleaned. It would alleviate time pressure during a weekend which would be busier, and wouldn’t plague my mind for the entirety of the coming working week. No, the current me didn’t want to do it, but I knew the future me would be delighted with a clean and tidy home. I’m always surprised about just how pleasant and satisfying a clean home can be.

Defined the treat at the end. By structuring my cleaning in the late afternoon, my typical treat is then to enjoy a leisurely shower or bath in my nice, shiny bathroom. It washes off the grime from cleaning and means that the next stop is my pyjamas…despite it being only 5pm.

Geared up to it. In my head I’d planned to blitz it at the weekend, so the week preceding I’d made sure that I was on top of washing my shirts, so they were ready to iron and go straight in the wardrobe. I’d changed the bedding when I worked from home one day. I had a spare 10 mins before going to the gym one morning so did a quick scoop of surface level items that could be put in cupboards or drawers. And on the Friday I’d got home a tad earlier and emptied/cleaned the bins. Maybe some would see this as extending the cleaning beyond one day, but it meant that the core activity seemed less onerous. Perhaps a mental illusion? I’ll take whatever works!

Sometimes good is enough. Did I get my feather duster out and get rid of all the cobwebs? No. Did I move all the furniture and vacuum underneath? No. Perfection can be the enemy of done. Good enough gets it done. And alright is what it was. I did what was needed of me. Could I have done more? Sure, but then we’re getting to the point of the law of diminishing returns. And life is too short.

Housework is my site of procrastination. There’s always something more intrinsically valuable to be done instead. Eventually my feng sui gets so disrupted that I can no longer concentrate on the deep work that I need to do. That’s when I know that my time is up and it needs to be resolved. And maybe that’s how I need to flip this in my head and re-conceptualise it. Doing housework = better writing = happier Claire. It’s part of the long game and building the sturdy foundations.

During the process of selling my apartment, I’d dedicate myself to a weekly clean and I’d tidy so much before a viewing that it looked like a friggin’ show home. Now that the process is over it’s highlighted how much time and effort I went into making it a comfortable and welcoming place for visitors – utter randomers – and that I didn’t put in a fraction of that effort for myself. What does that say about what I think I’m worth or what I deserve? What can sometimes seem so trivial and mundane may actually play a much bigger role than we first attribute to it. Perhaps give that a ponder when you next don the marigolds.

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