10 July 2012

Cleaning: an act of love and hospitality

Cleaning tends to be known as women's work. Men are often considered to be messy creatures: they tend to make mess, they don't see the mess that's present, and they don't help with cleaning it up. Stating things that way makes for interesting conversations, as women's work seems to put women down and nowadays, especially here in the Netherlands, men often do quite a bit to help out at home.

I had once such conversation here in the community not so long ago. What fascinated me wasn't the normal sexism related to cleaning and cleanliness, but the fact that few people value cleaning. We all want things to be clean, but cleaning itself is considered an annoying chore that somebody has to do. Such a dismissal of cleaning seemed wrong.

Like most people, I get annoyed with how much time cleaning takes; yet, I take joy in being able to create order where there once wasn't order. There's something delightful in the fact that within so short a time a large pile of dishes can be put back away, almost all the cat hair can be vaccuumed away, and most everything can be picked up and returned to its place. When sometimes it feels like that what I do has no significant, obvious results (what is 1 page of writing or some editing when the project takes 4 years!?!), being able to do something physical and make the world around me more ordered and welcoming gives a small sense of accomplishment and feels good. And when at times my life feels horribly disordered, being able to create order in the space around me makes me more peaceful and hopeful about the rest of the disorder.

Cleaning is also a small way of being able to show love and hospitality to those who share the space with me. Matthijs is the one who benefits the most from this, and when he's gone long days then I end up doing most of the cleaning, cooking, and organizing. For me, it is a simple way of showing love and care. Yet, it also expands outside of that: a clean house makes it easier to invite others in to share the space or to share a meal - not because I have the expectation that houses should be super clean before people get invited in, but I do believe that a living space should help you be able to live better - having to always move things to sit down or see dirty dishes or trip over shoes or hunt for lost things seems to hinder that, both for me and for any potential visitors. Of course, everyone has different things that annoy them - so I guess it's good that, even if I do clean most of the house, Matthijs still makes sure everything gets dusted!

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