I find comfort in the menial tasks of domesticity, where my life floats beautiful around the mundane. In small housekeeping based tasks, I find satisfaction in keeping a clean space, a clean house, meticulously organized and put together. It is no surprise that upon coming home, I have found myself more willing to put up with and maintain my mother’s expectation of order that has been established long before I was born, long before she was even born. In washing dishes, I find time to mediate. In making my bed every morning, I find a routine that keeps me grounded. In dusting, I am comforted by the way the rag clears the pale floatsom from tabletops, from nooks and crannies in furniture.
Admittedly, it’s akin to a nervous tick.
When I am worried, I straighten. When I am listless, I dig into the world that is my stuff and discard the unneeded, the extraneous, the superfluous. When I am sad, I find myself scrubbing a bathroom from top to bottom. When I am alone, as I often am, I find myself deep in the silence of cleaning a floor by hand, on my hands and knees. Often, as extra income, I find myself in other people’s houses, polishing their hardwood staircases with hot water and Murphy’s oil soap, hands wrung dry and knees bruised. I find a calm in not only cleaning my living space, but other’s as well. The world is a better place when I can organize and put things where they belong.
Housekeeping, in a way, is a representation of moral character. The matriarchal family in which I was born into has taught me the responsibility and need to maintain a clean living space in an intense, obsessive manner. Before I moved out, away from the life I lived under the gaze of my parents, my room was a place of chaos, of collaged walls, of piles of clothes, of stuff. I clung to disorder as a means of rebellion, to not only irritate my mother, as all good teenagers do, but push against all that I was brought up to believe, what I should be. I tried to ignore the uneasy feeling I got when I went into homes that were less clean than the one I lived in, whose blatant filth forced me to be careful about touching things, about stepping lightly. I tried so very hard to ignore the dust on the baseboards, the dirty kitchen floor but I could not.
So, when I moved out, when I got to fill an apartment with my things, my tendency and my need to keep house crept up on me and the one day smacked me across the back of the head. I dreaded using the dirty bathroom so I cleaned it. I hated walking barefoot across the dirt-speckled wood floors so I vaccumed. The disorganization of the kitchen made me nervous so I straightened. By the time I moved into my third apartment in 2 years, I was willingly and happily scrubbing the dingy linoleum kitchen floor back to it’s former white glory once a month while my roommate was out. I swept the back porch in the summer time, pulled weeds from the sad patch of dirt in front of the house, wiped out windowsills after rainstorms.
I often think of not keeping house a sign of something amiss. I have noticed, as I go back through the short stories I have written, that when ever something is wrong, the house is a mess, the dishes aren’t washed, there are no clean clothes, the floors are dirty. Despair is eating in bed, leaving the dishes on the nightstand. When the future is bright, the characters (or myself, since I think it’s hard to write something about someone else without you in it) live in a world of order and immaculate baseboards. Love is washing dishes together. I see the decay of personal space as internal conflict in other people’s writing too; off the top of my head, Housekeeping by Marylynne Robinson is one, We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates is another.
Today, while I am alone in a big quiet house, I am listing the things off in my head that I need to do in order to maintain that moral character. There is a vacuum to be run, a kitchen floor to be cleaned, counters to be bleached, laundry to be folded and put away, and as an extension of personal space, a car to be cleaned out. Granted there are other things I need to do but before I leave the house, before I even bother getting dressed, the housekeeping comes first. It is only after I do these things, only after I have made my world a better place, can I deal with the world outside, in all it’s dirt and disorganization.