Generally, I’m completely horrible at housekeeping. There is dust everywhere. My vacuum cleaner has been broken and so I’ve been using a Shop Vac “to get the worst of it” for months. With four kids in the house, my kitchen counters are perpetually sticky from an unknown source.
My excuse, however lame, is true because of the simple math: a five bedroom 4000 square foot three story 1881 house with six people and two pets living in it equals impossible to keep clean. You clean a room. You leave it. 30 minutes later you enter the room, and it’s been destroyed by pet hair, children clutter, or a husband trying to do the endless “repairs” needed on this old bitch of a building.
At times, though, housekeeping can be comforting. And at its best, it can help you achieve a kind of temporary Zen state. It’s a control thing. Have a bunch of shit going on in your life over which you have absolutely no control? Well, you can’t fix that but you can finish that pile of laundry. Your head goes into a kind of blanked out state in which you’re actually thinking, but you couldn’t say about what.
Different household chores provide achievement of Zen experiences that can randomly be measured in references from the 1984 movie Karate Kid.
Doing Dishes/Cleaning Kitchen
Zen Level: Daniel-Son
Doing dishes is for rookies. It’s not fun or relaxing at all, and if any one of the kids is near the kitchen, I immediately tell them to come do the dishes because I am “getting dinner ready” (read: seeing if we have any tuna fish so I can make Tuna Helper because that’s how upper white trash I am).
Straightening up a Messy Kid’s Room
Zen Level: Elisabeth Shue
(Okay, I’m just mentioning Shue because I’ve always had a girl crush on her, and in addition to being Daniel’s crush in Karate Kid, she was amazing in Leaving Las Vegas not to mention singing the Babysitting Blues in Adventures in Babysitting)
It’s very rewarding to walk into a child’s room, as I did this past weekend, see a disaster they’ve been “cleaning by themselves” for a few months, and bring order to it. I have to mentally prepare to enter and clean the room of my messiest kid, because I know I am going to find creepy, disgusting things. I wasn’t disappointed. There was a little “swimming pool” made for a dead spider cricket that was half decomposed a la The Bay. After several hours, I took four full contractor bags out of her room. Two trash, one clothes to give away, one toys to give away, including an entire contractor bag of stuffed animals out of her room that she didn’t even notice, so I consider it a win.
Cleaning Wooden Floors with Murphy’s Oil Soap
Zen Level: Wax On, Wax Off
I don’t just prefer this chore because of the contact high from the amazing smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap (seriously: they should make candles. My house would always smell clean without me having to do anything). A dirty floor, even the area around the edges of a big area rug done by hand, is very rewarding household chore. There’s something about going all old school and getting down on your hands and knees and scrubbing a floor. It’s not something so fantastic that I do this more than once or twice a year, but when I am I do always feel very accomplished and possibly hungry for snacks.
Zen Level: Mr. Miyagi
To me this is the holy grail of household chores. I know, it’s never ending. But I don’t let the kids do their own laundry. It’s not because they’re spoiled, it’s because I do not want them in my laundry room fucking it up. There’s a carefully balanced Zen energy in the laundry room. It’s a busy place—six laundry baskets moving in and out at different times of the week, piles of clean laundry, put the load of towels in the dryer. Start the next load. Swish, swish, swish. I don’t know, for some reason it bothers me the least of all the how-did-I-manage-to-become-a-goddamn-50s-housewife-like-my-mom chores.
So even though I will say housekeeping sucks and is not generally rewarding, I do feel that, similar to the “Wax On, Wax Off” lesson Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel in Karate Kid, there is something about “Laundry In, Laundry Out” that can actually be quite therapeutic at times.