Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Ah, the ever renewed joy of housework

Virtue, they say, is its own reward.

There are few other human activities where that’s as true as in house cleaning. It’s one of those wearisomely extended jobs, only made bearable by listening to podcasts or music while you’re doing it. Like swimming, or even worse running.

Certainly, the only reward for having done the work is the work itself. The extraordinary thing about having got a place clean, is that no one notices. If they noticed, they’d have to be negatively observant: they’d have to be aware that they hadn’t made the observation that the place was dirty. Cleanliness is the default state, so it doesn’t impinge.

Dust on a bookshelf stands out; a spotless bookshelf is – well, just a bookshelf.

So the only person who really notices is the one who did the work. He or she looks at the kitchen floor that used to have that unsightly coffee stain near the sink, and that suspicious sticky patch near the bin, as well as all sorts of miscellaneous bits of twigs, mud or food, scattered by ourselves, brought in by the cat or spilled by the dog from her bowl. For a brief moment, he or she feels a passing sense of satisfaction at seeing it gleam.

The joy that just keeps giving...
Passing because (a) you get used to it in about twenty minutes and (b) in about four hours, its pristine state is spoiled. Yep, it’s raining outside, and pets don’t wipe their paws when they come back in… When you pull a garlic bulb from a string, some of the peel falls off… Thanks for wiping the working surface where you spilled that tea, but did you notice the floor?

You understand, that when I say “you spilled the tea”, I’m not actually talking to anyone else. That’s me the cleaner talking to me the tea spiller. And, believe me, that fact that I can only blame myself for undermining the work I’ve done only makes it more, not less, exasperating.

A dark carpet looks so good when it’s entirely lint free, from top to bottom, but only if you remember how it was before. Which only the person who struggled up it with a vacuum cleaner does. It’s a pleasure simply to walk up it, if you’re that person. But boy, just as you alone notice how clean it is, you alone notice that it isn’t any more. There’s that one little bit of fluff, which is probably grey but against that background stands out as glaring white, that bores into your consciousness.

At first, maybe, you try to pick such eyesores up by hand. When there’s one bit, you can. But at some stage, you’ll have missed their accumulation for a few hours, and there’ll be dozens. The only way to deal with it is to get the vacuum cleaner out again.

Which, as it happens, you might as well do, because it’s next week now. Time to start the whole process all over again.

Oh, joy! More virtue whose reward will be itself. You can hug it to you. You can really treasure it.

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