My mother is an impeccable housekeeper, as is her mother, as was her mother. I do not want to be the one to drop the ball (although I do have two younger sisters). Certain things get cleaned every week around here in my 575 square feet. The bathroom gets cleaned once a week, dishes somehow get done, usually the kitchen gets swept. Other than that my cleaning usually is spurred on by guests. I walk in and try to size up the joint objectively. Is it truly shameful? Or does just need a little tidying? Usually, it’s the former. And so I spring into action.
Like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding I have my weapon of choice. Soft Scrub. I only wish this was a promotion for this blessed product. For the most part, I tend to be greenish when it comes to my cleaning products. I use a lot of vinegar and baking soda on things. My friend Abby taught me the wisdom that “water is a universal solvent,” and usually that takes care of business. But sometimes you need the big guns.
I use Soft Scrub on my sink. And what a sink it is! My apartment is old. I believe it’s at least over a hundred years old, and I would date my sink back to the 30s or 40s. Here is a picture for reference. Huge but shallow, dishes tend to pile up as the week slips by. Most nights I get home, go for a run, cook something, relax, and go to bed. Dishes aren’t the highest priority. I purposely did not take a before picture because I have a mother and grandmother, and I do not want to be a disappointment to either of them. So for the sake of today, Mom and Grandma, my sink always sparkles like that. Soft Scrub demands your full commitment. I usually change clothes because it contains bleach and any number of chemicals that could kill you. Today I cleaned that sink in my skivvies. It was not pretty, but it got done. And truly there is something satisfying about the smell of bleach and a sink that is truly horrifying turning back into a white, gleaming vessel.
A quick side-note: occasionally I see things posted on social media that glorify home-making and housekeeping from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom. While I have nothing but the highest respect for the SAHMs I know (seriously, I want to be part of your club one day!), I do need to pipe up for the rest of us. Whether you are home during the day or not, we are all home-makers. Sadly, or perhaps blessedly, most of us are middle class, and that means we do our cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, errands, etc. As much as I wish there were “single person fairies” who did my laundry and cooked my meals or swept the floors (how do they get dirty in a day?), it’s just me here hanging out with my chores. Adults do chores. End of story.
Back to the original point and message of this post. I’m trying to get to the point as an adult where these everyday chores or “women’s work” can be transformed. I’ve read and re-read Kathleen Norris’s book The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” several times now. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a toilet needing to be scrubbed is just a toilet needing to be scrubbed. But surely there must be some reason that so many of us come into contact with the mundanity of day-to-day life. Norris writes:
Laundry, liturgy, and women’s work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down. Our daily tasks, whether we perceive them as drudgery or essential, life-supporting work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings. But they have considerable spiritual import, and their significance for Christian theology, the way they come together in the fabric of faith, is not often appreciated. But it is daily tasks, daily acts of love and worship that serve to remind us that religion is not strictly an intellectual pursuit…
She also quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote “God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.”
I know that none of this is ground-breaking, but I so often fall into the trap of thinking that all of my acts of love or service need to involve grandiose self-sacrificial gestures. It’s good to be reminded that loving someone and worshipping can mean taking out the trash, putting out fresh hand towels, mowing the lawn, grading papers, and re-affirming that a paragraph is 5-8 sentences long (I know this really isn’t a rule, but we need parameters in 6th grade. If I got a tattoo it would say “Paragraph=5-8 sentences”).