Cleaning. I am now the 32 year-old adult who cleans every single weekend. I set aside a few hours and turn my house from a state of chaos into a clean space of serenity.
I wasn't always this way.
Growing up, I never understood why my mom would clean so much. I mean, if there was a chance the delivery guy would see the front foyer on a Tuesday, my mother fiercely vacuumed the rugs and dusted and polished the wood. She would get mad at me for not offering to help. She expected me to wake up on a Saturday and go, "Hmm, what can I help my mom clean today?"
But of course I never did. Because I didn't understand it. No on ever remarked how clean our rugs were or how shiny our dining room table legs seemed to be. I felt like no one noticed all her hard work and it was a waste of time to clean constantly for everyone who might come into our house.
My father spent over 20 years in the United States Coast Guard. Being a military man, he always kept a clean and tidy space. He would tell me "a clean car is a happy car" or a "clean camper is a happy camper (referring to our RV)." He was meticulous about it and always joined forces with my mother when it came to domestic chores. They made quite a team. They still do today. I thought they were crazy.
In college my freshman roommate said "You don't clean. You rearrange mess." By senior year I lived in an apartment with three other women. Our bathroom sink reached bio-hazard levels. We cleaned....but not every weekend. The bathroom was evidence of that.
After college I lived in a convent for a year as part as a volunteer program outside of Philadelphia. I lived with a handful of Catholic nuns and two other "laypeople" my age. The Sisters, like my mom and dad, were very big on cleaning. They set aside time every weekend and had a chore wheel of sorts. (It was more of a list.) We all had to pitch in. I participated, willingly, but found I could never clean to their standards. Naturally, that frustrated me.
Frustration be damned, it also ingrained the lifelong habit my mother tried hard to instill in me: cleaning your home at least once a week. When people ask "what is one thing you learned during your volunteer program?" I have to smile and say, "I learned the importance of cleaning my living space."
Since I moved out on my own in 2010, I dedicate time every weekend to cleaning my home. At first, it seemed I just had to do it because "that's what you do." It took me years to realize why I do it.
It is my feeble attempt to establish control of my environment.
Like any 20/30 something, my life is filled with stress an uncertainty. Cleaning my apartment (and now house) once a week lets me exhibit control over my life. It is a healthy way to channel my anxiety and feel like I've accomplished something. It has become such a part of my neurosis that I've cancelled plans with friends because I had not cleaned yet! The plans didn't even involve my home! That is how dependent I've become on this anxiety cleansing ritual.
Which is why this past weekend, when I chose not to clean the house because I had a million deadlines staring me in the face and some exercise activities I needed to do, I got a little nervous. What would happen if I did not clean my house? Would it explode? Would I explode?
The answer was nope.
In fact, I progressed through my week, albeit a bit sloppily (no cleaning meant meal prep did not happen either so I turned into a squirrel foraging for food throughout the week). My bathroom started to look like a gas station restroom. My couch was covered in my dog's fur. My room became a tapestry of laundry. But nothing bad happened.
I was able to acknowledge the present situation and vow to fix it the coming weekend. I survived.
Something tells me my cleaning session this weekend is going to be all the more satisfying.