What Does Clean Mean?

The bathroom, I have been told, is an excellent place to think.


I tend to find the cleaning of the bathroom is most conducive to reflective thought (something to do with the purgative aspect?) and today was no exception. I started to ponder the difference between people’s standards of cleanliness. Not changing standards of personal cleanliness throughout history (though I have read some fascinating books on the subject) but rather domestic cleanliness.

I think we all, consciously or unconsciously, have a gold standard of what constitutes cleanliness, without which a home cannot be considered a truly clean one, regardless of what else has been cleaned.
For some, it’s a clean sink, à la FlyLady. For others, it’s the dishes that get washed in said sink. Or swept/mopped/scrubbed/vacuumed floors. Or a clean fridge. I have a friend who feels it is important to dust the skirting boards.

I realized, as I worked away this morning, that for me, the most important thing is having a clean toilet and basin. If that is not done, the house is not clean. If that is done, the house is – well, not dirty.

Woman cleaning toilets

I think this probably stems from my childhood experience of Saturday cleaning. On which note, Saturday is the day for weekly housework. Five days shalt thou labour, on the sixth shalt thou do housework and on the seventh shalt thou rest. Of course, if thou dost not do the housework on the Sixth Day, thou dost not have to do it until next Saturday…

At the age of seven, I was started on bathroom cleaning and dishes – my parents being of the view that by the time you leave home you should know how to run one.
Dividing the bathroom territory up with my brother, I went for the smallest possible surface area and ended up with the basin and toilet. (To this day, I avoid bath-cleaning where possible.)
Many years of doing these two chores has ingrained in my mind the subconscious belief that once the toilet and basin are clean, my job is done.

A reclining lady with a fan by Eleuterio Pagliani (1826-1903)

Of course, this is no longer the case, so perhaps it would be as well if I got some sort of mental cleaning product and had a good scrub between the ears.

What’s your sine qua non of household cleanliness – and do you know why?

Feeling the Urge to Purge

Funny people, the ancient Greeks: at least four words for love (storge, philia, eros & agapē), but they make one word serve for cleansing, purging, pruning and emotional release.

It makes sense, though, when you think about it. The word ‘love’ is made to mean far too many things for people to be really certain of what anyone means when they use it; and the various meanings of katharsis do fit together with a certain neatness.

Katharsis (or catharsis as we spell it in English, presumably a thin attempt at covering up the theft) is generally agreed to be a pleasurable feeling. This is why we enjoy reading or watching stories which involve unenjoyable elements. Our emotions are taken out for a brisk airing and returned to their proper places with the warm glow of exercise. This is, incidentally, why we cry when we’re really happy: all the emotion needs to be purged, and tears is how we do it.

But it’s the cleansing/purging aspect of katharsis which I particularly want to look at. Because cleansing and purging are themselves cathartic. This is not to say that washing dishes comes with an automatic glow of satisfaction (if only!) but there is a certain pleasure to be had in pruning the unnecessary elements from one’s life, purging the unwanted stuff, and cleansing what remains. It’s refreshing.

Le faccende di casa by Adriano Cecioni 1869

I spent a while this afternoon cleaning and cleaning out the bathroom – with particular reference to the cupboards. A variety of items left the room for good, and what was left was vigorously reorganized. And I felt good. Unfortunately this took the form of making the Caped Gooseberry come and admire the results. (Patience: a highly underrated quality in a spouse.)

A word to the wise: don’t flush random medications down the loo. Sewage is generally treated before it’s released into the wild, but as far as I know they don’t have special filters for distilling medicaments from the surging tide. Drop them off at the nearest pharmacy/chemist instead.

But don’t worry. As far as I know the mutant-druggie-sewer-alligator is just an urban myth.

Albino Alligator mississippiensis