An appreciation of cleaning

One thing I have always loved about the task of cleaning;  it’s so clean, so unambiguously necessary and natural work. Morally and practicaly, the lines of cleaning are clear. It is always obvious what needs to be done:  this oven looks like crap; my sinks are filthy, etc. The task identified, specific, perfectly measured steps are put in place. Unlike complex tasks such as furthering the learning of adolescents, the purpose of cleaning is always clear and easily addressable.

And in the pure satisfaction the cleaner gets when assessing his work, there is a golden feeling of simple pride:  “I did a highly-proficient job making this person’s sinks sparkle and world brighter, especially in the bathroom, where my cleaning of the mirrors and hardsurfaces had a shining effect.” If there is a more satisfying human chore than removing dirt and disorder to a space–in concretely wrestling entropic forces,  grappling with chaos–I am sure it must have these payoffs:  

  • employing body with repetitive, aerobic movement–increasing heartrate and mood
  • a final self-assessment immediate to the eye–a cleaner room, a restored brightness and order to the scene

I know that painting a room or building a structure in a house have similar effects. The feeling a construction worker gets looking at his day’s work standing in front of him, or that the cleaner gets when inspecting a cleaned space is something teachers can only feel after years past graduation, when the young adult begins to live on his/her own.  The teacher can often only enjoy an abstract satisfaction, based on hopeful conjectures about where his students are going.   In this interview with actor Matt Damon, the student’s appreciation of teachers happens later–the older one gets, the more one appreciates the job:

As far as its effects go, cleaning and education are equally salubrious. To the user of a sanitized bathroom, no bacteria-borne illnesses threaten. To the educated citizen, the delusions of
demagogues are seen through and exploded before the body politic can be injured.


Finally, the task of cleaning accomplishes–if only temporarily–one of the purposes of life, according to a highly misattributed quotation (not Emerson’s–read about the incorrect attribution here), the one that says in addition to being trusted by good people, appreciating beauty, one should “ leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.”  

Based on what I know, leaving the world a cleaner space offers equally satisfying effects. Yes, one’s work is almost instantly going to be destroyed by use–but one has the certain knowledge that, if only for a small amount of time, I have improved this space.

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