Friday, October 5, 2012

My Philosophy of House Cleaning

'I have a point, I promise'

1.   I haven't read, 'How Green Was My Valley' for many years now, but there is a scene from the book that has always stayed with me.  My copy is packed away with my books at present, but I remember the scene as something like this:

A Welsh mother in a small mining village began her day's housework.  Her daughter commented to her that every other house in their village is virtually identical to the other, and wonders why some women take all day to accomplish their house cleaning, while others finish much more quickly and are able to relax more?  The girl's mother, kneeling in readiness to clean her hearth, asks her daughter to take note as she sweeps the ashes and cleans the grate, before again leaning back on her heels.
"Look at the hearth.  Is it clean?"  she asks.
"It is," answers her child.  (Except that both of them speak in a much more Welsh-sounding way :)  The mother then leaned forward and spent several more moments cleaning the hearth more thoroughly.
"What about now?" asks her mother.   The daughter's eyes widen and she understands that there is a difference between wiping something over, and actually cleaning it.
(Ta Da!  That's when my eyes metaphorically widened too.)

(Home Bright Hearth Light, by Louise Jopling)

2.   When I studied Psychology we learned about 'selective attention'.  This is the name, (if I've remembered it correctly), given to the process whereby we all selectively discard or filter out almost all of the information collected for our brain by our senses, in order for us to function without a sensory overload, and more effectively focus on a particular task at any one time. The information we selectively reject may never find its way to our conscious thoughts, but it does nonetheless inform our conscious understanding of the world around us, and thereby fashion our perceptions.  (ie  Imagine yourself walking into a room.  Your eyes scan the area, but what you are looking for is your car keys.  Although your eyes inevitably capture every detail of the room, your brain helpfully filters out almost everything it considers non-important in order for you to focus on finding your keys.  Hypnosis is occasionally used to bring these unconscious observations to the fore.)

(This is another kind of selective attention!)

3.   I was in a car accident on a dirt road many years ago, in which the car spun out and I was thrown out onto the road.  I don't remember hitting my head on the way out of the car, or hitting the gravel when I landed.  What I do remember is flying through the air. I can still see, quite clearly in memory, my hands out in front of me, while red specks of dirt from the road swirled ever-so-slowly in the air around me.  It seemed that I could take note of every tiny, individual speck of dirt and follow its time-slowed dance. Then I hit the road and was temporarily unconscious.   (This experience helped me to understand point 2. above - to believe that my eyes actually do observe a lot more than I usually consciously process.)

(The Milkmaid, by Vermeer)

Put these three together and you have the basis of my philosophy of house cleaning.  You're excited right about now, yes?

This is it:  I believe that we, (and, I'm sorry to say, everyone else),  really can see every little speck of dirt in every corner of our houses; that we can smell the faint whiff of cauliflower from last night's dinner; that we do notice the dirty windows - even though most of the time we are not conscious of all this information.  The house can actually feel clean or dirty.

And the point of this?  I think of it often as I clean my house.  Even when my sweet husband may feel that a lot of my cleaning is unnecessary, this helps me to feel that, even if nobody does seem to notice, I think that they really do and that it makes the house more pleasant for our family and friends when I put in a good effort - that my efforts are valuable and worthwhile :)

What do you think?  :)

(Disclaimer:  Perfection in house cleaning is more a goal than an achievement for almost all of us, most of the time.  And, a touch of kindness and some common sense would tell you not to ever look at anyone else's house cleaning too closely! This thought is for me to use in my house, not for me to use in yours, ok?  A clean house is nice, but it's not the most important thing in life  :)

Shoes for housework

(Special house-cleaning shoes - uncredited in Pinterest)


  1. Ooh I like this Mum. And you're right,I think I always notice the mess or marks at least on some level!
    (I think it's also cool that while we're scanning that room looking for the keys we don't notice the other things, but then later when we're wondering where something is the thought comes that "oh, it's over there. I remember because I saw it when I was looking for the keys!")

    Good philosophy mother. I like these thoughts! I will remember them.

    I feel like I need to go clean now....

  2. You're much more industrious than I am! I have to get myself revved up to clean by watching "How Clean Is My House" ... after an episode of that I'm ready to scrub my house until it sparkles.

    1. I saw that once - it was kind of fascinating, but in a 'I-can't-believe-I'm-watching-you-wash-your-dirty-laundry-and-why-would-you-want-to-do-that-in-public!' way :) I'm not always industrious, not at all. But when I am, I feel like it's worthwhile! :)