Thursday, 12 January 2017

Clean and Tidy

I've thought a great deal about this and have come to the conclusion that there are basically two good practical reasons for cleaning and tidying - making it so the place is reasonably hygienic and people don't get ill too often on the one hand, and on the other, so we can find things reasonably easily and not trip over stuff all the time. The rest is aesthetics, and as such, is purely a matter of personal preference.

Hygiene seems to some people a very cut and dried thing - there simply mustn't be any 'germs' about the place and we buy products that claim to kill as much as 99% of them, but of course it's not as simple as that (is it ever?) Frankly our bodies inside and out, our homes, our food and in fact our entire environments are veritable ecosystems of 'germs'. Many species of mostly bacteria but also archaea, yeasts, and microscopic plants and animals live in and on us and everything we touch, and the vast majority do us no harm whatsoever. A few are crucial to our survival (certain gut bacteria most obviously) and a few can cause disease. It is well known now that we have in fact over the last few decades, in our attempts to keep everything germ-free with a huge range of new cleaning products, possibly made ourselves sicker with autoimmune conditions and more susceptible to hitherto harmless organisms as a result. This shouldn't be very surprising - in macroscopic ecosystems (forests, lakes, gardens), if you eradicate the existing fauna and flora to plant crops the land doesn't stay clean and tidy for long but fills up with opportunistic generalist plants and animals - commonly known as weeds and vermin and you have to invest immense amounts of time and money controlling them. My guess is this is what happens with the germs that live on us too.
But I'm not advocating just leaving everything filthy. Our living conditions have changed so much over the last few centuries and our immune systems have not kept up so we use medicine and cleaning to make up the difference.

Tidiness is more a matter of practicality but living a disordered life can be deeply depressing and frustrating. At the same time, if you have a vigorous mind and have a fair idea where everything is, having everything out in piles on the floor, on chairs, on the bed, in the car, might suit your way of working. Or you just might not have time to do much about it.

Beyond that, cleanliness and tidiness are completely a matter of individual taste. Some people like a very spare white and chrome look with huge windows and shining floors and are prepared to spend a lot of time or money keeping it that way. Others prefer a more cluttered look with lots of books and toys and plants about the place and accept that there will be some dust and a certain amount of wildlife about the place, otherwise they'd never do anything but clean.
So cleaning and tidying are very much a matter of personal priorities. Beyond a basic level of health and safety and practicality it depends only on how much time and energy you want to spend on it. Possibly we'd all like a spotless abode to come home to, with the kitchen surfaces clear and ready for action, the duvet cover changed and no fluff behind the telly, but there are so many other things to do. I want to talk to my friends, read, write, run the nursery, and frankly, since I'm not one of these people with loads of energy, I also want to spend time on the sofa watching old DVD boxed sets. And above all I really don't want the tyranny of having all my time mapped out and filled up. I really enjoy loose time.

And yet...
And yet so many people don't seem to see it that way. They seem to think that there is some absolute necessity to keep things clean and tidy. It is simply something one must do, always, even if one doesn't feel like it, even when one is sick or exhausted. There is no excuse. The way some people react to the washing up being left for the morning you'd think it was a notifiable public health hazard.
This isn't supposed to be a sexist point. I've known women who were utter slobs - especially when they were single, and men who were incredibly pernickety. The gay couples I know often move to opposite ends of the spectrum over time, so one becomes the nag and the other becomes the slob. Sadly though, in heterosexual relationships, it is almost always the woman who is the martyr and the nag, and the man who is the oblivious slob.

If you came over here right now to my flat you might notice that the carpet hasn't been vacuumed for a while (I hate vacuuming) but the washing up is well under control and there's not much stuff lying about. I tend to put things away when I'm done with them but things sit on the table if they're part of some ongoing activity. I have a couple of areas of chaos - the most obvious is the bedroom table which has piles of unfiled paperwork on it. I get around to sorting through it about three times a year.

When I was married I tended to take responsibility for the kitchen and 'wet works' (bathrooms, toilets etc) I actually don't mind washing up at all and I do it once a day, usually in the morning. I was a better cook than her and also tended to do most of the laundry. I did the bins and recycling, The Big Shop once a week and was around for her kids when they got in from school. She worked longer hours than I did but she was in a career she loved. She earned more money, but also bought a lot more stuff, whereas I can live happily on very little if it means I don't have to work full time.
Nevertheless there were times when I got that look - the one that says 'You're just not doing enough.' She wasn't particularly interested in housework herself. She'd do a blitz on the place every so often, especially if someone was coming. Later she complained that I was not doing 'deep cleaning', whatever that is.
It came to a bit of a head when we redid the bathroom. It certainly was a bit shabby and leaky and we went for a total refit. I've never been into DIY and I was by now running the nursery which took up a lot of my time and energy. I demolished the old wall between the bathroom and the airing cupboard and chipped off the old tiling. I had to build a new wall, box in the waste pipes and put up the shower cubicle after the plumber had done his bit. I made a T&G frieze and wooden floor. We both did the tiling - several times actually because the wall I built wasn't rigid enough and the adhesive didn't work. She painted the walls.
At the time I felt guilty and hassled about it - that I wasn't doing enough - a feeling I can get very easily from just a slight disapproving glance or a well-placed silence. The feeling that I was the useless man and she was the dutiful woman grew during that time. The summer house that I'd planned and built sat unfinished and empty at the end of the garden because I didn't have the time or the energy to work on it. I was very sad about that when our marriage ended. For our wedding present we'd asked people to just give us money towards it.
In retrospect I can see that not only did I do almost all the work on that sodding bathroom (despite the fact that I had no aptitude for it and made many mistakes) but that in fact, having a new bathroom was a purely aesthetic decision. The old one would have needed fixing up for sure - re-tiling and a new shower head, but it worked. It wasn't worn out, and frankly that's all I want. I don't spend a lot of time in the bathroom and I really don't care too much what it looks like as long as it's reasonably clean. No, this was her project - her priority. It was no more necessary than me doing the garden or building the summer house. It was almost entirely a matter of personal preference and yet I ended up feeling guilty and inadequate over it.

Was she wrong to want a nice new bathroom and a 'deep-cleaned' kitchen? Of course not. If that's important to her there's no reason why she shouldn't spend her time and money on it and I'd help where I could. I got no help in the garden because that was what I was interested in and I didn't need or expect any help. (I could have done with some help with the summer house though.)
Anyway - where am I going with this? The point here is that something that should have been a matter of personal preference ended up being about my laziness and untrustworthiness.

Of course there are still men who expect their women to do everything around the house but not nearly as many as there used to be. It used to be pretty much the rule. Now it's something some men get away with, not something they're entitled to. Things have changed. And yet a worrying number of women still seem to think this way, even though women these days can choose who they want to be with, and have an equal say in how the relationship goes. It is entirely a matter of choice now. Are women choosing to be with selfish gits because they find them attractive in other ways? Perhaps the characteristics they're looking for in a man do not fit well with them doing their bit around the house. Perhaps nice helpful blokes are not sexy? It's possible they're less forward so perhaps women don't tend to meet them, or even realise they exist. At any rate, the period of courtship should give her some idea of how interested he's likely to be in doing stuff around the house, long before they move in together. She shouldn't really be all that surprised or disappointed. And yet she is.

At that point the need to change him steps in - to make him more the way she thinks he should be, but by then it's not a matter of personal preference. By then, having the house cleaned and tidied in a certain way is simply the way it should be. Somehow she has access to the universal objective standard of how people should live, and he's falling short. In fact he only has to be a short time behind her for her to end up doing all the work. If he typically notices some dirty crockery needs putting in the machine only five minutes later than she does, she will end up doing it every time. He doesn't have to be a slob at all to end up doing almost nothing, because his tolerance for mess is only a little greater than hers.
After that he becomes resentful and rebellious and she becomes martyred and judgemental. Neither of them handle it well, but because she believes she's objectively in the right, she has the advantage. All he can do is give in and do as he's told or throw a tantrum or sulk. The women then martyr themselves - scuttling around, huffing and tutting, saying 'no, I'm fine', doing what has to be done, exhausted and stressed but fired up with self-righteousness and self-sacrifice.
At this point she sees herself as the victim in all this, powerless against the men in her life, and she blames men in general for something she has chosen.
There are many heinous ways in which women all over the world are victimised and oppressed and abused, but this isn't one of them. This is a matter of choice. If he turns out to be different to what she wants, she can ask nicely, but she can't expect to change him. Would she change her standards for him? I don't think so.
And if he really is a slob - how did she not spot that when they got together? Was he an amazing actor, or was it just not something she was thinking about at the time? Too often we choose a partner based on looks or confidence or sex, and then try to change the other parts of them. I really don't think that ever works, unless they enjoy bickering, or being in a sub/dom, parent/child type of relationship, which some people apparently do.
And if she has kids with him, that is her choice too. She didn't have to do any of those things. It was her choice, her freedom and her responsibility, and denying that does nothing for women's power. She's made herself a victim, and frankly it's beneath her.

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