I like a clean house. And the older I get, the more I hate clutter. Do we really need all this stuff that just takes up room and collects dust?
The clutter issue has become more salient as I’ve struggled to keep our home as clean as I’d like. I used to manage most of the housework myself, years ago, when the girls were still young. Every Friday, while they were in school, I’d clean the house from top to bottom in preparation for Shabbat. I’d dust every tchotchke, vacuum under the beds, mop the bathroom and kitchen floors, the whole works. I was exhausted by the end of the day, when we’d finally sit down for our Friday night meal. But I also felt a sense of accomplishment and renewed calm, with our home restored to order.
This was before I got a full-time job and began commuting to Boston. It was also before my hands simply became too damaged to manage the work. At that point, we hired a cleaning service.
Over the years, we’ve taken a break to save money, only to rediscover that the only way to maintain my cleaning standards is to have someone come every other week to do all the heavy housework. I picked our current service because they use environmentally friendly products and are very reliable.
Still, it bothers me. There is something about not being able to do this myself that feels like failure. I’m sure this sounds silly. Women have striven for years to be free of the drudgery of housework. It shouldn’t be “women’s work” in the first place. (In all fairness, Al does help a lot around the house, with laundry, dishes and yard work, as well as grocery shopping.)
But the reality is, no one will ever clean my house the way I once could. Whenever I get aggravated and try to tackle the stuff that’s still not the way I want it, I end up hurting myself. Even if I wear gloves to protect my hands, I inevitably smash an ulcer or otherwise damage my skin.
Last Friday, when all the workmen who had been tromping through our house for the past two weeks finally finished connecting our new energy-efficient heat pumps and installing triple-pane windows, I looked at all the tracks across the kitchen floor and couldn’t stand to wait for our cleaners to arrive this week.
So I went out and bought a floor mop that sprays cleaning fluid so you don’t need to wrestle with a heavy bucket and wringing out a sponge mop.
This presented several unanticipated problems, however. First there was all the shrink wrap and plastic packaging to remove, one of my pet peeves that requires deft maneuvers to avoid mashing my hands. Then I had to pry open the battery holder with a knife because I couldn’t slide the compartment door open.
Then we came up one battery short. While Al ran to the store right after he got home from work to pick up more AAs (and stay out of my way because I was on a tear), I vacuumed up all the flotsam and jetsam from the window installation. When he returned, I began mopping, erasing every trace of work boots on the kitchen and dining room hardwood floors. This felt great. I’d actually managed to clean the kitchen floor on my own.
But. As soon as I’d finished, I realized my left ankle was sore, and my back, and my joints were acting up. One more reality check. I just can’t do what I used to be able to do.
This is what’s so frustrating. I’m sure it doesn’t really matter if our home doesn’t sparkle. I know the extra degree of clean is all in my head. I’m grateful that we can afford some help and, in the process, support another woman entrepreneur. I just hate feeling like I have to rely on others to do something so basic as mop my kitchen floor. It’s one more reality of this disease.
So the only alternative is to make it easier for our cleaners to clean. And that means reducing the clutter. I have a long list. But it’s a worthwhile effort, and one I can still manage, without help—to decide what’s really essential.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.