Is your winter blanket in the kitchen sink? Are your dirty dishes among the bedsheets? Is your wet towel on your piano? If not, you need to give yourself a pat on the back. You have successfully resisted the physical laws of entropy. It doesn’t matter that the winter blanket is still not put away though it’s May, the dirty dishes have been in the sink for three days, and the piano has a fine layer of dust on it. Whatever state of tumult your house is in, or pigsty-ness as I like to call it, always remember, it could be so much worse.
All of civilization is a battle against entropy really. You start by keeping the wild animals out, you move to keeping the other tribes out, next you keep non-family members out, and somewhere along the way, you desire to keep the dust out as well. This last, as we find out later, is a sizable challenge.
Late on a recent night I found myself saying, “You can’t be bested by plastic bags! That’s ridiculous. Just do something about the damned things.” It was in the middle of an extended house cleaning session. Before we go further, let me say that I hate house cleaning. There, I said it. I’ll even say it again. I hate house cleaning with every fibre of my being. And therefore, I tend to go overboard on the all too rare occasions that I do it on. To (over)compensate for how rarely I do it, as it were. One of my more traumatic sessions occurred quite recently and went something like this.
6pm – This looks like it is under control. I’ll get to bed by 2am for sure. Let’s tackle these two piles of old clothes right here. Yeah, they’ve been exactly in this position for 6+ years, but today is the day. Salvation Army, here I come!
8pm – Okay, clothes are done. What are all these accumulated bags containing other bags containing plastic bags? Do I need them all? Certainly not. Should I just trash them all? Of course not. Let me sort through them and keep the more worthy ones! Two hours later, I am still at it. There are millions upon millions of them that I have gathered over the years. And I still can’t find one to line the trashcan when needed. Clearly, the plastic bags are going to inherit the planet. We’ll all be gone, all us living organisms, all that will remain will be plastic bags and cement concrete.
10pm – In India they have what is called a “maLa” in Marathi — a sort of attic or loft, which is dusty and rarely cleaned (don’t tell my mother I said that), and in which you can let “stuff” accumulate until kingdom come. I feel like I could really use one of those. It would be the perfect place for all these dozens of nice photo frames that have been gifted me over time and that I never use and can’t throw away. As also those giant nice-smelling candles. And all those other beautiful things I don’t know how to use.
But I also discover other beautiful things that I do know how to use — like that recipe for cranberry relish written by a friend that shows up like a neat little magic trick, back from the dark land of Things That Disappeared. Maybe this is the point of cleaning?
12pm – Hmm. All these things acquired while travelling. Most of them can go. The rental car receipts can go for sure. The maps are staying. Maps are non-negotiable. Maps stay. Certainly the cafe receipts can go. Wait, are we sure? Even that cafe that was right at the edge of the wilderness? Where the bright green gecko sat on the wooden railing next to you? Can that go too? Well, maybe not. Let’s keep that one. I suppose what one is really trying to hold on to, by means of the receipt, is the past — a fragment of time, a memory, someone’s handwriting on a card, a list of things to pack before a trip, a gift from an old friend.
2am – Some gifts bring back memories. Others bring back memories and at the same time also show up your failing memory. This puzzle ring for instance, a gift from far too many years ago. How the hell is this put together? Is it this sequence of moves? No. Try that one? Fail again. How about this particular entanglement? You guessed it — nope. Hmm. Really? We are trying to remember the moves for a puzzle ring at 2am on a weekday? Dear sweet Christ, put the damn thing away before it burns a hole in your brain.
4am – Bedtime maybe? Nah. Bathroom-time more like. Let’s do this bathroom up. It’s cleaned relatively often, so this should be quick. Well, it might be, if one were in a normal state of mind. But one is so totally not. 4am is when the fractal nature of dust finally comes home to you. The fundamental law is this — the more you clean, the more you see there is to clean. Surfaces that would have seemed perfectly clean earlier now appear dirty. First you clean the floor, then you focus on where the floor meets the wall, then the corner where two walls meet the floor, then the little lining at the base of the wall, and then up the walls, behind the table that hasn’t moved in 6+ years, the window sill, and then on the other side of the window pane, where the rain splatters. The height of it all is standing on top of the side of the bathtub to clean the top edge of the tiled walls. At 5am. Yup, at 5am. On second thoughts though, it’s the sort of thing that can only happen at 5am.
6am – Blessed sleep. For three hours. Before the day begins again. Before you open your eyes and tell yourself that the previous evening really did happen. Is this what a hangover feels like?
Just as I got obsessive about doing “one more thing” before I went to bed, unable to take a break even though my brain was telling me to do exactly that, the ring obsession lasted for a few days, but with no success. I succumbed at some point and looked it up, where the ever helpful internet gods helped me out. Satisfaction was found in the lovely, complex, neat and perfect solution.