I am trying to put my house and studio in order after months on the road.
There are those who might think this should be blank, because I don’t know anything about cleaning, but they would in fact be wrong. Most orderly people don’t need to think about how they keep things up; I have to think about it a great deal.
- Be driven by process, not results: King Augeas' stables are very dirty and if you’re not Hercules, the only way to get them clean is to plug along despite how little progress it appears you are making. Yesterday I managed to get half a room finished; I was stalled by the piles of receipts and bills that needed attention on the dining room table. I can either be driven nuts by this, or I can just plug along until I finish.
- Actually put stuff away. That really slows you down—especially if you think the stuff has no place—but in the end it’s far more effective than moving piles of stuff from point to point.
- Or get rid of stuff. We 21st century Americans are drowning in material goods. To me there’s energy and potential in open space.
- Clean the perimeter first, starting at one point and working your way around the room. I read this in a book about professional cleaning, and it really works. I think it’s a continuation of point #1: if you’re looking at the walls, you can’t be driven nuts by your current lack of results.
- Don’t clean what isn’t dirty. Don’t straighten what isn’t messed up.
- Do all cleaning in a single pass. I am lucky enough to have modern windows, and I clean them whenever I clean my rooms. It’s dumb to pull the furniture out to vacuum and then not do the crown-molding, the windows, and the chair rails.
- Once you get one corner of your space clean, protect it; it’s a place to retreat when you lose your mind. Normally, this is the second floor of my house, which I generally keep pretty tidy. However, my peripatetic paintings from the RIT show seem to be wandering around up there looking for a home. So for now, I’m taking solace in the fact that my freezer—which was full of ice because someone had neglected to pull the door totally closed—is now immaculate. Even that small rectangle of order is enough to prevent me from losing my mind.
Hercules takes a break, Attic black figure skyphos, c. 500 B.C. The goddess Athena is pouring him a cup of wine. (Mount Holyoke College Art Museum)