“Someone once told me time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.” This quote from True Detective points out a philosophical point about the possible meaningless of existence, and—on a more mundane level—sums up the misery of cleaning. You will never escape entropy!
But cleaning guru and Jezebel writer Jolie Kerr presents an interesting modern take on tackling grime and clutter, as discussed her new book “My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.” The book deals with the nitty-gritty details of upkeeping your abode—straight-talking tips on laundry, mopping, and the special-category unsavories like, as the title specifies, ridding your purse of boyfriend fluids.
And she emphasizes the cold hard fact that there’s simply no getting around work to keep your home a place where you actually want to be.
But doesn’t cleaning have an insulting history, with the patronizing expectation that this is a woman’s role? Yes! “I think it’d be Pollyanna-ish of me to tell you there isn’t a gender construct in cleaning,” Kerr acknowledges. She says the legacy of housework as the domain of women continues, and likely will for a long time. But she also points to positive changes, noting that girls and women are less socialized to fixate on cleaning than in the past.
So, should we continue to toss off our lady shackles by embracing our soiled homes? Mmm, we should probably be reasonable: Kerr points out that “cleaning is a human problem, not a male or female problem.” While she approves of the less-gendered focus, she laments the general diminishing of cleaning know-how: “Everybody’s lacking for basic knowledge.” (As most that have lived in college housing can attest.)
But Martha Stewart she is not. While she voices great affection for dear Martha (“I love everything she does, I love how she’s judgmental . . . The ego is staggering. I admire her ego”) she places her aspirational lifestyle as being of a different time. Instead, Kerr’s emphasis is on cleaning basics (that tend to be less passed on from parents/mothers than in the past) and providing an understanding tone. “My job is to say, ‘Don’t feel bad.’ Life is hard enough without feeling bad that you stained your favorite shirt. . . Let’s get perspective.”
Still feel depressed at the prospect of doing chores you loathe over and over and over for the rest of your life? Kerr offers some hope: “The better I get at things the less I hate doing them. I used to hate vacuuming and I got a new vacuum cleaner, and now I love it!” And there’s no shame in hoping that technology will continue to add convenience. (Image: commons.wikimedia.org)