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Do We Want to Tidy Up This Mess or Can We Afford to Deep Clean It?

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As someone who was the primary "house-girl" in my household growing up (read: the cleaner tasked with household and domestic chores/labour), and from a very young age, I learned early that tidying is not synonymous with cleaning. In my adult life, I have heard others attest to this as well.

Tidying was something I did intermittently during the week. Sometimes subconsciously or intuitively. It was almost never pre-planned. That was reserved for cleaning. Instead, tidying up ranged from the mundane and routine to the spontaneous and random. Tidying meant washing the dishes daily or wiping the counters. To tidy up was to pick up clothes, put books and toys where they belonged, make my bed daily, etc. Tidying was, for the most part, a collective effort. We were all responsible for keeping the home tidy.

Cleaning, on the other hand, was a different ball game altogether. If we liken putting clothes in the hamper with tidying, doing [all] the laundry is cleaning. For me, cleaning is often pre-planned and reserved for the weekend. Typically, Saturdays. It requires more time and more effort. And often means the whole house/living space, not just specific rooms.

In most homes, domestic work is still relegated to women and girls. Even when hired help can be afforded, it is women who tend to do household cleaning. In this way, cleaning is typically gendered and requires fewer people. If not, a sole individual.

When we tidy a space, we typically leave much of it the same. Dusting here, wiping there. The blueprint and foundation are left as is. No furniture is typically moved around. You don’t really take the curtains down to wash them. You may dust the blinds, but they aren’t taken apart. If windows are cleaned, the outside portion is ignored. You may vacuum, but the carpets aren’t removed. Let alone beaten or shaken to remove what dirt lies beneath. You do dishes frequently but hardly ever do we take all the dishware out to give the cupboard a good wipe-down. We can rearrange the pantry to keep it tidy, but removing all the items and disinfecting the shelves is a different story. Making sure the bathroom is presentable, is not the same as washing the sink or tub, or scrubbing the toilet.

In a sense, tidying up is easier work than cleaning. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, there are even levels to clean. Suddenly, there's an emphasis on disinfecting and sanitizing the space, as if that wasn't required pre-COVID. Most communities have always invested time into deep cleaning.

As a child, spring cleaning was in a way, a ritual in itself. It was different from weekend cleaning. More thorough, and much more intentional. Windows got opened to let old stuck energy out. Intentions were set to let in the new. Music was played, and dancing was danced. The mood was typically joyful because the assumption was always that Spring cleaning would take at least several hours, if not the whole day, or weekend. It was a time to do the work that wasn't done on an everyday basis, or even bi-weekly. It was when furniture was rearranged and new designs experimented with. The electronic keyboard would move from here to there. The couch would no longer make sense where it used to be. The bookshelf found a new home. It marked a time of and for change.

Additionally, in my house, Spring cleaning was also more of a family affair. My mother would set the date, and let us know. Sometimes, the boys would even join in. We'd often do it together, whereas I mostly cleaned alone on weekends. It was a different energy.

In a sense, I’m grateful that being the only girl-child in my house taught me valuable lessons that made embracing messiness tolerable, compared to those who were never responsible for such care work.

Deep cleans were chaotic. Energizing and exhausting. Refreshing and tedious. You knew to intentionally fit in some joy because it was bound to test your patience. You knew not to invite anyone over because a disaster was sure to unfold. It was at times, an ugly and embarrassing sight. Unbearable. It required breaks, and often. A nap or two, unless you're an over-achiever that needs things to be resolved before resting.

In cleaning, you knew that things had to be rearranged. The carpets had to get removed and brought outside to be beaten. The floors beneath them were swept up and mopped. Furniture gets relocated. Items get sorted out, something’s, even tossed out and let go. This can bring up old memories, and raise some difficult or beautiful emotions. I’ve been meaning to watch, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Everyone keeps mentioning how phenomenal the series and her work are. I know for a fact that she has much to teach me. And gets into all that comes with tidying, organizing, and transforming a space anew.

So, for those who have watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and are already a fan I ask this: are there any parallels we can draw from on how to declutter space and social movements? Can we call band-aid solutions that were often being offered up a form of tidying up? What would it mean to radically deep-clean our lives, and social movements? Who are the cleaners tasked with care work? How many people are needed to do the “dirty work.” What cleaning tools are required? Do we care how it smells, or how environmentally friendly it is? What is effective like bleach, but healing, like lemon or lime? How much will it cost? Who already provides what we need? How long will it take us to clean it, and how long will it last?

I don't have answers or solutions, really. But I do see this ginormous mess everywhere. Crisis abound. Environmental, economic, social, political, health care, policing, education, COVID-19, attack on freedom and democracy, and the list could go on. And while all of it is daunting. I'm reminded that in order for things to get better, they must first get messy and unclean. Others have said this and talked about this topic. Check out Mia Mingus' work on "Moving Toward Ugly." Or this article by Alok on Mia Mingus on "Why Ugliness Is Vital in the Age of Social Media."

If this resonates, please pass it along and share it with others. If it doesn't, that's okay too. Like others, I and my words are not meant for everyone. If it is for you, please consider making a donation to I'm also on Buy Me a Coffee at DeeArchives. Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, in solidarity

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