Housecleaning is not a benign activity. It’s hard to stay calm and centred when you’re vacuuming a floor, mopping with vigour, or scrubbing a shower. Those are inherently violent and aggressive activities.
I don’t function well in messy or dirty surroundings. My thinking gets muddled and I find it hard to concentrate. I’m constantly distracted by the things that must be tidied and the things that must be cleaned.
My moods are highly susceptible to smells and sounds.
Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song raises my anxiety more than I can easily describe, while Katrina and the Waves singing Walking on Sunshine can have me whistling, singing, or dancing down supermarket aisles.
Both bergamot and lemongrass scents have an immediately calming effect on me. Vanilla scented candles and oils make me want to retch. Anything too fruity, or with too many sweet floral notes gives me a headache and makes me nauseous.
My house smells like citrus, rose, or lavender, depending on my mood.
My favourite perfumes are Kenzo’s Flower (here’s an enthusiastic description of Flower’s scent notes) and Issey Miyake’s L’eau D’issey (you’ll find a pretty thorough and accurate description of L’eau D’issey’s scent notes here).
I live near the sea, and it’s where I’m most content. This is not an irrelevant fact in light of my favourite perfumes.
While a clean house makes me feel calm and centred, actually cleaning the mess of four adult and nearly-adult human beings elicits some choice expletives. Sometimes I surprise myself with my vocabulary. Woah! I didn’t know I knew that word. Where did I pick that up?
In a patriarchal society, housecleaning is seen as both a lowly task and as women’s work. It’s, too often, invisible labour. Assumptions are made about who’ll complete which tasks. Maybe that’s changing, but change is slow and incremental.
The men in my house expect direction in order to participate in cleaning. There’s an assumption that I innately know what to clean, when, and how. It’s a constant source of both bafflement and infuriation to me that they don’t seem to notice the dirty plate left on the table, or the coffee cup that’s sat on the mantle for days.
My internalised misogyny comes to the fore on certain occasions. House cleaning is one of those occasions. There’s nothing quite like scrubbing a bathroom to make me resentful, to make me wonder why I bothered with all the years of university study. Then I realise how I’m devaluing the labour I’m engaged in. It embarrasses me. We’re all works in progress.
My mind is never quiet. There are always competing thoughts running in a hundred different directions. It’s taken me a long time to find how to direct my thoughts.
Music helps. I work with music playing. Always. I walk the dog while listening to music. I do the grocery shopping with a dedicated playlist.
Scents help. I have candles burning, or oil diffusers huffing mists of scented vapour into the room while I work. Or I work on my balcony where the chilly sea air embraces me in its salty arms.
Swimming, walking the dog, having a shower, and cleaning the house all help focus my thoughts. I do most of my writing in my head while engaged in one of these activities.