Good Housekeeping, Part II: Mending Fences

“It’s all about ‘cosmetic touches’ – fluffing pillows…neatening up piles of messes and spraying air freshener which signals the house has been ‘cleaned’…The purpose is not to clean so much as to create the appearance of ‘having been cleaned,’ not to sanitize but to create a kind of stage setting for family life. And the stage setting Americans seem to prefer is sterile only in the metaphorical sense, like a motel room or the fake interiors in which soap operas and sitcoms take place” (76). – Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

Like the fake smiles we wear and the pretense of the happy sitcom family we pretend is our own, the smiles and pretense are merely stage settings that mirror the family life many of us wish we had. We want a family life that’s tidy and neat. We want the ideal, the Leave It To Beaver, Happy Days, or The Cosby Show families. Other sitcoms, like Married With Children, Roseanne, or The Simpsons are funny and make us laugh, but they are depictions of a messy business that’s closer to real life than we’d like to admit.

When it comes to traditional spring cleaning, everything looks and feels good when you’re done, but all we’ve got is a clean house and hours lost cleaning it, obsessing over it. We’ve lost precious time that could have been better spent clearing the dust bunnies from family life and emptying those drawers in our brains that have been stuffed with the bad things we are loathe to let go of because we might need them one day. To hurt someone who has hurt us. Payback.

These drawers are full of soil devoid of healthy nutrients, the kind of soil from which nothing good can grow.

How important is cleaning, really? Despite our efforts to keep that closet clean, it continues to accumulate tangible things but also those not always as evident like negativity, blame, and unhappiness. To this mess we add unproductive, wasteful habits that impede our personal growth. We see the glass as unwashed and half empty. We stop trying. We cling to slights, hurts, injustices that, to us at least, seem to justify the poor-me attitude that develops and pushes out any honest communication or clearing of the air in the spaces between people. We tip-toe around that proverbial elephant in the room, put a fence around it, and pretend everything’s okay.  This is what we nourish instead: misunderstanding, anger, and sometimes a desire revenge – hardly what one might call treasures. The elephant grows larger, though it’s already taking up so much of the room that we’re all becoming claustrophobic; the fence falls into disrepair.

“Know thyself,” the Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 B.C.) once said.  The soil essential for healthy growth to occur begins with a fertile loam nourished by right conduct, self-improvement, and a positive approach to living. Not sarcasm. Not accusations. Not things that hurt or denigrate others. We must clear our heads of that which stunts development of the self.

I think Socrates was onto something there.

A self filled with negative thoughts or feelings, with jealousy, envy, bigotry, hatred, or pent-up anger at loved ones, can’t achieve understanding. There’s no room for it. That self is too cluttered, to weighted down by the onus of not letting go. Instead, it accumulates one problem, one grief, one complaint after another. We do more damage to ourselves than anyone else could ever do, all the while blaming others for our feelings and actions.  Our minds and hearts fill up with the clutter of everyday living, allowing it to fester in soil deprived of nutrients when, instead, that’s what should be swept into the dustpan and dumped in the trash. So much for treasures.

But we can fix this.

Take inventory. Make two piles: “pitch” and “keep.”  What we live, breathe, and think permeates the environment we create for ourselves as well as for those around us. An imbalance in one affects the other – the domino effect in action. An understanding of the self is the DNA from which the soil essential for growth and peace of mind is cultivated. Live rightly, breathe deeply of the fresh air, think positive thoughts, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

Should we be wasting our time whitewashing broken fences, hoping no one will see how

Mapleton Drive house

Mapleton Drive house (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

damaged they are? And when we die, as we all will no matter how we behave in this life, will we be lovingly remembered as dear friends, beloved relatives, and nurturing family members – as individuals who cared about others? As members of society to whom love and caring weren’t just words thrown around meaninglessly, for show, because that’s what was expected?

Having a house that’s so clean you could eat off the floors isn’t such a great thing, anyway. It sounds good in the abstract, but I don’t know one person to whom that’s important.  DISCLAIMER: The five-second-rule doesn’t apply here. It is only applicable if chocolate or Reblochon cheese are involved, anyway, regardless of the state of the floors.

What I do know about spring cleaning is that it feels good while you’re doing it and imparts a sense of accomplishment. It makes everything feel fresh and new.

We need to feel fresh and new, too, so get to “Know thyself. ” If the air between people is filled with fog that isn’t cleared by the sun, it’s impossible to mend a fence without smashing your finger with a hammer.


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