Thursday, September 2, 2010

Understanding Dust

Quentin Crisp refused to clean his home, famously remarking that "After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse." He later admitted he was wrong.

Dust - it accumulates. Where does it come from and why? And how do you deal with it? Most people don't understand the nature of dust, and as a result, live in their own filth, quite literally.

Dust includes a number of components. The smallest part, ironically, is dirt - sand, fine soil particles, and the like, which are tracked into your house or blow in through open windows and doors. We get sand in Jekyll, when we leave screen doors open. And here in the country, fine particles from farming and dirt roads eventually settle inside and on windowsills.

But a bigger part of the dust problem is human-induced. It is skin, basically. Yea, I know, gross. So why do people live in this filth?

Your body sheds millions, if not billions of skin cells daily. While you may think of your skin and moist and soft, on a microscopic level, it looks like alligator skin, dry and flaky. Your body continually grows new skin cells in the epidermis and sheds outer ones continually. If you could see on a microscopic level, you'd see yourself literally raining dead skin cells as you walk, sit, eat, or even sleep.

Over time, these dead cells pile up into layers of dust. And this fine dust gets into everything - the carpet, your computer, your desk, your clothes - everything.

Before the invention of the vacuum cleaner, getting rid of this dust was a daunting task. You could sweep out a floor, but carpets would have to be hauled out and beaten with a rug beater. Primitive carpet sweepers might get some of the dust, but a lot of it goes deep down into the pile.

Regular vacuuming is essential in keeping dust levels to a minimum, as is dusting and other cleaning activities.

Some folks fail to realize this. Maybe you know some of them - hopefully you aren't one of them. "Dirty People" - folks who live in their own filth, often claiming not to have enough "time" to clean. Often the real reason is that they are too stoned or drunk to clean, or perhaps they just don't understand cleanliness. Their homes are in disorder - dirty dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor, plates and newspapers spread everywhere. And worst of all, dust and "dust bunnies" on everything.

Keeping your house and possessions clean is a full-time job. We used to call that job "housewife" - but in the era of dual income families, that job is increasingly being neglected or done once a week by illegal aliens.

Why is cleaning important? It is important for your mental health and well-being. Living in a dirty nightmare is no fun and is depressing. And letting the house get dirty is a first step toward hoarding disorder. Cleanliness IS next to Godliness. And it is very, very hard to do.

A recent short story in the New Yorker illustrates the point. A young girl is sent by her alcoholic parents to live with childless relatives who are "wealthy". The girl is amazed to see her new foster parents constantly working - and much of that work involving cleaning.

But they live in apparent wealth compared to her parents, only because their home and farm is well-tended and cared for. In reality, they are not significantly wealthier than her alcoholic parents. They just seem wealthier because they are cleaner. It is hard work, but it is one way to live a better life without spending more money.

Cleaning often seems like a pointless task - Sisyphus rolling the stone up the hill, only to have it roll back. But without it, life is less interesting and fun.

One way to minimize cleaning tasks is to minimize what you own. Huge houses are all the rage now, with over-sized rooms and eat-in kitchens, five bedrooms and five baths. But all that extra space often means just extra cleaning. Downsizing to an appropriate sized home helps eliminate a lot of that work and makes life a lot easier.

As Mark's Grandmother used to say, "Just because you are poor doesn't mean you have to be dirty" - and coming from rural Maine, she knew what she was talking about. A poor person with a clean house and clean clothes is never impoverished. "Her clothes are old, but never are they dirty" as Stevie Wonder said. But even fairly wealthy people can experience poverty of the spirit if they live in their own filth.

Cleaning takes effort, but it costs little. And the result is a lifestyle which feels richer. You may drive an older car, but if it is immaculately clean, it feels newer than it is and people think you are "richer" as a result. I drive 13-year old cars that some folks think are brand new, only because I wash and wax them and keep them in a garage and don't let them fill up with trash. It takes a little effort, but far less effort than the labor needed to buy a $40,000 car brand new.

The same is true for your home, your clothes, and other aspects of your life. A neat, tidy home looks more expensive than a larger dirty home. An inexpensive shirt, well-pressed, looks better than a designer shirt with a stain on it.

Living better by living stingy is the motto of this blog. Being clean is one way to live better that doesn't cost you anything but time - time that most people spend watching TeeVee.

So... Get vacuuming!