Monday, July 30, 2012

Never admit your road to inner peace

JAN BROGAN -  Last week,  I had about six waking hours to critique eleven news stories from high school students. After I met my deadline, but before I had to bring the papers back to class, 
 I opened the refrigerator to get something to eat. I had only an hour and a half to shower and get changed, but I  was suddenly consumed with an overriding passion to clean the refrigerator. 

No. I am not a clean-freak.  In fact, I am SO not a clean-freak that should my husband ever leave me, my biggest fear is what the house would look like a month after he was gone.  I am SO not a clean-freak that I sometimes forget about laundry for weeks on end. If someone snuck in and ransacked my office - looking for an important clue to a mystery, of course -  I would never even notice.

And yet, every now and then I take an unusual amount of pleasure in cleaning out the refrigerator.  And so it was last Tuesday. With a burnt out brain, cleaning, scrubbing and reorganizing the contents of the refrigerator was just so satisfying.  Afterward, with just the right number of condiments pruned from the shelves, I felt revived, calm, and maybe just a little powerful.

 This is not just me.  My husband (although he is a clean freak) takes this pleasure in cleaning the car (and yes, my car, too) every single weekend.  My aunt (not a clean freak) used to really love polishing silver.

So what strange menial tasks bring you YOUR BLISS?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ironing. I love to iron. I love to iron wrinkly, damp men's oxford cloth shirts, and make then starchy and perfect. Now that I say this, I am overwhelmed with double entendre, which I promise you I did not mean. I am going to stop now, and find a menial chore that's less graphic and suggestive. (Or is it just me? And it's just--ironing?)

JAN: Yes Hank,  I think we have a new Fifty Shades of Starch thing happening, here. 

HANK: For the record, I have NEVER loved cleaning the refrigerator, or cleaning anything else. Once I put my spices in alphabetical order, that was fun.  And I arranged my jackets by color. Also fun. That's it, sisters.

HALLIE EPHRON: Don't let me near your laundry. I specialize in shrinking adult clothing to child-sized, turning white things pink, and my ironing skills are minimal. 

I do rather like to weed. Under bushes and around plants, not in the lawn, ever. In fact, I've been known to pull wturn a eeds from the front yards of complete strangers and our town library. So satisfying, pulling black swallow-wort by the roots. I can't help myself. 

JAN: Weeding, really? That's the reason I hate gardening. I can be somewhat upbeat about the planting (despite the dirty fingernails), but it's the relentless need to weed that makes me want to pave the yard.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: For me, it's organizing. Which is ironic, as I may be the least organized woman in the state of Maine. But under pressure from deadlines or a particularly knotty plot problem, I will line up spices by alphabetical order, separate all the different types of bath products into coordinating containers, and convert an unsightly heap of papers into a stack of labeled manilla folders. 

I suspect it's the sense of instant accomplishment that makes these menial tasks so compelling. All of us do work that takes months and sometimes years to complete. Being able to start and finish a job in an hour or two? That's heaven.

LUCY BURDETTE: Laundry. Utterly satisfying to start with an enormous pile of dirty clothes, herd them through washer and dryer (or out on the line if the weather holds), and then fold into neat piles. Ironing? Only if absolutely necessary. I have perfected the art of extracting a shirt from the dryer to hang at just the right moment so the wrinkles are minimized.

In fact I've done four loads today when I NEED to be writing...

RHYS BOWEN: Oh dear--ironing? Cleaning the refrigerator? Have I stepped into the wrong universe here? I was once being interviewed and the interviewer was listing my accomplishments and said "is there anything you can't do?" And I replied "Ironing." Me neither she said.
My mother ironed everything. Sheets. My father's underpants. I am terrible at it. Maybe if it gave me success and satisfaction I would do it more. 
But polishing furniture--that's a menial task I do enjoy. So satisfying to see it gleaming. And sitting on the balcony with a glass of chilled wine, shelling peas or preparing other vegetables... that's okay too!
Yours from the Olympics where I saw badminton today!

JAN: We are SO JEALOUS!! (not about the furniture polishing, about the Olympics -- although I have to admit to enjoying polishing furniture - even though I rarely do it.)

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I think I have an iron ....somewhere. The last time I was moved to use it was for a tablecloth. As I recall I got a big rust stain on it and had to use a different one. Wrinkled, but no one noticed.

Weeding is definitely a good one. But my go-to mindless activity, any time of the year, is rearranging the furniture. The anchors stay the same - sofa, bed and three enormous armoires, but anything else is fair game. End tables, coffee tables, shelf units, my office. Collections of... things. What's amazing to me is how much I always love the new arrangement - even if it's the same as it was a year or so before.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I can't iron.  I have very few things that need ironing, and if it must be done, I ask my husband, who is a crack ironer. (Is that a word?) But I'm afraid that I, like Jan, fall into the cleaning out the fridge category. I've just finished a brutal week of revisions, where I've not had time to cook or to shop, and I am completely brain dead.  What I need is a long nap.  What I did was clean out the frig.  It's sort of a fresh-start thing, isn't it?

JAN:  The weeding I just don't get. But even though I NEVER do it myself, I can see the appeal of room-rearranging. But as Debs clearly understands, it could never stack up to the nirvana of tossing out expired sour cream and scrubbing the vegetable bin.

Okay, we've all bared our souls about our lower-order brain machinations, but how about you -- what dull, routine, dirty, stupid or downright Susy Homemaker task brings you inner peace?


  1. Oh... oh thank you for a good laugh. I think I can sleep now.

    I confess to color coordinating hangers to clothes... so embarrassing. How do you get me to reveal these things on a public forum?

  2. I can SOOO relate. If my house was ransacked, no one would ever know. I hate to admit that.

    And, Julia, I know someone in Maine who could give you a run for that title. (Raising hand.)

    I do love to clean the kitchen sinks and the top of the stove. I was shocked to learn that people do that more than once a day! :-) I have a magnet on my fridge that says "I understand the concepts of cleaning and cooking - just not how they apply to me"

    My saving grace is that I listen to an audiobook as I clean.

  3. Cleaning the refrigerator? Moving furniture? Ironing? [Hhhmmm . . . do I even have an ironing board?]

    I‘m sure if I dig through my needs-to-be-cleaned refrigerator, I’ll find some yeast . . . move the flour canister over to the kitchen table . . . reach behind the iron to get the loaf pans . . . yep, I’m definitely making bread . . . .

  4. I love to wash the dishes by hand. Playing in warm, soapy water is very soothing.

  5. SIgh. Nope. he cleaning thing eludes me.

    Marianne in MAine, I need one of those magnets...

  6. Color coordinating hangers to clothes? Reine, I would LOVE to see your closet. Are all the hangers facing the same way? And are your shoes orderly?

    Marianne, I listen to audiobooks in the kitchen while I unload groceries and empty dishwashers! If I cleaned more, I'd get through the STeven Jobs biography a lot quicker!

  7. Me, too, Marianne, I need that magnet!

    Gram, I actually like washing dishes after a dinner party. It helps me digest. But I must have gloves.

    Joan, laughing!! Don't worry, I'll loan you some yeast for your bread - I just found it when I cleaned the fridge. (and it amazingly wasn't expired yet!)

  8. It's a sad commentary on the state of my mental health that I find peace and pleasure in ALL of these things. The problem is I don't recognize my need for that peace until long after the (refrigerator, bedroom, closet, laundry, desk) is well past its need for cleaning. When I finally do whatever it is that needs doing, I go to such extremes that it takes three times as long as it should.

    And as a teenager I LOVED to clean bathrooms. Lime-A-Way, Tilex, Soft Scrub - ooh, I get shivers...

  9. Reine...I also color coordinate starting with white and ending with black and absolutley all the hangers face the same way - in my NYC closet. In CT a little less organized...

  10. I can't cook until my kitchen is clean.

    It's impossible for me to even boil water if the kitchen's messy. I freeze.

    Clean up the kitchen and I'm good to go.

    Should I seek professional counseling, you think?

  11. I like to iron, because I love the smell of starched pillowcases.

    For me, it's polishing silver. Love it. Every November, my mother-in-law comes to visit for Thanksgiving. Most of our silver is inherited from her family, and I admit to breaking out a Mimosa or two, or seven, and spending a joyful afternoon making all the silver shine in anticipation of her arrival.

    Years ago, in London, my husband and I toured Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington. He had a huge collection of silver spread across a banquet table. My husband literally had to hold me up in the doorway. I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven.

    The Duke of Wellington also had an 11-foot tall statute of Napoleon in the foyer. Nude statue. That's all I will say about that.

  12. Sandi -
    I actually don't mind cleaning bathrooms. I HATE to vacuum and dust however (unless furniture polish is involved) I have the luxury of a serious allergy to dust. Is that the ultimate justification, or what?

    Ro- next time I come to NYC, I'm checking out your closet.

    Kaye, I don't think you should seek counseling. I think you should consider opening a restaurant. I've been googling food safety stories all weekend, and I'd eat at your place!

    You and my aunt Clare, Ramona! Personally, I hate the chemical-feeling it leaves on my hands! Do you wear gloves?

  13. Food have to let us know when your peice runs. I won't say I'm obsessed with food safety, but living with a man who thinks the sniff test is good enough drives me up a wall!

  14. Kaye, I'm with you. I can't cook unless the kitchen is clean (although I admit my standards have dropped the last few months...) But I'm messy WHEN I'm cooking. My dear hubby, who does not cook and never does more than rinse his cereal bowl, criticizes me because I don't clean up as I go!

  15. I love to plan how I will clean up this entire house and turn it into a showplace, gardens included. I have a detailed step-by-step plan from clean off the kitchen counters to replace the old wiring and install extra electrical outlets in each room. I know which steps must be taken before other steps can be. If I had money, I could hand this detailed plan over to a work crew and they'd be able to follow it to create the home and garden of my dreams.

    I used to make these kinds of step-by-step plans and then implement them when I was younger. I once made all our living room furniture myself, as well as all drapes and curtains. Now, I make ever more detailed plans, and my house looks like Marianne's. No one could tell if it had been ransacked. My one consolation is that any thief would leave empty-handed, unable to find anything.

    I need that magnet of yours, too, Marianne. You could make a fortune selling it to the Reds and their backbloggers, it seems.

  16. Whew, I'm exhausted just reading these comments! Such energy! I must confess, though, I hate to clean house ... BUT... when I sit at my desk I can't start writing a single word til I have the top clear and orderly! Do we all need shrinks!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  17. Deb,
    I personally think cleaning up as I cook would inhibit my cooking. I need all those spices and ingredients there on the counter as inspiration. It makes me CRAZY when my husband tries to clean up as I cook. I have banished him from my kitchen more than once.

    Linda, you once MADE YOUR OWN FURNITURE? Not to mention the drapes and curtains? There isn't one thing that intimidates me more than WINDOW TREATMENTS.

    Why would we need shrinks when we can get our therapy cleaning out fridges and cleaning our desk tops! :)

  18. Jan, I was over-ambitious when young. I only wish I had some of the strength and energy of that time now. I doubt if I'd waste it on window coverings. Though to be fair, we were flat broke and needed furniture to sit on.

  19. Jan, I do use gloves, but I also use cream or putty type polish. I think they're less harsh. I've been known to swipe toothpaste on a bud vase in emergency situations.

    I want to read about food safety, too. It fits in with my OCD-level of handwashing.

  20. I've decided the thing to do is for all the Jungle Reds to move into a spacious house together. Then, using our individual cleaning procrastinations, the place will always be spotless, organized, and all our laundry will be ironed.

  21. Linda and Marianne,I hope you can take solace in the knowledge that my home, too, looks like it has been ransacked. Last Monday I panicked when I returned from work and discovered that there was a problem with my central AC. The technician I use charges reasonable fees so I was not worried about the cost of the repair; it was the fact that I would need to organize the clutter so he could walk though my living room to the basement. Fortunately, he could not come until the next day! I had time to hide some things!

    Because of unending problems with my back I am not supposed to be doing most kinds of housework,so I do as little as I can get away with. Every now and then I get an overwhelming urge to clean/scrub/mop/vacuum, etc,and THEN I want to buy cleaning products that I hope will make those jobs easier than the products I already have. I know I am in trouble when I spend half an hour or more in the cleaning products aisle at the supermarket, or worse, when I go to Home Depot for Industrial Strength products!

    The only chore I do without fail is the laundry. I get some odd sort of satisfaction out of folding everything "just so", and immediately hanging up items that might otherwise need to be ironed.When I was a child I LOVED to iron and used to beg my mother to let me iron ANYTHING for her. I grew up and came to my senses. Not sure, but I think my current iron is rusting. And if take my ironing board out of the closet,the things that it is propping up will come crashing down.

  22. Julia, has anyone told you lately that you're a genius?

  23. Oh Jan... yes, all the hangers face the same way... shoes in cubbies... clothes assorted according to colors, style and function, from most used to least: Chinos; Polos; Tees; Coctail Dresses; Night Gowns; Academic Robes; Wedding Gown (you never know).

    Story Of My Life

    Act One

    His Mother: Don't wait to find a maid.

    My Insulted 19-Year-Old Self: I don't need a maid.

    His Mother: Yes you do. You're marrying him. I know my son.

    Act Two

    Him: I need more space for my tee shirts. I'll just take a little of the space in the back of your closet.

    Me: No you won't.

    Him: But you have lots of empty space. All I have to do is push these hangers over here, and I'll have lots of space for my backpacking gear, my camp sweats from upper school, my uniforms from military school where my mother sent me that one year, my grandfather's law books, my hanky from the time Skipper made it into a parachute for me...

    My More Mature Self: No.

  24. Rosemary, I have a Connecticut, too. There's no shame in that. You have a mud room, though, right?

  25. My clothes are lined up by color, too. Black, then black, then black.

    Hangers facing the same way? Yes.

    I DO love dishwashing liquid. I love to get new fragrant kinds.

  26. Oh, yes, hangers have to face the same direction always! And I recently replaced all of mine with the velvetty kind. Not color coordinated, though. But I am anal about the hangers.

    And I, too, love to fold laundry. Maybe I'm not completely useless at housework. Maybe.

    Now I have to go iron a cotton dress while listening to an Ian Rutledge book.

  27. I'm happy to find there are some kindred ironing people here. In general, cleaning anything is my road to inner peace and stress relief. When we were in the middle of the adoption process I washed every wall in the house.

    My kid's road to inner peace seems to be pedicures, which is why I have lime green toes with silver sparkle tips at the moment.

  28. Ironing???? Something my mother made me do when I was a child--sheets, handkerchiefs, those terrible full skirts girls had to wear. I'm surprised I have fingers left after all the burns. Ironing is something I do only when I absolutely have to, and trust me, that's more rare than blue moons. Weeding I love. It's mindless, but I love that "green" time--chlorophyll withdrawal?--and letting my imagination wander.
    Marianne, love that magnet!

  29. Lucy, agreed. I immediately wash clothes to feel I am getting our lives in order. I would not want any of you to see my refrigerator. And oh for a husband who liked to clean cars! Mine is wonderful in other ways, but his car is not something I get into unguardedly.

  30. I love that picture of the refrigerator beyond reason. The one at my husband's office probably actually has critters like that in it. Hazmat suits will be necessary to dispose of the thing; cleaning would be impossible. (Three men using it for 25 years, without adult female supervision. Need I say more?)

    Weeding is my detour of choice, and I noticed it works for a friend, too. She came over while I was working in the garden. She was all dolled up, but she still leaned over and started yanking up weeds. I looked at her and said, "You just can't help yourself, either, can you?" We both laughed, because I've done the same thing in her garden.

  31. After reading the other comments: I clean as I cook, too. It's a lifelong habit, a holdover from 20 years in a tiny, cramped kitchen with zero counterspace. The only way to keep from stacking things on top of each other was to keep on top of the mess.

  32. Hank, I'm with you on dishwashing detergent. There's nothing more calming and refreshing than using real lavender or lemon dishwashing detergent and handwashing dishes. At the end, I feel as if I've brought my word under control somehow.

  33. Wow, I have never really given dishwashing detergent it's due, I think. But I really like that foaming hand soap!

    Karen - I loved that picture, too! IT says so much about the nature of the job at hand. And of course, it's importance in the world (or at least my world).

    Although I doubt my hangers all face the same way, Marianne I LOVE THOSE NEW VELVETY hangers!!! I keep going to Bed and Bath to buy more. Everything stays on the hanger. They have almost changed my life.

    As for laundry, I'm always just a little surprised that I have to do it again. I keep thinking one day I'll do it, and it'll just be done

  34. Until Karen pointed it out, I didn't notice the refrigerator critters. The condition of my own refrigerator is pretty shameful but I don't THINK there are any critters living there. Hmm. There ARE ocntainers that need to be tossed out, though - when I can get to it. And it is not yet on my To Do list. The list is reserved for more important things than THAT!

    Um, one of my sisters gave me a plaque a couple of years ago that reads "Martha Stewart Doesn't Live Here...Adjust!" It is hanging up over my kitchen sink. (It goes with the color scheme. Pretty neat,I thought,never mind the fact that I love the sentiment!) My sister seemed surprised that I would hang it up. I think it was supposed to inspire me to Martha-ness but my sister should know by now that THAT'S never going to happen! I should get one of those magnets to go with it!

    I will admit that I DO like all the hangers in the closets to go in the same direction!

    Nine years ago I felt compelled to spend an entire Presidents Day holiday reorganizing my kitchen cabinets,right down to turning the largest one into a pantry-style closet. I wonder if I will ever have that kind of ambition again. I was so young...

  35. I love re-arranging my rooms. It calms me and let my mind roam and whatever cares I have, is lost for the moment.

  36. I can't say it brings me bliss but I feel much better after dusting and vacuuming, probably because it's about all I do and because I get to throw away some of the clutter at the same time. I've never been any good at the rest of it.

  37. Julia, the JRW house sounds great. But do we have to share a bathroom??

  38. I love Julia's idea of the JRW house. Though it does seem we'd have a lot of people ironing, color-coordinating hangers, and organizing closets. ;-)

  39. Abd we'd have one clean refrigerator and a weedless garden!