Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Cleaning: A Minimalist Approach

Eco-novice reflects on the merits of cleanliness.

I like a clean house as much as the next person, but I sure don't like cleaning. Before kids, I didn't mind cleaning too much and kept a pretty clean house. Of course, it wasn't that hard to keep the house clean when my husband and I both worked full-time and no one was dumping a bowl-full of food on the floor several times a day. But now that I have three little ones, and the amount of kid-free time I have to get anything done has shrunk to a pin-head, it's hard for me to spend those precious 5 minutes between nursing and wiping a bottom doing dishes or mopping the bathroom floor. In one of the great ironies of life, children bring more messes and infinitely less time to do anything about it.

Luckily for me, I've learned to lower my standards. I prefer a clean and tidy home, but I'm willing to put up with a dirty and messy one in order to do things other than cleaning. I like to look at cleanliness from a historical perspective. Take laundry, for example. If you had to wash your clothing by hand, how often would you wash it? Shouldn't I spend far less time on housework than previous generations with all of life's modern conveniences? Or has the advent of time-saving appliances raised cleanliness standards to the point that they haven't really saved us any time at all?

It's pretty clear that our hygienic aspirations can certainly be taken too far. We know now that the commonly used antibacterial triclosan helps create super-bugs. We know that a little dirt and hanging around animals are good for us. Which makes sense given that humans evolved living in far from sterile environs. And we know that the gazillions of products purchased to clean our bodies and homes create a mountain of plastic waste and a host of health issues.

So here is my minimalist approach to cleanliness:
  • Focus on cleaning that mitigates exposure to toxins. One of the only things that actually motivates me to clean is the toxic soup we live in. I know dust and dirt harbor the likes of PBDEs and lead, and this knowledge is the main reason I dust the furniture and mop the wood floors. Maybe more often than I clean the toilet.
  • Get rid of stuff. It's easier to clean if you don't have to move a bunch of junk off the floor and other surfaces before cleaning.
  • Feed the kids outside whenever weather permits. Although it is a large hunk of plastic, how I love the Little Tikes picnic table we purchased on Craig's List. We use it daily for eating and crafts outside. No cleanup required! 
  • Make your kids help. This is one of the great benefits of non-toxic cleaners like vinegar and baking soda. No fumes, no warnings, no questionable chemicals, no gloves needed. I'm working on this one.

How clean is clean enough in your home?


becki said...

How clean is my house? Ugh, like you said, between nursing and but wiping, I get some cleaning in here and there! I love the way you put that! We have been eating outside too, and it helps a bit. It's always laundry that is overwhelming me, but every once in a while I get it caught up...

I DO like using vinegar water and baking soda too. My two year old adores helping with the spray bottle.

Laura said...

I read the book that is mentioned in the article... amazing. Cleaning is just like everything else that has now become an industry: weddings, babies, gardens, etc.

We probably have the same kids table (also from Craigslist!) and I love it. cheap plastic and all. I let the kids go nuts and hose it off at the end of the day!

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

becki, laundry is overwhelming. Baskets of clean laundry sit for a week waiting to be folded in my house.

Laura, I'd like to read that book, but I'm too lazy. You put it well -- industry and marketing have a lot to do with our buying habits. I'd add "beauty" to your excellent list of industries gone nutsos. I'm glad I'm not the only one with that table. At least they are getting a lot of use, right? I wish I'd thought of using it all the time earlier in my parenting.

EMMA said...

I think you are spot on about the advent of time saving devises that have raised out standards of cleanliness. I remember reading a book in college on this very subject, I think it was called The Hygiene Myth. As for getting the kids involved, we write the tasks to be done on little slips of paper that everyone then draws from a sac. Then off they trot to do their job, sometimes they even ask for a second go!!

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

EMMA, love your job idea!

Jackie at said...

I like the historical perspective approach! That's an insight I'm going to remember. Thanks!

Janine @ Alternative Housewife said...

I only have the one kid right now, and he's 18 months old - Perfect age for helping (or at least "helping") me clean! He is obsessed with the vacuum, running circles around me and screaming like a happy banshee whenever he hears it whirring. He also loves to mimic my spraying, and we use vinegar too so it's totally safe for him to tote the bottle around the apartment. He also likes to clean up most of his own messes at this stage, so he'll put things back where he got them and if he spills something, he'll happily wipe it up without prompting. I'm sure it won't last, but it's nice for now! We also have a really small space, which helps a lot.

ibu,mommy,mom... said...

I stumbled on your blog while googling for spring cleaning like a minimalist.

Finding inspiration to declutter,spring cleaning and all that comes with it.


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