The Meaning of Cleaning

Maybe a COVID-delayed optometric appointment had prevented me from seeing my office’s squalor. After all, I’d told a fellow pedestrian I was sorry for not maintaining a safe distance — only to realize I’d apologized to a mailbox.

Legally blind, I also had hurdled growing piles in my office to reach the printer.

What finally inspired my cleaning turnabout? A check lost in the chaos.

Rummaging through rubble, I did recover it.

I saw carpet. It’s blue — who would have known? I even (drumroll) cleared my desk.

Hubby thought he’d entered the wrong house.

Of course, “clean” is a relative term. I know people who vacuum their garages — and probably their streets. For us, not only is “clean” defined differently, it belongs in separate languages.

For me, “clean” means piles have been boxed. It also implies my bookshelves no longer threaten to collapse, as (sniff!), I gave books to Goodwill. Three.

I follow a never-fail formula for dealing with UFOs — Unidentified Funky Objects. If it doesn’t erupt, tick or grow tentacles, I toss it into a closet or drawer.

Instead of pushing neatnik perfection, my unique organization system accumulates points for varying degrees of success.

I can shut a drawer or closet in which all items are current and in order. (100 points)

Hey, it might happen. In Heaven.

Highly unlikely, but possible: I can shut the drawer or closet containing items less than 30 years old. (50 points)

I have actually scored these below:

  • I can shut the drawer without paying, conning, or blackmailing someone to help. (30 points)
  • I can almost shut the drawer. (20 points)
  • I can shut the drawer until it sticks halfway. Permanently. (10 points)
  • I couldn’t shut the drawer if I backed a tank against it. (1 point)

Some claim I should receive zero for that final effort. But I tried. Doesn’t that count for something?

Using my system, I met my cleaning goal.

Then came Christmas and a longed-for visit from my son and his young family. Bushels of Christmas gifts, boxes, wrappings and holiday survival chocolate migrated to my office, as did anything fragile. Heaps of trash, attracted to new clutter as if magnetized, also appeared. So did the books I thought I’d given to Goodwill.

Now, the unthinkable lodges in my brain: if I don’t want to lose more checks, I should clean again.

Twice within three months? I hyperventilate.

Imagine how many points you’ll earn, I tell myself.

The system really does work.

If my total reaches 10 points, I won’t have to clean the office for another year.

And I won’t have to vacuum my street until 2099.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How do you define clean?

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