Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Cleanliness

I've come to realize that I have a "thing" about cleanliness. So I live in this new, cheap, air-conditioned apartment, which is all well and good except for my roommates, who are lovely and friendly in every other respect, are lacking in home hygiene habits such as regularly removing the trash and cleaning the bathroom. I have no idea how in the past I lived with unacceptable situations such as cat litter (sure, defecate in the dining room or next to my bathroom, little animal! spread your little pee-absorbing pellets all over the place where I walk with my bare feet!). I cannot stand it now though. I do not produce tiny hairs in the bathroom, I hang my towels rather than leaving them wetly on the floor, I do not spill sudsy water all over the floor, I wipe away my general bathroom dirty presence.

In addition, I prided myself on the character trait of assertiveness, but that seems to have almost wholly deserted me in the face of these daily assaults to my preferred state of cleanliness. I think I feel that since I moved in after the roommates, I have no right to ask them to change their preferred method of living in filth. But I am paying rent, and I suppose I do. It's become a silent battle inside my head: do I ask roommate 2 to take out the trash which is almost all his anyway and is no longer nicely inside its bag because he stuffed it too full of beer cans and frozen pizza boxes (the manufacturers should start putting those in bags if they insist on continuing to produce them) and so therefore will be particularly nasty to dispose of; or do I just do it myself again? I have gone to bed resolving to choose the first option in the morning, but I still feel anxious. And I cleaned the bathroom before taking a shower (I prefer to clean my own body in a clean space) as a way to ease this anxiety.

Which leads me to my second point, which is that I consider my relationship to cleanliness neurotic because of its connection to anxiety, as expecting clean shared spaces is really quite normal. Exhibit A: 3 am, July 31, like 3 years ago, my roommate S and I are cleaning out our old apartment and moving into a new one a few blocks away. This apartment had been continually leased to about 6 years of students, we estimate, without the barely-legal landlords ever cleaning it or really, looking at it at all. We are the end of this line of roommates and must leave it empty and clean. Despite our landlord's general tendency to not give a shit, we also know that they can be somewhat arbitrary and vindictive. A few years ago, for example, we got eviction notices because they had lost our leases. So I am annoyed at the injustice of continually moving into dirty apartments that I am required to leave clean, for a faceless corporation that I hated. But since I also feared them, rather than leave the apartment just marginally clean enough to not get in trouble, I went totally insane. S refers to this as the "oven cleaner incident" wherein against his advice, I pulled the stove away from the wall and applied oven cleaner to the side to get off years of accumulated sticky gunk, and he had to make me go sit outside when I became light-headed from the harsh fumes. I was also cleaning the walls with Windex, pleased at how much dirt was coming off. At our final apartment move-out show-down, I compromised by leaving a dirty corner of the top of the fridge and leaving random cleaning supplies and related crap in the apartment for the new tenants who we knew were a bunch of not-giving-a-shit college students. This cleaning insanity is not only related to my fear/hate of my landlords, but is also a self-reinforcing cycle. Both moving and huge and somewhat unjust cleaning tasks cause me anxiety, and cleaning soothes anxiety, and I enjoy seeing things that I never noticed before were dirty become clean, and very quickly things get all out of proportion.
This picture is only somewhat related. It is my very dirty feet from the crap sandals I wore this summer, which were approximately $5 at CVS and left little cheap-metal dark spots on my feet and also caused me quite a bit of pain. My personal hygiene habits are not nearly as neurotic as my apartment-cleaning tendencies, but I do require clean feet & face to go to sleep under normal circumstances. This was one of the habits I developed in the summer I spent on a ranch in Wyoming working as a maid/kitchen wench (the term is "cabin girl"). The other habits are making my bed and whiskey. In one of S's rare dispersions of free psychoanalysis, he pointed out that an anxiety about personal hygiene that does not meet the standards of others (my mother, most prominently) may relate to episodes such as the oven cleaner incident. He might be right.


mosey said...

Hmm, I remember these roommate situations. It's a tough one. I learned that even when you ask roommate 2 or 3 or 4 to clean this or that, it never lasts long. I would usually just resolve to cleaning what I needed clean for myself and stuck to my bedroom most of the time. You could always try the 'cleaning wheel schedule' but really - that never sticks either.
Is it impossible to afford a studio and live alone at some point? Maybe you like the company of roommates though?

Amy said...

Haha yeah the old cleaning wheel... never works for long. I suppose at some point I might be able to afford a studio, but even if I'm sticking to my room I kind of like having company, you know, someone to know if you never come home or (in the words of Liz Lemon, choke on a sandwich and die alone in my apartment!) Anyway I have a friend and roommate candidate coming back to Chicago in a few months so we'll see, perhaps I'll move then.