Saturday, May 14, 2011

The True Origins of Spring Cleaning

It seems that the weather here went from longjohns and jackets to tank tops and shorts almost overnight. Seriously: one day I am bundled to my chattering teeth and the next I am panting for relief from the heat.

In my apartment, this refrigerator I have been living in all winter, conditions are no different. I had expected it to take several months to warm all of this concrete up but it seems, in a matter of weeks I am casting off my quilt and sleeping under just a sheet. I’m not complaining – heavens no! I’m just stating my case as dramatically as I can.

With the advent of spring, naturally I am throwing open the windows and welcoming the warm, fresh air. I am not welcoming mosquitoes, flies and other vermin but they come anyway, in spite of the screens. It seems Spring is a come one, come all proposition. I am glad that wasps do not exist in China, at least not in this region. They definitely would not be invited in.

Something else I am not very enthusiastic about, that welcomes itself into my home and takes up on every horizontal surface: dust and dirt. I cannot imagine anyone welcoming those two in, but that’s beside the point. I do not welcome them but they come in anyway.

Remember when I told you that, rain, snow, sleet or shine there are women that sweep the campus every morning? They do a very good job keeping our campus clean: no fallen leaves or detritus from student revelry will be seen as long as these women patrol with their twig brooms and home made dust pans. It is not a problem: I thank them for keeping our campus neat and tidy. Unfortunately, in the process of sweeping the campus they are raising a dust storm which finds its way directly into my ground floor apartment windows. Open windows, now that Spring is here. Screens do not stop dust so it just comes right in.

And thus we come to Spring cleaning. It is said that, after homes have been shuttered for the winter months and heated with coal and wood that March, the time when it is warm enough to open windows but not warm enough to encourage bug life, was the ideal time to clean. Makes sense, and I probably wouldn’t dispute it.

Another source reports that the genesis of Spring Cleaning comes from the Jewish tradition of ridding the house of all leavening agents prior to Passover, when eating leavened bread and other such treated foods are forbidden. As convention goes, the house is cleaned top to bottom and on the eve of the start of Passover celebration, grains or crumbs of leavening agent are hunted by candlelight to make sure that the house is truly free of blasphemy.

However Spring Cleaning got started, I’d like to offer my own theory. On the first few warm days of Spring, when the weather is comfortable enough to throw open the windows, you see just how dirty the house got. Of course in the winter you didn’t really care because it was too cold to venture into every room in the house. You just used the bathroom for its utilitarian function and did minimal cleaning, cleaned only what you had to in the kitchen so that, when you prepared food you did not poison yourself with a salmonella bacterium, and the room that you hung out in the most, you cleaned only what you had to so that you wouldn’t set fire to the apartment using the space heater. But now it is warm enough for you to use all of the rooms in the house regularly again. So now, it is time to clean them.

I thought about that as I chased dust bunnies and swabbed my floors clean recently. Maybe if I had cleaned my house all winter it would have generated body heat – movement does that, you know. Maybe I would not have resented Ole Man Winter so much if I hadn’t felt compelled to huddle in, next to or in front of anything that provided me warmth and wait the day out until I could crawl under my quilt and into my heated bed again.

Of course, that is easy for me to say now, while the mercury registers a comfortable 75 degrees and I am sitting around in a tank top and capris. Recalling that, not so long ago the mercury stopped at 45 degrees in here and stubbornly refused to climb any higher seems academic, like a pain from an old injury, long since recovered from. While in the thick of winter I daren’t have plunged my hands into buckets of water or crawled around on these cold, cold floors on my hands and knees for any reason, no matter how big the dust bunnies got.

But now… now I have a need for cool, clear water on my hands and bleach solution on my clothes. Now I like being in each of my 4 rooms, no matter what their function. Now I welcome brightly lit rooms and enjoy lounging in my living room. Now I like to go into my bathroom and I like to take showers that last longer than 3 minutes – now that I have a hefty supply of hot water.

Now I need to be able to walk around barefooted and the only way to do that is to clean the floors regularly. The dust still comes in. But everything else is pretty much clean in here.

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