Cleaning before Being Cleaned


There’s something radically new in my life: a young woman comes every other week to clean my house. It’s pretty weird. But I’m getting used to it.

I was telling my husband about a book I was reading,  The End of Your Life Book Club — the story of Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will, and the books they read and discussed during her final two years. As I explained their background, I said, Well, they lived three doors down from Julia Child. And Mary Anne worked full-time, back when moms typically didn’t work. But she must have hired a housekeeper because all they did was read on the weekends and you KNOW that someone had to clean toilets.  And Curt, bless his heart, leapt into this opening he had been waiting for to suggest that we hire a house cleaner.

So Jamie comes and I gather scattered books so she is cleaning and not picking up. I work on a deep-cleaning project while she’s here. To me, it’s akin to paying a piano teacher when you mostly need accountability to practice.

But, here’s the thing: the instinct is so strong to clean up myself before I get help. It’s neat to clean (Next to Godliness is my favorite soap from Trader Joe’s) but this is more about self-protection and perhaps some self-deception. I see this tendency in my life in other areas. After I lose 15 pounds, I’ll go to the doctor, I promise myself.

Years ago, I participated in a foot-washing ceremony. A group of women circled their chairs and the friend on the right got on her knees and dipped my feet in a large bowl sudsy with warm soapy water, washed, rubbed, and dried my dirty, stinky feet — a profoundly unforgettable encounter. It struck the same emotional response in each of us. We were happy (happy! happy!) to wash a friend’s feet, but our heart screamed No! when it was our turn to be washed.

Useless Lumber

This Saturday is the Annual Garage Sale at the home of our great Patriarch and Matriarch.  Last night Curt hauled tables and our first load of “stuff” over to his folks’ house.  We have two days left to explore more nooks and crannies for possible sale items before people start flocking around Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m.  Dad and Mom’s neighborhood join forces, with up to thirty families selling stuff in a few blocks.   All in all, this weekend is a great source of encouragement and thankfulness. 

Garage sales are the great astringent of life.

They make me thankful for:

•   The incremental nature of annual cleaning.  If you never go through your stuff until you are almost dead, the overwhelming task would finish you off.  Each year we imagine we won’t find anything to sell after our thorough pruning a year prior.  We are either self-deceived (i.e. we didn’t clean as well as we thought) or our tastes and passions have changed (e.g. little bunny decorative items now fail to make us sigh with pleasure) or an item has served its useful life in our family (porta potty – don’t ask).  Here is the best part:  it gets easier every year.  One sees progress. That itself is a huge encouragement.

•    Because it is an annual project, you can focus on different areas in different years.  This year, my husband went into the attic.  Ayup.  I need to go through the linen closet and our CD collection.  The point is that you don’t have to do every thing every year.  Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, we’ll do it again this time next year. 

•    The feeling of buoyancy that comes with letting go.  It is not quite as good as losing twenty pounds, but a close second. 

•    The sense of martyrdom and sacrifice.  One needs a brave and stolid heart.  My great relinquishment this year is two boxes of empty canning jars, which reduces my collection of empty canning jars from 120 to 104.  I remember with fondness a time with three hungry boys when those jars were full of applesauce, salsa, peaches and grape juice.  I worry about selling the empty jars, lest my sons forget the former glory days of their martyred mother. 

•    A renewed love and respect for my folks, the ones who gave me my husband.  They love the beauty of a clean and ordered life; I keep hoping if I stand close to them it will rub off on me.  Their example constantly inspires me, but on these weekends my love for them surges. 

While I surveyed my house for potential sale items last night, I listened to this delightful piece from Three Men in a Boat.

George said, “You know, we are on a wrong track altogether.  We must not think of the things we could do with, only of the things we can’t do without.”

George comes out really quite sensible at times.  You’d be surprised.  I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life generally.  How many people on that voyage load up the boat ‘til it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think is central to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are only really useless lumber?

How they pile the poor little craft mast high with fine clothes and big houses, with useless servants and a host of swell friends that do not care a tuppance for them, and that they do not care three ha’pennies for. [with…, with…, with…]


It is lumber, man, all lumber.  Throw it overboard!  It makes the boat so heavy to pull you nearly faint at the oars.  It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness – no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the somber-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchids, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man!  Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

                                    ~ Jerome K. Jerome