Meaning In My Cleaning

Meaning In My Cleaning

Anyone who knows me, but particularly my family, will agree that I’m not a tidy person. Once when I was a kid, a friend of mine actually tidied my room when she came over to my house, because it was just such a mess. I’m uncontrollably messy — even though I don’t particularly like living in a room that looks like a disaster zone, I rarely have the self-control to keep it any tidier.

But every now and again I’ll go on a cleaning spree and I’ll completely overhaul my room. Like today.

This afternoon I tidied my room, including my desk — which is a task in and of itself — and vacuumed it. I changed my sheets and did a load of laundry, so there’s now a TARDIS quilt cover hanging over my airer in a vaguely sinister fashion. There’s a load of washing up that I need to finish (it’s currently soaking) to be able to go to bed with a clear conscience, but I’ll do that as soon as the kitchen sink is unoccupied. My room is cleaner than it has been in a good couple of weeks, and I’ve only been back in Cambridge for just over three.

And there’s a reason for this. Most of you are aware that my mental health is … not particularly stable. I mean, if you’re unaware you’ve either never read this blog before or you haven’t been paying much attention, because let’s face it, it’s been a pretty major factor in some of my post topics recently. It has a tendency to go through periods of decline, and the past week or so has definitely been more on the bad side of the scale. On Friday, I didn’t make it to my morning lecture because I couldn’t get out of bed. On Sunday, I spent almost all day in a chair hating everything including myself.

This means that stuff, and crumbs, have a tendency to accumulate in a semicircle around my bed and the comfy chair next to the bookshelf at the end of it, leaving most of the rest of the floor clear, but making the room look completely appalling in terms of tidiness.

For me, cleaning is a pretty obvious symptom of recovery — or at least, of a good day after a series of bad ones. It’s a coping mechanism. When I’ve spent several days in bed, I don’t want to go to sleep in the same sheets. When I’ve been living among mess because I didn’t have the strength to leave my room, I don’t want to come back to it when I’ve finally left the building. And when I’ve been drinking cup after cup of tea to try and keep warm while not moving at all, I tend to need to do some washing up.

Cleaning is a way of getting rid of all the bad vibes. If it wasn’t so freezing outside, I’d open the window to let in some new air, too, but I don’t really want any snow getting in. Some hail came through the leaking window the other day and seems to have destroyed my printer — that’s enough weather for me forever.

I can vacuum away the mud I tracked in from outside, and I can put through the wash the sheets I spent day after day in because I didn’t want to get up, and I can tidy my desk so that work doesn’t seem quite so intimidating. I even did my filing, putting lecture notes and handouts in folders, which is a pretty major job and just now I realised I missed a couple. But you know, it’s an improvement. Especially since my hole-punch is broken.

It’s funny, because I never analysed my reasons for cleaning before. I knew that when I’m stressed out I have a tendency to move furniture so that I feel like I’m in a new environment — the change allows me to take a break from whatever it was that was stressing me out, and the physical act of moving things is helpful too. And I had other reasons for cleaning today, like the fact that I’m due to get a new chair this week and I wanted to be able to get it in my room without difficulty.

But I didn’t think about my emotional and psychological reasons for these actions before. I think I’ve become much more conscious of my feelings over the past eighteen months, but particularly recently: talking to a counsellor forces you to think about why you’re thinking or feeling something. Every doctor I ever see tells me I’m very self-aware and I know what triggers me, both in terms of physical and mental health.

Writing also makes me more self-aware. It wasn’t until I started thinking about what characters in TV and films wore and what that said about them that I started paying attention to it in my own writing, but that quickly transformed into an interest in clothes in real life, something I never cared about before. Suddenly I was aware of what clothing said about my identity and I started actively constructing that image instead of wearing whatever came to hand.

So when I’m thinking about how I deal with emotions, on one level I’m trying to work out how I’m coping with something and whether it’s healthy or whether I need to change it, but on another level I’m also thinking, “Would any of my characters take this approach? Who? Why?” Maybe some day you’ll see the cleaning trope in a story of mine, even if the motivations are different.

But finally I think it’s because cleaning and tidying are fairly out of character for me, I started questioning why I was doing it. It’s always the least characteristic or stereotypical actions that say the most about people, whether in life or in writing. And it’s something I’m trying to keep in mind when developing characters.

(Also, is there anything more appealing than clean bedsheets? I think not.)


6 thoughts on “Meaning In My Cleaning

  1. Clean is nice. I like clean. I tend to almost always have my room floor clear, but stuff will pile up from my 2 million projects on my desk. It’s quite daunting. 0.0 And nope there is NOTHING better than a freshly made bed.

    1. A clean desk is a sign of a cluttered drawer, as it says on one of my fridge magnets. Since I have no drawers apart from the ones for my clothes, my desk is always a mess.

      Here at uni a lot of the floor mess is things like bags and books that don’t really have a home, so tidying them is more a case of putting them in a neat pile somewhere.

  2. I wrestle with mess as well. But is your depression worse in winter? There are so few hours of daylight this time of year where you live. I have found that a natural light lamp really helps keeping the blues at bay, or at least diminishing the deepness of the dark. Just sent this lamp to both of my daughters at uni: Lightphoria 10,000LUX Energy Light Lamp. Costs a bit but is worth it, I’ve had one for a few years.

    1. It’s hard to tell whether it’s affected by seasons. There’s often quite a lot of sunlight here, even though it’s cold — it’ll be bright, but chilly. And I’ve had some very bad patches in summer, for example August and September 2013 were really difficult months. So I don’t think it’s weighted too much towards winter, although a sunny day usually cheers me up a little.

      1. Oh dear! Well it might be worth trying to get more sun exposure, if it helps a little. The important thing is to figure out what works for you, and make sure to get it. You are aware of it, so you are already ahead of it in that regard. God bless!

        1. Sun, and just generally fresh air, probably wouldn’t do me any harm. I spend a lot of time indoors in front of the computer, but I’m trying to get better about that.

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