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February 14, 2006

Housework: Reflective equilibrium for slobs

I'm not an authority on housework. Don't do much, don't discuss it much. But now there's blood in the dishwater and I can't resist weighing in.

I agree with Scott: Bourgeois standards of neatness are a needless burden, especially on women. All other things being equal, almost everyone would prefer a cleaner environment. The question is where the point of diminishing returns falls for you. I want a clean kitchen and a clean bathroom and enough dusting to keep the books and the electronics in good shape. Anything beyond that isn't worth it for me.

The real problem is that people who are willing to work for neatness stake out the moral high ground. For some reason, the neatest person in the household generally assumes that he or she has the right to set the prevailing standard of cleanliness for the household. In equal relationships, the work gets split 50/50, in unequal relationships someone gets stuck with the lion's share.

The real question is how many hours of work should be up for sharing. To me, the fair thing to set the household standard according to the most relaxed partner's considered judgement. If they're honest, even big slobs will agree that there's some standard that's worth working for, even if they're tempted to fall short from weakness of will. The household cleanliness standard should be set according to this equilibrium point.

If you embrace a goal, it's not so bad to be gently reminded to uphold your end of the bargain. It feels more like nagging when someone is exhorting you to uphold a standard you never endorsed in the first place.

There's nothing stopping the neater person from choosing to do more chores because the marginal effort is worth it to them. That is a choice, not a categorical imperative on their part. Neat people get upset because they see slackers as freeriders. In fact, most slackers aren't getting that much of a free ride because the extra work is above their threshold. If they got more out of cleanliness, they'd be willing to put more into cleanliness. If you're a slacker, maybe it's slightly nicer for you to live in a super-clean house, but not that much nicer.

If the slacker determined her equillibrium point honestly, then freeriding is minimized--the additional work the neat person is doing is mostly for the neat person's own benefit. As long as the slacker does her share of the work she honestly thinks needs to be done, she doesn't have a moral obligation to the neatnik to invest more of her free time dusting lampshades if she'd rather be reading the paper.

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Comments

You confuse neatness with cleanliness. There are clean slobs (i.e., people who can't stand dirt but are very untidy), and it is possible for a neat person not to care much about dirt.

You slobs are always making excuses. You're just bleeding all over the place. Now excuse me while I apply a sixth coat of wax to the floor.

BTW, I'm a proletariat with zero aspirations toward attaining bourgeois status.

Couldn't it be argued that a cleaner house is a healthier house? Cleaner surfaces result in less dust, mold, pet dander, and mildew. Removing all these potential allergens and disease agents, even dust from lampshades, creates a healthier environment on the whole, especially if one has pets. Everyone who lives in that environment is healthier because of it. Therefore shouldn't everyone who benefits from this cleaner, healthier environment pitch in? I don't think that's unreasonable at all.

There's another problem, when those who do not wish to do the cleaning or tidying make most of the mess.

Then it's not a 50/50 proposition, IMHO, and the person tired of the clutter should have the right to demand...well...who needs blissful cohabitation?

Yeah, I don't care much about dirty carpets or a disgusting bath tub for example, but I hate clutter like paper and magazines. Anyway, I get cleaning service biweekly and dust the week in between.

How does your choice analogy hold up if we change the subject matter from household cleanliness to smoking?

I am not against your position here; I'm just curious how we can distinguish a lack of household cleanliness from smoking, since both are activities that one person in a relationship, but in one case it's clearly okay to demand that your partner quit, and in the other it's apparently ... not.

Everyone who lives in that environment is healthier because of it. Therefore shouldn't everyone who benefits from this cleaner, healthier environment pitch in? I don't think that's unreasonable at all.

Posted by: John | February 14, 2006 at 01:34 PM

passing thoughts:

- neatness vs cleanliness. A rotten meat or a veil of highly patogenic virus can be arranged in neat pattern. But still unhealthy.

- 'Clean': is it neat/orderliness? or is it the degree of pathogenic content?

Let's say we agree that there is no such thing as "absolute" patogen free environment. (ie. what we try to achieve is "healthy enough" environment) So spilling milk on the counter and letting it rot, probably isn't very healthy. But living the spice rack all mix up, next to other condiments are probably not neat, but I doubt is unhealthy.

Same with dust. There is a diminishing return treshold where trying to achive silicon fab level of dust contamination is just little paranoid(and expensive)

So what I propose, What we need is a standard level what is healthy.

and then create a second index. (neatness index)

(anybody ever notice, Biochem people sometimes can be the ultimate slob, despite their neatness? ie. eating neat highly patogenic containers?)

Most relationships fail due to a poorly distributed MCTF. Mutual clutter tolerance factor.

I am no neatnik, but there are temporary messes and then there's clutter whose raison d'etre extends in principle to hillbilly yards filled with rusted cars and refrigerators bearing skeletons of childen.

File this under Unintended Consequences: it might be that Columbine saved our relationship. Bear with me:

1. Our household has common space and personal spaces. In the common (and my personal) space I prefer that clutter be kept at bay. Otherwise I get bonkers with the pointless visual noise and loss of usable space for quick projects.

2. K's talent for building and maintaining common-space clutter is world-class -- piles on the dinnertable that grow until they tip over, at which point a new pile is started adjacent, interleaved to augment structural integrity. This allows very high piles whose lower strata goes back years.

3. I requested a weekly cleaning person. K was indignant: "We're not that kind of people. We don't have slaves."

4. Columbine shooting. ("Dylan, we'll look like we're in a Tony Scott flick!") Friend J's son goes to school next morn. Dogs sniff backpack, finds a year-old fireworks thingy he'd forgotten about. Local headline: TEEN CAUGHT SMUGGLING BOMB TO SCHOOL. (Later tossed out of court.)

5. K: "J had to close her day care. She needs money and is going back to cleaning houses. I'd like to help her . . ."

6. Me: "Yes!" It's been relatively zen-like ever since. The weekly act of cleaning up for the cleaning lady has been -- K admits -- a tremendous boon to overall organization. Best $45/week anyone ever spent anywhere.

Would you pay $22.50 to wake up every Saturday morning thinking, "Damn, don't need to clean the house. What'll I do now?"

I recognize that my wife and I get to dodge these issues by paying someone else to clean up after us. We're paying a woman, of course -- and I wonder how feminist it is of us to simply transfer the labor to another, albeit someone compensated at about three times the minimum hourly California wage.

Design of ultimate house:

Zero gravity. dust is filtered out every 2 seconds with atmosphere ionization system.

Then the entire living cylinder is rotated, with floating junk left in the zero gravity middle.

Suck the whole middle air space. every now and then.

voila.

whatever no sticking in the cylinder surface will float to the middle part to be removed.

This goes for unwanted human occupant too btw.

(I have to rethink this removal of human occupants into the space vacuum bit. No design is perfect. But at least it's clean and neat.)

:D

Next subject: Why do people who say they enjoy waking up early think it is so superior.

I don't think it is that simple. Maybe if you're just shackin' up, you can get away with that, "you want it cleaner? then clean!" attitude. When you get married and have kids you have to have more of a lifeboat psychology.

When you're floating on a rubber raft you can't have someone saying,"I want to play mumbledepeg. If you like having the raft inflated, I suggest you take care of it, but I'm going to be throwing my knife around."

The difference between a long and short term commitment is the intrinsic value of your partner's happiness. If you want to live with someone for any length of time, their happiness has to have intrinsic value to you. If a neat house makes them happy, it is of value to you to have a neat house. If cleaning the house is damaging to your happiness, it should be of value to your partner to spare you from cleaning. Genuinely feeling these things will cause natural compromises. Those feelings are usually not enough to smooth over big differences though. If the difference of opinion is big enough, you hash it out. You work out a compromise possibly extending to other chores, large purchases, vacations or oral sex.

Three weeks after my first wedding day, my new wife came charging into the living room, pulling on a pair of white gloves, ready to inspect my bookcase dusting. This was a side of this person I had never seen in all the time we had spent together. She would, on the days we alternated cooking and dish washing, wake in the early morning to rewash the dishes that I had cleaned the night before.

When I left the marriage, there were more than 80 different cleaning agents lined up in alphabetical order in the pantry. Two full containers stood behind each one that had been opened. All neat, ordered, precise and tidy.

Cleanliness standards are amongst the least negotiable and malleable. They are tied to health and religious beliefs, and more importantly gender identity and self image. Good luck.

This discussion is far too rational. It leaves out drug use and addictive personalities. When I think about the homes of friends, marijuna use and extreme clutter seemed linked to me. The correlation is weak where the drug use is controlled, but the worst homes are also the homes where either alcohol or marijuna is a problem.

By the way, at the Twin Oaks commune (one of America's better known surviving 60s communes) everyone has to work 45 hours a week to stay in good standing with the community, but the work includes all domestic chores, such as cleaning bathtubs, vaccuming dust, etc. So traditional "women's work" is put on parity with all other forms of work (you can make yogurt and tofu for sale in health stores or do domestic chores, it's all the same - an hour of work is an hour of work). I suspect many women in America work well in excess of 45 hours a week, when you cobmine their paid work with their house work.

"I suspect many women in America work well in excess of 45 hours a week, when you cobmine their paid work with their house work. "

So do many men.

i'm glad i live alone

So am I. Honestly, I don't think I could take having someone tell me, "If you loved me you'd care enough about my happiness to clean more often!" I'd eventually respond, "If you loved ME, you'd care enough about my happiness to not force me to waste hours each day on useless, pointless work that accomplishes nothing whatsoever!"

And then, since I'd have just called work that she spent 20 hours on in the past week "useless," "pointless," and "accomplishing nothing," I'd suddenly live alone again.

Next subject: Why do people who say they enjoy waking up early think it is so superior.

Ugh. I know!

I think it's because sleeping "late" is considered lazy and therefore sinful (sloth). People who get up early are getting a "head start" or are "not procrastinating". Never mind that if I stay up until 3AM working on something I'm getting even further ahead. Somehow that doesn't count.

But if sleeping "late" is sinful, then why do people who are untempted consider themselves superior? Isn't resisting temptation stronger? Or does merely being tempted somehow stain one a bit with the sin?

What we need is a standard level what is healthy.

I suppose we do, because everyone has a different idea about what they consider to be clean. Of course, this is also impossible. The first person who thinks they have an objective cleanliness standard please come forward. I'd like to see that for myself.

There is a diminishing return treshold where trying to achive silicon fab level of dust contamination is just little paranoid(and expensive)

No argument there. I'm not obsessive about dust. I'm guessing that around 80% of the time my furniture would not pass a white glove test. However, there's such a thing as a little dust, and there's also such a thing as a lot of dust. Though we all might have different concepts about what a lot of dust is, I'm willing to bet that everyone here has seen it, either in his own home or someone else's. Most of us here are smart enough to know that an environment teeming with dust is less conducive to good health than a low-dust environment, especially if any occupant has allergies. The same goes for mold and various germs.

Have any of you ever been to a home that was so filthy that it stunk? Or have any of you ever been to a home that was so unclean that it made you a little uncomfortable to touch certain surfaces, especially in the bathroom? Were you ever apprehensive about sitting on someone's toilet because you could visibly detect certain stains on the seat? Before some of you mock me for being too anal, just think about it. I'm not at all saying or suggesting that we turn every home into a surgically sterile environment. I'm simply talking about moderate cleanliness. Again, I know that's subjective. I guess cleanliness (or the lack of it) is sort of like porn. I don't know how to define "filthy", but I know it when I see it.

Njorl makes another good point about why people who live together should expend the effort to work out the whole cleanliness thing. I'm not referring to his idea of making your partner happy for a long-term healthy relationship. I'm talking about the blowjobs. I'll scrub the whole damn house from top to bottom if I'm guaranteed hummers on a regular basis. Yes, ladies, guys like blowjobs that much (at least I do).

There is no such thing as "moderate" cleanliness, because it's an artificial standard. Just walk around and you'll see all kinds of differing standards just looking at people's yards, let alone the gutter in a street, or the grass in a public park. Let's not talk about public restrooms, 'kay?

Don't believe me about the artificial standards? Then how come there are houses with oil stains on the garage floor and spotless garbage disposals? Houses with stacks and stacks of old magazines in them, but absolutely not a speck of un-attached lint on the carpet. Junk drawers so disorganized that you are eligible for hazard pay every time you reach into one, with the silverware drawer right next to it almost neurotically neat. A person who obsesses about toilet germs to the point of regular sterilization may or may not care about dust and dead bugs inside the light fixtures. "Moderate cleanliness" is something each person will define differently, in each and every part of the house.

Seriously, standards of cleanliness are something that need to be discussed by prospective roomates (let alone marriage partners) with the seriousness and thoroughness of a conversation about what religion to raise the kids in, if any. People say that god is everywhere? Nah. Not like dirt and clutter, or the lack thereof. THAT is literally your entire environment. If you can't stand the same environment as the fetching creature of your dreams, then guess what: this person is not the fetching creature of your dreams.

*wanders off to be a total slob in his bachelor apartment*

Well Lindsay, what do you think now?

I suspect many women in America work well in excess of 45 hours a week, when you cobmine their paid work with their house work.

When you combine paid work with household work, you get that women and men work almost the same hours in every developed countries. The official average is 49 hours per week for women and 47 for men, but many countries' statistics are from the 80s, when many worked shorter hours than now.

Most of us here are smart enough to know that an environment teeming with dust is less conducive to good health than a low-dust environment, especially if any occupant has allergies. The same goes for mold and various germs.

Apparently, many of us are not smart enough to know that there is a substantial literature linking cleanliness with allergies and asthma. Example: http://allergies.about.com/b/a/034320.htm

Well, that was a lousy example.

More verbiage on the health risks of excessive cleanliness:

http://health.ivillage.com/everdayprobs/0,,87224llm-p,00.html

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