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Whose dirt is it?

Warning: to my conscientious proficient house-cleaning friends, this may really gross you out and you may want to opt out of reading.

Much of my recent weeks have been consumed with the cleaning and scrubbing of grunge and grime. Preparing one home to sell and nesting in another has put my dirt radar on high alert. These are a few of the things I have observed along the way.

It is easy for me to become desensitized to my own filth. When a realtor comes through your home, it is their job to point out things that, if changed, would increase the value of your home. When we live day after day in the same space, it is easy to ignore how truly gross something in our environment has become. Our pet door, for example, was almost black with mold and who knows what kind of crud. Our dog Rinze had not complained one bit, and my eyes had not noticed it at all.


Cleaning up our own muck is good for the soul. Anyone who has lived with me or even visited our home will know that I am not an immaculate housekeeper. Since the time that we had three children and beyond, we have gotten help to keep up with all the varied cleaning tasks of the home. After we moved out, and in preparation for “staging” our home to sell, my faithful and hard working house cleaners came in to scrub and clean.

The next day, personally exhausted and weak, I returned to our former home and a rotten and noxious odor greeted me. We have a 2nd refrigerator in our laundry room, and it had gotten missed during the “big clean”. I literally started to cry. I won’t describe the muck at the bottom of this appliance, but suffice it to say that a putty knife and lots of goo gone was required to get it clean. Truth is I have no idea what I was scrubbing. As someone who doesn’t do a lot of deep cleaning, it was good for me to have to clean up my own mess. And the completion of this distasteful task was indeed quite satisfying. No one else should have been asked to clean up that level of our family’s own squalor, and maybe, just maybe, I will be more mindful of cleaning up along the way to avoid such an overwhelming task in the future.

Sometimes the most disgusting things are in a place that is hidden from everyone’s view. As if the above wasn’t gross enough, what was hidden under this refrigerator was even more disgusting. I am not sure what went down under there, but it appeared to involve a bag of birdseed, some mice and lots and lots of lint and dust. Until this refrigerator was rolled out from its cozy corner, who knew that we were living and breathing air right in the midst of such a repugnant mix?

Other people’s dirt can be more offensive than my own. The sellers of our new home did arrange for a good topical cleaning before we moved in, but the deep, hidden and tougher stuff was left for us to notice and complete. They didn’t “stage” their house and jump through all of the “make it look shiny” hoops. So, we get to clean someone else’s dirt as well. Now I have not come across anything remotely like the laundry room refrigerator scene, but still I must admit that cleaning up other people’s grime is a little more offensive to me than cleaning up that of my own family. I wonder why that is? Do I trust my dirt more fully? Do I think it is somehow less germy?

Some dirt should remain. Our staged and almost perfect home may be a positive as buyers consider making it their home, but it now feels lifeless and eerie to me. So much of our family’s story has taken place there. It was not a museum but a home where lots of crying, laughing screaming, jumping, fighting, running and the many aspects of living as family happened.

Paying too much attention to every little imperfection and smudge is unhealthy. Besides pushing me to teeter on the edge of OCD in the quest to eradicate it, there is some dirt that at further examination holds a lesson, a memory, a snapshot of life. On our back porch, lots of little hands and feet played and created. As I was doing my final cleaning run through there, I saw a yellow speck, a blue speck, a green speck. On further examination, I realized that they were spots of dried up playdoh. Yes, I could have gotten down on my knees and scrubbed them away, but I decided that those would remain. They are symbolic of children at play in one of my very favorite places.

As I’ve worked and scrubbed, I have also reflected. Many life and spiritual lessons have come to my heart and mind over these intense weeks. It hasn’t really been just about cleaning up some dirt. I will leave it to you to make your own connections. I am excited to now more fully focus on making a new home in a new space, dirt and all.