Being, Nothingness, and Housework

by Patricia Lawson

Every day there is housework to be done. And from doing housework questions arise about methods, providing illustrations of existence preceding essence. What product to use in the solving of problems--e.g. dust, lint, mineral deposits. Whether to approach it from a green perspective with non-toxic cleaning agents such as vinegar and salt or to become, at least momentarily, happy and oblivious like women in commercials and get out the Lime Away. How to diagnose. How to proceed. Whether to begin upstairs or down. Whether to pick up dirty clothes or kick them under the bed. Whether to remove the cat that died under the bed--and when and how--or allow it to become totally desiccated. (Homer Barron in "A Rose for Emily" comes to mind, though one wonders about his degree of desiccation since mention is made of the mattress he had become "inextricable from" and after whose decease the townspeople cleaned up with lime rather than Lime Away). Or should one refuse to take even small steps so as not to force something into bloom prematurely, but to wait instead until the room seems ready for a complete overhaul?

And then, should one go for a minimal, decluttered look--no more perfume bottles on the window sill, no forced forsythia, no beaded necklaces, amber bracelets, or rhinestone chokers hanging about the room on hooks, no portraits of loved ones (baby, dog, cat as kitten), no more stuff of life at all in fact, dead or alive, but in the bedroom only the basic bed, dresser without mirror, and perhaps a single green plant to suggest possibility. Perhaps a snake plant, for its allusive richness. Or perhaps a formless, allusion-free plant like a philodendron.

Should one clean to music? Should one be in the moment or transcendent of it? Should one pause to reflect on the importance of material things? Suppose Desdemona had not dropped her handkerchief nor Iago felt compelled to pick up after her. Macbeth sees a dagger before him, but suppose he had seen a harpsichord. On the other hand, one might pause to reflect on the spiritual poverty stuff contributes to (see any number of religious treatises from The Book of Job to the Buddha's "Four Noble Truths" to the writings of C. S. Lewis).

And how thorough a cleaning should one give? Is cleanliness really next to godliness or is it closer to sterility, or does it all depend on the amount of bleach? And should one let oneself become distracted? Should one pause to stare out the window? Answer the phone? Attend a funeral? Ah, a funeral! Should one keep to a schedule or be spontaneous, e.g., it's spring, so let us coax the plants back to life with water, and let us put away gray and bring forth green and bring forth the bubbling fountain, toss out the cat carcass, and let the canary out of the basement? So many questions. So many roads diverging into yellow (or other) woods. And does one dare to eat a peach, knowing that one must decide whether to discard or plant the pit? There are no rules here. As Sartre said, probably thinking of cleaning up the house after another bout of nausée, "My acts cause values to spring up like partridges."