Cleanliness is next to godliness, they always say. And it is, it really is. There’s something so pure about spending time on your hands and knees, scrubbing at stains on the kitchen floor you’d never even noticed, or peeling back the rugs to leave big swaths of untouched floor exposed. Dust particles shimmer in the sunlight until you collect them all and shoo them out the door.
There’s a ritual in cleaning, a project to be accomplished. You set out your supplies, the chemicals to bleach and brighten and disinfect, the cloths to sweep away dust, all these tools to make your space feel fresh and new. You take your time. You can’t do a thorough job when you’re rushing; a deep clean has to be considered. You change into your grubby old clothes, turn on the radio and set about your task. Cleaning gives you a purpose for the next few hours; you can distract yourself from what’s bothering you, exorcise your frustrations, come back to what you were doing with a refreshed point of view when you’re done.
The process of cleaning soothes my busy brain. I listen to the swish, swish, swish of the broom as it moves across the floor, the “shh”ing rasp of a sponge scrubbing away stubborn discolorations on the old bathtub. Pictures in frames are dusted, smiled at, set back where they belong. Dishes are washed and stacked in the cupboards where they belong. Dirty clothes get bundled up and put away. Surfaces are wiped, garbage is taken out. Clutter is returned to its rightful place. You work until you’re satisfied, until your space feels clean and pure.
When someone breaks your heart, you have to clean them away, too. You have to scrub it all out of your life, wash the sheets to get every trace of their skin, their eyelashes and their hair out of your bed, throw their toothbrush in the trash, donate their sweatshirts to the Goodwill. If it offends you, it’s gone right out with the garbageman. When when something horrible happens and shakes up your world, the only thing that makes you feel okay again is a fresh start. When you clean all the damage away and take your time to make sure every corner is polished and spotless, there’s no evidence that it was ever even there in the first place.
When I moved into my apartment, I was aching, stung and bitter all over. My skin was covered head to toe in invisible bruises, tender at the touch. I needed rooms with no track record, a place that hadn’t been stained yet. I unlocked the door that first day and found only empty, spotless space. The previous owner had done a good job of completely erasing herself from every square foot; all she left were a few deep gouges on the floor.
That first night, after all of my things had been loaded in and neatly arranged the way I liked them, every perfume bottle set down on a tray, every piece of clothing hanging in order and every box unpacked, I lit all the candles, turned off the lights and laid on the floor. I closed my eyes and reigned in my careening brain. All I felt then was calm. This was where I needed to be. This was my fresh start, my new day with no mistakes in it yet. There was space enough to breathe here, in these pristine rooms.