23 November 2011

how i developed a cleaning playlist


That up there—that widget {who sounds tech-savvy now?}—that's my Cleaning Playlist. I've had it in mind to create one for awhile now, but a few weeks ago, I decided to make good on that idea because...well, read this story. It should explain why.

A couple of Saturdays ago, my heating and air conditioning man was supposed to come at 10am to fix my humidifier, which, apparently, isn't working, a fact that may explain my dry lips and parched throat during winter.

This is the same heating and air conditioning man who was featured in my story "Some Like It Hot. I Do Not," so in some ways, I was looking forward to the visit.

Not wanting to be idle and awkward while he was there, I started a small cleaning project at 9:45ish. See, I live alone, and having someone else in my space throws me off.

What I mean is—before all my friends decide they're never really welcome and that I'm simply being polite when I ask them over—when there's another person in my apartment, 99% of the time, it's because I've asked them over for dinner or coffee or to watch a movie.

My heating and air conditioning man is the 1%—someone I have invited over but who's there to do a job. However, my brain works like this: "Someone else is in the apartment! You need to entertain him! Offer him pain au chocolat just out of the oven! See if he wants coffee! Stand and talk to him while he works!"

I'm not used to being in my apartment with someone else just being there quietly doing their own thing, so when heating and air conditioning man—who will forever afterward be referred to as HACM—comes over, I'm liable to break into a routine of "Let Me Entertain You," if only I knew how to tap dance.

This is why I was cleaning at 9:45ish: to control the urge to entertain. If you've found a better way to turn off your jazz-hands-big-finish personality, let me know.

Besides: idle hands do the devil's work, you know, and so I was cleaning the counters with Barkeeper's Friend, which is not a lonely drunk but a magical cream that takes away any stain with hardly any scrubbing.

Time tick-tocked closer to 10am as I wiped away whatever it was I let boil over on the stove. On my pristine white stove, these mars of dirtiness tend to look like burnt cheese, not that I recall letting cheese boil over, but there they were, scars of meal eaten, disappearing as I pretended to be a bartender, a job I wouldn't be good at.

It'd go like this: "You want what kind of drink? I've never heard of that. Can I just give you red wine instead? That I know and understand."

You know how it is: you get caught up in cleaning behind the canisters and time passes without you noticing it. After wiping down the sugar canister, I glanced at the clock: 10:12.

HACM {how are you pronouncing that in your head? Hack 'em? Because that's how I'm doing it.} definitely should've been there by 10:12, but time in that profession seems to run differently, as if handymen have created their own space-time continuum. That is to say: HACM has shown up late before, and he's stayed for more than an hour but charged me for only an hour's work before. I decided to embrace HACM's space-time continuum, a lesson I learned from Star Trek.

The counters clean, I moved on to the floor.

On my knees, I was cleaning the baseboards as it became 10:30 and then 10:41 and by the time it was 10:53, I was wiping down the cabinets, and I was fuming.

I fumed that HACM hadn't shown up.

Fumed that I'd arranged my Saturday morning around him.

Fumed that he'd said when we'd scheduled this humidifier fix, "I hope I can remember to come! Maybe you should call to remind me."

Fumed that I hadn't answered that with, "Do I look like your secretary? Do I look like anyone's secretary? Okay, maybe when I wear that one outfit that makes me look like a Mad Men secretary, but the main idea here is: I am NOT YOUR SECRETARY. Remember your own dang appointments." {In my head, I may have even said the stronger version of dang [insert shocked face].}

Cleaning is very therapeutic, very calming, the very antidote to fuming. While you're scrubbing the bathroom tile on your hands and knees and really digging in, your mind—and even your mouth, if you want—can shout at whoever, "How dare you?!!? I can't believe you [fill in blank with offense that has you fuming]! When you [fill in the blank], it makes me feel [look, I'm using 'I feel' statements!]."

You can scrub or vacuum or dust in the rhythm of your anger or frustration. There's something about that expense of energy in cleaning, coupled with the satisfaction of dust-free bookshelves and shining floors at the end of it, that makes it one of the most perfect ways to process emotions.

A penchant for productivity and anger can be a helpful combination.

But the majority of the time I'm cleaning, I'm not angry or fuming. I'm actually pretty happy.

As in Disney-character happy, the kind of happy that makes other people roll their eyes because I could at any moment burst into song about how fun it is to work, like the good Midwesterner I am. If possible, small woodland creatures would join me in this sing-along.

And so I created my Cleaning Playlist: full of happy songs, some of them actually accompanied by woodland creatures, and most of them actually about the joys of working.

When I have no HACM to fume over, no major issue to resolve, no anger to take out on tiles—this Cleaning Playlist will help me pass the time happily.

A few notes:
  • I'll tell you soon why I chose these songs, although I'd be interested to hear why you think I chose some of them.
  • If you have any songs you'd like to suggest I add to my Cleaning Playlist, I'll gladly take them.
  • Cleaning Playlist is a really prosaic name. Any suggestions for something better?


  1. Did he ever come??? I just keep picturing you in your apartment, still cleaning and fuming. ;-)

  2. You should call the playlist "Scrub-a-dub-hum".

    I like that Florence is on there... also, get ready for the comment blitz as I catch up.



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