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  • Lijing Cobb

Chores redefined

I don't know how this realization could have evaded me for such a long time, but yesterday while I was vigorously scrubbing my bathroom sink, a thought just materialized itself in my head: perhaps this act, along with wiping and scrubbing toilets, dusting all the open surfaces and secret corners (which equates to everywhere), reorganizing cabinets and drawers for the hundredth time, collecting and re-situating items haphazardly strewn about, wiping down dirty hand prints, paw prints, boot prints, as well as any other smudges from doors, windows, walls, and mirrors... all of these that I had spent my whole adult life so far dreading and resenting, thinking of them as such gigantic waste of time, longing for the day when I'm rich enough to pay someone to do all of this on my behalf, wishing against all odds that the kids, husband, and dogs would just not make a mess and add to my to-do list: none of these are beneath me. All of these are equal to me. They are part of living, just like brushing my teeth after I eat food, taking a shower when I'm stinky, washing my hands when they are dirty. I would even venture to say that they might just be as critical as eating food when I'm hungry, and drinking water when I'm thirsty!


I think where I went wrong was that I thought of cleaning and organizing as a dispensable part of life, not essential to existence, and therefore dismissible because of their triviality. The English-speaking people have designated a pretty misleading name for all of these acts combined: chores. And when I first learned this word as a non-native speaker, I had learned its definition from the authority of a dictionary: a routine task, especially a household one; an unpleasant but necessary task. You see, we are all selective learners. We only see and absorb the information we are looking for to confirm our suspicion, because we already know everything. When I read this definition, my mind had highlighted the "unpleasant" part, but benched the necessary and routine part. My observation of people's facial expression and body language when they spoke about "chores" solidified my bias against them. As far as I could tell, nobody spoke the word "chore" with jubilation. In fact, this word seems to always come out in a singular sentence format, as if we had no other choice to get the word out there: "I have to do my chores."


From then on, there emerged a class of actions in my life that I actively disliked and avoided to the best of my ability (and to the detriment of my sanity), even though I ended up having to do them because, damn it, they were necessary. All those years of doing my chores with loathing, wishing that I could be doing something else, lamenting my fate of having to clean up after myself and others. Oh boy, it sounds wrong just to be putting all of these words on paper!


But the epiphany at the sink came in the form of a question, a loving suggestion. What if I did all of these things, not with resentment and dread, but with love instead? What if, instead of treating the floor I tread on every day, the dishes I put food in for every meal, the toilets I use whenever I need to go, the vents that brings me heat when I'm cold and cool when I'm hot... I treat these things that bring me ease and comfort with respect and appreciation instead?


I used to think that vacuum cleaners cleaned themselves, no joke (and I think some smart people have invented some such things nowadays). I loved them when they sucked up my mess efficiently, and was annoyed when they worked less and less willingly, with all the hair entangled in the brushes, little bits of miscellaneous stuff stuck in the crevices, reeking a nasty smell. When I could no longer postpone the cleaning process for the vacuum itself (most of the time because it stopped working completely), the thought of throwing it away and buying a new one constantly crossed my mind. I'd say to myself, it's broken! But after a laborious and tedious cleaning process was completed, the machine would cough itself back to life to last just long enough until the next "chore" time for its resurrective surgery by its disgruntled owner.


I recently purchased two Bissell vac-mops, because I had a strong aversion to mopping the floor, so much so that I never do it (although I do purchase wet mop pads all the time and let them sit in my closet until they dry out, as if that's what they are for). But alas, although my kids are now old enough to remember to take their shoes off at the front door, our three dogs happen to not wear shoes, and they come inside the house, rain or shine, muddy or not, ready to be loved just as they are. Thanks to my vac-mops who traverse the intricate terrains of my household, one upstairs and one downstairs, our floor was finally getting MOPPED!


Of course, the robots, affectionately named The Little Ninja for the downstairs resident, and The Little Mermaid for the upstairs one, have their own limitations. First of all, and this is my biggest pet-peeve, they do not move furniture. If an area is smaller than they are, they neglect to clean that spot, and they certainly do not clean under that spot. Second, they do not move messes on the floor. In fact they seem to like to lodge themselves onto a jumping rope or the tip of a shoe to take a rest. And third, they get dirty! Yesterday when I finally opened up The Little Ninja for a deep cleaning, she was filthy everywhere! So ironic that she cleans up the entire space under her charge for us, and ends up being the dirtiest thing in the house!


The more I think about it, the more urgent it seems to re-define some words and relationships in my dictionary and world. If I have to clean my body so it can exist and function optimally, it only makes sense for me to clean my vacuum cleaners so they can exist and function optimally. The better protection and maintenance I offer my body, the better performance I can expect from my body. So it is with my vacuum cleaners. And most importantly, if I have to do these things anyway, I might as well do them with joy and respect.


In other words, when The Little Ninja leaves me the tricky spots behind flower pots and chair legs next time, I'll know that my cleaning partner has passed the baton to me with all due respect, because she has done the best she can, now it's up to me to finish the relay, and do a good job, partner, for you have been given more abilities, and therefore, as Spiderman knows, bigger responsibilities. I'll clear and maintain her paths as free of obstacles as possible, so that she doesn't waste any unnecessary energy and time on trying to extricate herself from a situation that's beyond her capacity to overcome. And I'll make sure that her home and body are clean, so that she can perform to the best of her abilities every time she fulfills her life's mission.


Such a simple concept. A loving relationship full of kindness and respect. Giving back to the "things" in our lives that we tend to take for granted. Take care of them in return for the care we receive from them: an exchange of energies between an animate being and an inanimate object, whose status reflects precisely its owner's care.


I'd like to think that if we can care for our vacuum cleaners with love and respect, we can certainly raise human beings with love and respect. No?


I'd like to think that if we can raise human beings with love and respect, we can treat the things that help us along the way with love and respect, animate or inanimate. Yes?


I think from this point on, my life will be much different in a lot of positive ways. When I take care of the things that NEVER COMPLAIN about HAVING TO do things for me, I'll be humbled by their insistence on fulfilling their purpose, for as long as they can, to the best of their ability. Can I learn from their silent example? When I clean my sink I'll know that the sink took all the gunk I put into it, and it is I who is bothered by my own gunk, not the sink. So I'll clean with appreciation and gratitude. I WILL BE TALKING TO MY SINKS!


Full confession: I already talk to The Little Ninja and The Little Mermaid (Marie Kondo does it). They are a part of our family. My kids know to help them out when they get stuck. I say thank you to them from time to time, because I'm grateful for their existence. And I don't think I'm weird at all. It should be normal for us to talk to things and people alike to let them know our appreciation for their presence in our lives. I just need to work on doing more things for them to really show my gratitude.


Chores redefined: a routine care for the things in life that help us live a good life; an act of gratitude for the health of our silent partners in life, who are there for us through thick and thin.


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