We’ve been having a spirited discussion at our house: To clean or not to clean? Should we clean in anticipation of company coming or wait until they’ve turned into our driveway? At what point does the quest to have an ongoing cleaning/de-cluttering program become the obsession Mr. Fix-It thinks I harbor?
There are times at Chez Person the cleaning supplies pail sits for days, not hours. Mr. Fix-It tells me not to worry about a little dust and that nobody cares.
That ain’t making me feel any better. He’s the same guy who says there’s no point making up the bed since we’ll have to sleep in it in a few hours, why bother with cleaning until company comes and that they aren’t looking at the house anyway; they’re coming to visit with us, not the house. Maybe so, but they might like to be able to walk across the floor without a cloud of dust rising around them like Pig Pen, the kid in the funny papers.
As my mother has always said, “If you want something done, you’d better be ready to do it yourself.” So I guilt my husband into helping me clean and he does it so I’ll be quiet and leave him alone. I don’t really care how it happens just so long as it gets done.
But I have to think about my mother’s little nugget is whether applied to cleaning one’s domicile or one’s civic environment. We’ve been observing and living both for some time and I gotta tell you, I’m perplexed about cleaning our house, but I’m really scratching my head over the level of civic involvement around here.
It has become, as Yul Brynner’s King of Siam said, “a puzzlement” how many people pitch in to get something – an activity, an organization, a community initiative – formed and operating, works themselves to death hoping somebody else will come along and help out, but then get mad when someone tries to take some of the work off of them. Rather than allow others to perpetuate their efforts, we get our feelings hurt because someone wants to take over the responsibility and allow the originator to lend their talents to something else within the group.
We are too proud to acknowledge someone else can do our job as well – or better – than we can, so we decide they cannot function so efficiently as we. Truth is, we are afraid of losing control and we just cannot handle that, so we make things as difficult as possible for anyone trying to lend new ideas or processes to the mix.
And then we wonder why so few people want to be a part of our community organizations, our churches, or our neighborhood groups. We wonder why other people are not so civic minded as we and sometimes go so far as to question their patriotism.
Maybe they just decided it was less stressful to be a part of something where their only decision was whether or not to attend rather than what will happen when they get there. Maybe they decided they’d just as soon stay home puttering around in their yard as get involved in an organization with so much conflict, they have to take Maalox before they go to the meeting. Maybe the group’s structure is so broken, it will take a lot of effort to fix it, but no one wants to take on the shadow government, so they just watch the whole thing disintegrate.
And after spending time, energy, ideas, and effort trying to clean up a mess, we tend to finally throw up our hands and say, “Why bother?”
We bother because we don’t want the dust, dirt and clutter of neglect encircling guests to our community groups, churches, and towns. We bother because we know more than one or two people who have a good idea or a better way to get something done. We want to have something to offer when company comes to call.
Mr. Fix-It and I accomplish a whole lot more around our house when join forces to accomplish the job. We both contribute to the finished product and enjoy the fruits of our labors together. We work together recognizing that neither is perfect, but we’re working for the same purpose even if we don’t do it the same way. And it feels really good to see what we did together.
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.