In Praise of Drunk Cleaning

published Jun 14, 2017
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

I have always hated to iron. So imagine my surprise when a co-worker told me that the most relaxing part of his day was coming home, drinking a beer or two, and doing a little ironing. As someone who deeply detests ironing, I would never have dreamed of anyone finding it relaxing. As the daughter of two strict teetotalers, I would never have dreamed of mixing drinking and household chores. This was my first introduction to the wonderful world of drunk cleaning.

It was a little bit of a revelation for me, honestly, the first time I opened a bottle of beer and set to doing the dishes. In my mind, cleaning was a bad time, and beer was a good time, and they did not mix. But even before I started to feel any sort of a buzz, the addition of beer to my routine had already begun to affect me: Suddenly, cleaning had begun to take on a bit of the celebratory feel of a party or an afternoon with friends at a bar. Something you get to do, as opposed to something you have to do.

But it went deeper than that. Another benefit of drinking while cleaning, for me at least, is that it softens the edges of the intense and often crippling perfectionism I bring to all of my work, whether or not it is actually warranted. I remember, years ago, my then-boyfriend helping me get ready for a party we were throwing at my apartment. I watched, transfixed, as he cleaned the bathroom mirror in three careless swipes, accomplishing in about ten seconds a task that would’ve taken me at least ten minutes of carefully wiping off every last speck of grime, and then carefully wiping off every last trace of paper towel lint. When I pointed out to this sweet and blasé young man that there were still several small spots on the mirror, he shrugged it off. It doesn’t matter, he said. Did it matter? I admired his efficiency, his joyful carelessness, but was unable to imitate it. Until.

“In moments like these I’ve begun to see how cleaning is not just a boring, thankless task imposed on us by an unfeeling and cruel universe.”

By drunk I don’t mean drunk drunk of course, but rather that sweet, mildly hazy feeling you get after one drink or two. Which brings me to my favorite thing about drunk cleaning, which is the way that having one drink, or two, slows me down a little, stretches moments out and lets me sink deeply into them. In moments like these I’ve begun to see how cleaning is not a boring, thankless task imposed on us by an unfeeling and cruel universe, but instead, if you choose to see it this way, an opportunity to reconnect with the physical essence of life, to do work that is meaningful and immediately rewarding, and to create order and beauty from the chaos of your particular corner of the world.

There’s a poem by Galway Kinnell, that I love, called Saint Francis and the Sow, that talks about “reteaching a thing its loveliness.” Those one or two beers retaught to me a loveliness that I had forgotten, the loveliness of taking things that were dirty and making them clean again, the unlooked for joy that can sometimes be found in everyday things when we cease to regard them as ordinary. If you are a better person than me you may, perhaps, be able to do this without drinking at all, although it does make the path a little smoother.

Unfortunately, I still hate ironing.