We Need You to Clean
Along with cooking, cleaning is a very real, very practical need that we all have. And just like cooking, it’s one that hurting people can use a hand with.
I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced this situation at one time or another: You find yourself dealing with something that takes a lot of your attention–a big exam, or an important project at work, or a stressful family situation–but you focus your attention, dig deep, do what needs to be done, and pull through.
…and then the dust settles. (Literally!)
Where on earth did all those dishes come from? Why is the laundry hamper overflowing? Didn’t you just do the laundry one day–er–week ago?
It doesn’t take long for household chores to pile up when your attention is elsewhere.
Now imagine that your attention is elsewhere for weeks or months at a time.
Imagine if your spouse had cancer, and you spent all of your days driving them to appointments and treatments, and all of your evenings caring for them, feeding them, making sure they are warm enough, reading to them…
Would you remember to dust your TV stand?
Imagine if you had a child with a special needs diagnosis, and every day your calendar had a different appointment on it–speech therapist, feeding therapist, occupational therapist, physio therapist, nutritionist–and not just for weeks or months, but for years.
Would you prioritize cleaning out your shoe closet?
Sometimes the messiness doesn’t even come from the busyness. It comes from the emotional exhaustion.
Author C.S. Lewis (famously known for his children’s book The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and his Chronicles of Narnia series), was also a writer of non-fiction. He penned a book called A Grief Observed after the death of his wife.1
One of his “observations” was coming face-to-face with a part of grief that no one had ever told him about before. He called it, “the laziness of grief.”
After his wife died, Lewis struggled to find motivation to do simple tasks. He even “loathed the effort” it took to do things when all he wanted was to be left alone with his grief.
A small, powerful sentence that has stayed with me, even years after reading his book, was where he admitted to not shaving much anymore. What good was having a smooth face if his wife was no longer there to kiss it?
Grief, whether it comes from the loss of a loved one through death; the loss of one’s health, mobility, or independence through sickness/an accident; or the loss of one’s hopes and dreams through a career setback or the end of a marriage, is messy business. Emotional AND physical.
Yeah, but I don’t know how to clean for someone else. I don’t know where anything goes!
This is the most common concern (*cough* excuse) I hear when I suggest the idea of cleaning for a friend. Here are a few general rules to help you overcome it:
- Dirty dishes always go in the dishwasher or a sink of hot soapy water.
- Clean plates, cups, silverware, etc… always go with all of the other plates, cups, and silverware. They’re pretty easy to find if you look. If you truly aren’t sure where to put something in the kitchen, a stack of washed dishes for your friend to put away is still nicer than a stack of dirty ones.
- Toys always belong off the floor and in the toy box.
- Dirty laundry always goes into a basket/hamper.
- Clean laundry always needs to be folded, and can be left neatly in a basket if you aren’t comfortable with entering bedrooms.
- Nobody has an emotional attachment to dust. You can just get rid of it.
- All toilets follow the same cleaning procedure as your own toilet.
- You can ask, “Where do you keep your broom?” “Where would you like me to put this?” Communication is a beautiful thing!
Ok, so I see the need, but how exactly do I go about offering to clean? Isn’t that personal/offensive?
It’s a valid question. We all have that fear of offending someone, and saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed your house is dirty, can I clean it?” is certainly the wrong way to go about it!
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a never-fail, once-size-fits-all approach. Like so many things, this one comes down to relationship. You will have consider how much trust you and your friend have to determine what and how much you do.
For very very close friends, the ones that are closer than family, there are less barriers. If there are already no secrets between you, and you already discuss personal and embarrassing things, you are already “in.” You can just say, “I’m coming to help you with XYZ tomorrow, and I’m not taking no for an answer!”
Of course, not all friendships (and not a lot of families) are that close.
For friendships that are not THAT close, but are still close enough that you are in their home, I recommend just making cleaning part of the visit. I do this all the time with my mom friends when they have a new baby, or my kids are having a playdate with their kids.
Sitting down to chat? Fold that basket of laundry beside the couch while you visit. Making a snack for the kids? Wipe up the counter and wash a sinkful of dishes while you’re at it. It doesn’t have to be major to be encouraging.
This is also the kind of relationship where you could ask if you can help more without being offensive. Ex: “I would like to be more help to you while you’re going through this. Would you like it if I came and organized the toy room sometime?”
It’s ok if their answer is no. They now know that you are willing to clean, and may approach you another time when they need you.
For more casual friends/acquaintances, like a coworker or a member or your faith community, (someone you don’t regularly visit in their home) less personal is probably more comfortable for both of you.
Why not have the group pitch in for a gift certificate for a local cleaning service? You can pop it into a get-well/thinking of you card with a message like, “We know you have a lot on your plate right now, and wanted to help.” It lets your friend chose the time that the cleaners come so they don’t feel ambushed or embarrassed. It gives them the freedom to work around appointments and naps, and to put away any embarrassing items if need-be.
(P.S. Cleaning certificates also make amazing baby shower gifts!)
Whichever approach you take, I believe that taking the physical and mental load of household cleaning off your friend is a great way to show that you are there and that you care.
Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you in the comments!
Footnotes: 1. Read more from C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed on goodreads.com
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