I hope you have read my post, “Not so Neat as a Pin,” as the theme here will be familiar – being neat and being clean are not the same thing. Not only that, getting clean is a dirty business, and sometimes being messy is preferable to subjecting oneself to contamination.
This is was my experience at the office today. I took out a plastic grocery bag, placed it on my desk, and rolled down the sides so that they would not get dirty. I put on a pair of vinyl gloves, snatched the scarf off my chair, wadded it up, and lowered it carefully into the center of the bag. I took off one glove by pulling it inside out at the cuff. I used a napkin to pull at the cuff the remaining glove and turn it inside out. The used gloves now were both on the floor, so I took off my right shoe (I’m right-footed) and picked them up with my toes and threw them in the trash can, all of which I can do in about five seconds as I’ve had quite a bit of practice at it. I then poured rubbing alcohol over my hands and dried them with a napkin to wipe off the vinyl residue. I gingerly rolled the sides of the bag upwards again and triumphantly pulled the handles together. All was complete within a couple of minutes and went off without incident! This is where rituals are beneficial.
But why did I do this? To keep up appearances, of course.
My home is fairly neat overall, but there are a few disorderly spots. Those are usually the places where contaminated objects are kept. Unfortunately, the same situation prevails at the office. This is a little embarrassing when I really take the time to look at these spots. At work, it’s mainly confined to one shelf, but there are times when I imagine that my co-workers are thinking, “What a slob.” The irony, of course, is that these are the same people who do the worthless “courtesy rinse” in the restroom. Every object on their desks is covered with invisible filth, but, by George, it’s all organized and uncluttered.
The dust is what becomes really unsightly. The dust collects around the dirty items on the shelf and behind and along the sides of my computer – areas that I cannot keep sanitary. I spend a lot of time keeping the critical parts of my desk clean, the parts with which I am in constant contact; other areas suffer as a result.
An item that one would not ordinarily think of as looking dirty is the large scarf that I use to protect my chair at work, the one mentioned in the opening of this post. I use it to keep the chair safe from custodians and anyone else who dares to tread the floor inside my cubicle. I fold the scarf in half when I leave every evening to keep it clean, i.e., sanitary, but, as it is black, it does show accumulated dust around the edges after a time. I had been meaning to take it home to wash it, but I always forget or run out of time. Today was the day, though, that I finally chose a time to take it out to my car, a quiet moment when there was little chance of someone walking up and witnessing the spectacle detailed in the second paragraph.
I delivered the bag to my car, and came back in to the office. The challenge now was my bare chair. There was only an hour left of work, but I was going to have to be on guard against leaning back in the chair. That did not seem too difficult; I had done it many times before. Yet, five minutes later, in an absent-minded moment, I did it. As soon as my back touched the chair I realized my mistake. The reality of the rest of my day came rushing at me. I wouldn’t be able to touch the bottom of my hair or my neck or shoulders. Since the back of my shirt was now dirty, the seat of my car would also be contaminated on the ride home and would have to be sprayed down eight times. And before getting into bed, I would have to take a forty-five minute shower (my Super-shower) to wash all the nastiness off my hair and whatever my hair touched.
And that is how it went. One careless moment potentially can cause hours of cleaning. But one has to do what one has to do. I would rather have left the dusty scarf on the chair indefinitely, but one must keep up appearances.