“Vacuuming can be therapeutic,” the middle-aged woman told my 22-year-old self.
We were standing in the bedroom that I would occupy for the next year, located in a wing of her Greenwich, Connecticut compound. I was a recent college graduate, working as a classroom teaching assistant in a tony private girls’ school by day and taking graduate classes at night. Until recently I’d been living with two other young teachers in a dingy apartment in Stamford, but when this woman, whose three daughters attended the school at which I taught, invited me to move in with them, it was like manna from heaven. I’d pay no rent, eat meals cooked by the household chefs, live minutes away from work, and have access to the compound’s gym, pool, and tennis courts. In exchange, I would serve as an additional “responsible adult,” with some occasional duties driving the children to school and activities.
I’d also be responsible for my own cleaning.
“You don’t mind vacuuming your own room, do you?” the woman of the house asked apologetically, before adding, “I find that vacuuming can be therapeutic.”
It struck me as an absurd statement from this woman with perfectly highlighted and coiffed blonde hair, her toned body clad in spandex as if headed to a workout (with a personal trainer, of course.) In addition to my humble presence, this household was kept going by a staff of cooks, cleaners, gardeners, trainers, and tutors. Right next to my bedroom was the office of madam’s personal secretary — although she did not work outside the home, she somehow still required a secretary. Her husband was employed as a high-level investment banker at a Manhattan firm; he disappeared in the predawn hours each morning into a chauffeured Town Car.
Of course I didn’t mind cleaning my own space – I’d spent the past six months cleaning up after two housemates (and their boyfriends.) But when was the last time this woman had actually vacuumed? For her to suggest that she occasionally practiced vacuum therapy smacked of Marie Antionette skipping around on her tidy personal farm.
That was over twenty years ago, and I can honestly say that in the decades that have passed I have never once found vacuuming – or any household cleaning, for that matter – to be at all therapeutic. I complete my household chores with resignation because I want my home to be comfortable, welcoming, and attractive. (Also, if I’m honest, because I’m driven by the voices of my Puritan ancestors whispering that other people will judge me as slothful if my home is messy.)
But there is one chore that I have refused to do on principle, except when absolutely necessary, and that is ironing.
Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.