The Blog

Next to Godliness?


Contrary to popular belief, it is said that pigs are the cleanest animals on earth, a notion which makes me question where the expression "filthy pig" originated. Yet, I have noticed over the years, that many humans tend towards the disorganised, if not entirely filthy.

For instance, many people I have known in my life cultivate what I call their private Museums of Natural History throughout their homes. Some limit this "museum site" to the kitchen or living room while others open up their entire home to these collections, which range from heaps of mail to jars of rusted nails to any imaginable combination of object in a jar or in stacks. The stacks can multiply into quasi organisational masses: the unopened vs. the opened mail, bills vs. subscription offers, etc. Then there are the piles of receipts scattered about like Easter eggs occupying every square centimetre of counter space--these tiny pieces of yellowing paper collect dust with the occasional post-its stuck onto a few of these receipts (as if to indicate that something needs to be addressed urgently, even as those post-its fade and curl over time in harmony with the surrounding paper stacks). Add to this the coupon mounds in the kitchen which are often accompanied by the spare coin jar and the numerous pieces of paper stuck to the refrigerator under magnets of the Eiffel Tower and various charities. These papers remain in the same place visit after visit, year after year and it would seem that they are necessary for the full functioning of their owner as are the dozens of bric-a-brac items that one might expect to win in a country fair's shooting gallery accompanied by a gift that a complete stranger brought over. A magic eight ball seemed ironic at the time. The house becomes a museum of items that the owner never really chose nor reflected upon having, much less keeping. The default circumstance reveals a flat that could be its own reality show.

In the same room under a table somewhere, plugged into a wall socket is an electric air freshener, announcing that despite the hoard-esque state of this flat, the owner is conscious of the smell that has been created by years of collecting papers and other memorabilia sandwiched by the attempts to mitigate the damage with chemicals that burn through the nostrils. As toxic as the the "arbre magique" air fresheners that one can find hanging on the rear-view mirrors of thousands upon thousands of taxis throughout the world, your friends believe that air freshener sprays, lemon-scented wood cleaners, rose scented toilet bowl crystals, more lemon cleaners for porcelain, plus this air freshener, will miraculously announce their home as clean and ordered. To these friends you keep your visits brief simply because there is only so much time you can spend at this house without getting a sudden headache from all the chemicals topped by the mildewy smells resulting from the agglomeration of years of not throwing anything away. While changing one's own habits of collecting papers or refusing to throw away sentimentally-charged chachkas might be a challenge--if not impossible--to most, changing one's cleaning habits and switching over to healthier cleaning products in the home is by far the easier task.

Recent research has shown that many artificially-scented products in the home are related to carcinogens, the most common being limonene which, when exposed to ozone (in the air), is broken down such that every two molecules of limonene can produce one molecule of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a well-known carcinogen that has been found to be mutated from limonene usually contained in citrus-scented candles and floor cleaners. While there are companion plants that can be used in the home to absorbed formaldehyde, the best solution is simply to avoid these products altogether and to start using alternative cleaning products.

The easiest way to shift our habits is to stop buying commercial products. Period. And then run out and buy a large bottle of white vinegar and a natural cleaner for sinks, toilets and bathtubs. In my home I use vinegar and water for cleaning the wooden floors. And yes, in case you are wondering, my floors are spotless. I sweep and wash them in a diluted vinegar solution weekly. For cleaning the sinks, toilet and bathtub I use a natural cream or spray cleanser which can be found at alternative shops, but which are also increasingly available at most supermarkets. Two items are all I need to clean my entire house and I have never needed anything else. But if you have pets and wish to remove certain smells from your upholstery and carpets or if you need to keep pests at bay, there are many ways of incorporating essential oils into your home cleaning as well as creating healthier, homemade cleaning products.

While holding onto the past through the continual curation of your own private Museum of Natural History might be an impossible habit to break, looking to healthier options for cleaning the home can effect positive changes in your personal health.

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