A few days ago I devoted nearly a whole day to a deep cleaning of my house. Just about broke my back in the process, but it was so pleasing to see the gleam and sparkle of clean surfaces. It was lovely to walk bare foot through the rooms and let the soles of my feet enjoy smooth passage. Each room I went into looked ordered and clean and that made me happy.

I was told a story about a colleague of mine who got a desperation call from a suicidal person. She wasn’t able to deal with the caller immediately and advised her to tidy a cupboard until she could speak to her. The story goes that when my fellow-therapist called back, the suicidal person reported that she wasn’t able to speak right then as she was busy doing a whole lot more tidying up,that she was not in the least suicidal any more and reckoned that she would be happily occupied for quite some time.

I have a white couch and whenever I wash the slip covers, my cats think I’ve done it just for their benefit. I take pleasure in the clean white couch for approximately two minutes before my cats settle down and start their licking and moulting and putting dirty paw prints on the clean fabric.  I’ve got wise to this and immediately cover the clean white with another piece of fabric that doesn’t show the dirt quite as much. Then when they find another place that becomes their favourite nap place, I can strip off the covering fabric and enjoy the clean white – for another two minutes!

This is my cat, Bear, looking very smug about being on the clean white couch. But I am even more smug because I’ve covered the clean white with fabric that doesn’t show the dirt so much!

There is something satisfying about cleaning up, sorting out and creating order from chaos that in itself can be therapeutic and helpful. As well as being useful in itself, the cleaning up process can provide metaphors for psychological processes. Often there is a reluctance to actually do it – it takes a lot of energy, and if things are not that bad, there are always more pleasant things to do. There is also the knowledge that once you start, you discover a whole lot more than you initially bargained for. You tend to get quite dirty and tired in the process and it can take a while before you see the fruits of your labours. And the most irritating thing is that it doesn’t last for very long. Life always sends along cats with dirty paws (as it were) to mess things up.You have to keep on repeating the process of cleaning over and over again. And if you don’t clean up on a fairly regular basis, when you do eventually get to it, it becomes really daunting. I guess we should take pleasure in the process of cleaning up, but I think most of us see this as a duty rather than pure joy. There is however pleasure to be had in the results – both psychologically and in our homes – even if the joy is very fleeting!

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