Friday, July 14, 2017

To clean or not to clean

A couple days ago we had a bunch of guests come over to our place to visit.  Pinkie Pie and I were home during the day so I set out to clean the place in anticipation of our guests arriving.  About halfway through Pinkie Pie asked me why we cleaned in anticipation of guests arriving.  I wanted to say this:

"Well Pinkie Pie, we, like most humans, exist in constant fear of losing our status amongst our peers so we engage in ceaseless virtue signalling in a vain attempt to convince those around us that we are superior.  We do this by vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom, in a desperate gambit to trick people into thinking we always live in such cleanliness.  I know this, but it doesn't stop me from accepting a foolish social norm that clean floors equates to goodness of character and desperately trying to make my guests feel inadequate by making my home cleaner than theirs."

I could have said that.

It is nearly all true, even.  But she doesn't understand the term virtue signalling, and the concepts there are more than she can grasp in a single go.

So I broke it down a bit smaller.

"Well Pinkie Pie, I needed to vacuum the floor at some point, as it has been a week or two.  Doing it when guests are coming over is as fine a time as any, and if anyone is allergic to the cat then getting the cat fluff off of the floor is a good plan.  We don't *have* to do this for friends, but there are going to be a lot of people and so we will all appreciate having as much space as possible so tidying up is a good idea in any case."

I couldn't find a good excuse for scrubbing the tub.  It isn't like the guests are even going to see in the tub, the curtain will be over it.  I could have thrown buckets of shit in the tub and they wouldn't know except for the smell.

Yet I scrubbed the tub.

So I made sure to include a bit of that.

"Sometimes we are silly and we clean more than we need to.  It reassures me to have a clean place when guests come over, even if it is kind of pointless.  They probably won't notice or care, but I do feel better when I make an effort to show the better side of normal at my home.  I won't do anything unusual, but I feel better when I display an above average version of my home."

Then she got me.  She asked why I clean up for my friends but not her friends.


She admitted that her friends wouldn't notice or care, and that she didn't care if I did, but she wanted to know why.

"I guess it just doesn't bother me to not have the place clean if your friends come over because they make a gigantic mess immediately anyway.  And since they don't care what the place looks like, and they aren't going to invite me over in turn, it doesn't matter to me much."

All of which is true, but it kind of sidesteps the fact that in this way adults matter to me and kids don't.  I am not measuring my status against children, so I don't try to impress them in this way.

I know some parents find these questions hard or unpleasant.  I love them!  They force me to articulate complicated concepts in simple words and examine myself in ways that I usually do not.  Plus they let me teach Pinkie Pie about the silly ways that the world works and makes jokes that make her laugh.


  1. You should have heard me trying to explain 'angels' to Emmitt yesterday when it came up in a song he was listening to. :)

    1. Next time you can just say that they are imaginary like unicorns and dragons;)

    2. I hope your reply is an inside joke and not the reality the referenced child (assumed) is told.

  2. I think there's an argument that while I'm comfortable (enough) using a dirty sink where I know all the dirt came from my wife or kids (or me!), it's "icky" when it's someone else's dirt. So to improve the experience of your guests, you do some cleaning.

    Level of cleaning should correlate with how much guests will care. My roommate from university is much more forgiving than my in-laws. First time guests have limited information to judge you on, so cleanliness is often a factor.

    Children often don't get treated like real people, so it's not surprising that we care less for what they think. Alternatively, kids don't worry about stuff like this because their entire world is often messy/dirty.

    I like your virtue signalling paragraph. Excellent summary. Though I'm a bit surprised that you of all people have fallen victim to this social norm. Why this norm but not all the others?

    1. I claim to logically want to ignore social norms that are unsupported by rational thought, but I cannot claim that my brain is capable of completely dismissing its programming. I have to work past the programming, and sometimes it is easier just to clean the tub, so I do.