A Manifesto for Maintenance

This isn’t really a manifesto but sometimes you come up with a title so good you can’t not use it.

One thing quarantine is bringing into focus is the small but constant recurrences of life. Eating, showering, sleeping, hydrating, movement. Reality is just energy and entropy, and we live our lives according to its edicts. So many of my friends, and so many strangers online, seem to be having such a hard time coping with this, resenting their bodies for becoming hungry and thirsty, their homes for getting dirty.

I guess I’m a little lucky to be ahead of the game here since the base treatment for a mood disorder is sleep, food, water, and exercise. I’ve spent a lot of time working on these.

Honestly though, I do occasionally get frustrated with the act of having to maintain myself as a living being. I could get into the social frameworks that divorce us from our bodies, that treat it as something to overcome and surpass, or at the very least loathe and punish and demand better of. I could also get into the frameworks that make this work seem lesser and beneath us. But to keep this from turning into a real manifesto, I’ll just focus on one source, and that’s our past experiences with these sorts of chores, and the homes we might have grown up in.

Before diving in, I want to be clear that I don’t want to get prescriptive on a solution here. I think everyone has their own issues with the rote duties of life, that can spring from a thousand different directions.

Mostly I’m going to focus on the effects of our histories with these sorts of tasks, and how we can transform the way we see this work.

I’ll use the example of cleaning. I suspect I’m not alone in this: as a child, I often had to clean my room before I could go have fun. And I suspect I’m not alone in being punished for failing to clean my room. I suspect I’m also not alone in cleaning being used as punishment. Furthermore, I don’t even remember being taught how to clean; just figure it out, and if you don’t, then you’re grounded. Many household chores were placed as a barrier to happiness, and failure to satisfy the requirements led to punishment.

Framing it this way, I think it’s pretty clear why we might resent these sorts of tasks.

To me, I don’t think adulthood is at some arbitrary age, or life marker such as marriage or having kids, or financial marker, such as buying property. I think adulthood is when we finally realize we must parent ourselves, and we begin the journey of doing so. And one of those things is teaching ourselves how to abide these chores, and perhaps eventually how to enjoy them.

There are a lot of tactics for how to do this. Mindfulness is a big one. I’ve also found that timeboxing can help take the sting out of chores — saying I only have to clean for five minutes is very tolerable, and I can get a shocking amount done in that time. (This is a tactic I actually got from UfYH which I highly recommend.) The key though is to change your relationship to these tasks, to the way you approach them, to the mindset you enter this work with.

As independent adults, we have an opportunity to begin to rewrite the narrative for ourselves around these tasks. It’s going to take time and effort, but as someone who’s put in that work and seen the rewards, I’ll say that it’s definitely worth it.

I’m still trying to figure out how to not hate laundry though. If you have suggestions, please let me know.

BTW, the other suspects in why we might loathe these maintenance chores are (1) sexism (2) racism (3) capitalism. I don’t think I really have to expand on this.

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