May 10, 2012

Cleaning and Class

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

This year I am doing a massive spring cleaning. I have donated several bags of books, recycled and shredded what seems like an endless amount of paper and have thrown away what can now only be described as junk.clip_image002

I’ve also been scrubbing: floors, shelves, and even the grout between tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. I take an old toothbrush, pour on some cleanser and clean spots I usually overlook in my normal cleaning routine. 

After a day or two of super-cleaning, I noticed my wrists and shoulders getting sore. Not what I’d call pain, but they clearly needed a few days off from cleaning. That was no problem; I had work to do and little extra time to clean for a while anyway.

The next day when I got to my office, I saw Ana as usual, the janitor who works on our floor. She cheerily greeted me as she collected trash and cleaned the bathroom. We typically will ask how the other is, if we had a nice weekend, and so forth. When she asked me how I was I was about to mention my sore wrist, but thought better of it. After all, this is what she does every day and my doing an hour or two extra of cleaning would not likely impress her. Plus she doesn’t have the luxury of taking a few days off if she feels sore from cleaning.clip_image004

This got me thinking about the relationship between cleaning and social class. Cleaning is a basic need in order to maintain a sanitary living environment. It also usually varies quite a bit by personal preference; I like things to be neat, but I have family members who have dramatically different standards of what is acceptable.

When we consider how social class plays a role in cleanliness we can see that it is about much more than whether someone is a neat freak or not.

For one, if you are a homeowner with the financial resources, you can afford to remodel rather than repeatedly scrub old cabinets and worn floors that never really come clean. And of course you can pay someone else to do your scrubbing for you. (This reminds me of the movie The Aviator, about billionaire Howard Hughes, who allegedly had his maids soak labels off of cans and perform other extreme cleaning rituals in the service of his germ phobia). You don’t need to be a billionaire to hire cleaning help once and a while, but it does require having a bit of disposable income.

Renters in high-end buildings will also likely be seen as valued customers to their landlords, who will want to make sure they keep high-paying tenants by including the newest finishes in their buildings and replace worn carpet or outdated appliances. By contrast, tenants in lower-rent areas sometimes have to fight to maintain basic services—like heat and electricity—and fight insect and rodent infestation due to poor building maintenance. And the lower one’s income, the greater the likelihood that they work at a job that requires physical labor…maybe they even clean other people’s homes for a living.clip_image006

As my cleaning binge reminded me, bending to reach dusty corners and the repetitive motion of scrubbing takes its toll on the body. Doing this sort of work for years would seriously increase the odds of a work-related injury or disability.

As journalist Barbara Ehrenreich found while doing research for her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, when a woman was injured working as a maid for a cleaning service, she couldn’t afford to even take the day off, let alone seek medical treatment. With no sick days or health insurance, missing work and the added expense would have been too much for her. I am fortunate in that I don’t need to clean for a living; being a professor means I have health insurance and disability coverage, and my job puts me at far lower risk for workplace injuries than those who have more physically demanding jobs.

As Susan Starr Sered and Rushika Fernandopulle describe in their article “Sick Out of Luck: The Uninsured in America,” such workplace injuries mark the body, making the class lines even more visible through things like limps, missing teeth, hearing or visual impairments. In their estimation, the limited availability of health care for people who work in the most physically demanding jobs creates a de facto caste system, further setting these workers on the other side of the class divide.

One privilege literally hit home as I returned from the office that day: there was a faint whiff of cleanser as I opened the door, reminding me that I could enjoy the results of my labor. Those who clean for a living may very well take pride in their work, but I wonder if they are able to enjoy the outcome as much as I did. I doubt it. After all, they will likely return to clean, scrub, dust, and vacuum the exact same spaces all too soon.


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thats a great idea!Most kids need to take responsibility and clean there own messes up. Just the other day we had a track meet and my coach got angry at us for not cleaning up! that would have never happen if we would have just takinj the time to clean it up but instaead kids are to lazy and to rliable on there mothers that trash didnt get picked up.

This is something everyone should think about before they say something. I have never considered it before and now that I think back, I have said somethings to people I shouldn't have.

This article was actually pretty good. It does show us that some of us take things for granted. I had to clean and I make my kids clean as well.

Hi.. I have got some unique information from your cleaning process. Previously I was using costly scrubbers to clean the tiles in my house. Using a old toothbrush to clean the tiles in kitchen and bathroom is really a new idea! Funny but valid point. Thanks..

You deserve a congratulation on cleaning.Spring is cleaning time which is a lot of cleaning task.In Finland many of people use to call cleaning services for them to make everything clean and save energy.But for me it is still good to clean by your self specially if you can see that is not that so dirty and not a lot of cleaning things to do.

Social class plays a major role in our lives.Living standards are very different for upper and lower class people.Being a professional cleaner I have observed it many times.Keep up sharing such a nice article.

Upon reflection, I have to agree with Karen. Cleaning and social class are interrelated. Social class is based on one’s access to resources. The higher your income is, the better access you have to a comfortable and clean living environment. I found this article particularly interesting because I am dealing with similar issues. I currently live in a four-bedroom house but it is over crowded and I strongly disagree with my housemates’ living standards. No matter how much I clean, the place is always disgusting. I pay $750 in rent and am trying to find another spot that offers a more hospitable living situation. However, the only rooms that I am finding that are up to my standard are $900 plus dollars not including utilities. People with white-collar jobs tend to have more disposable income to spend on their living situations. This makes me what to work even harder than I am now to attain that higher paying job and achieved status. Right now, my line of work would be classified as blue-collar (service industry). I’m experiencing both horizontal and vertical social mobility. I came from a wealthy family; I was a daughter and student. Now, I pay for myself and I have downgraded from upper middle class to the working class.
This living experience has really made me feel the class divide and empathize with other working professionals or the other 20% that make up the working poor (Ferris & Stein, 2012). I can only hope that with persistence and dedication, my intragenerational mobility will continue to change for the better. Social stratification can be seen in all cultures and societies around the world. I also have to agree with Sered and Fernandopulle’s reference to the health care system and the working class. By denying less fortunate citizens access to healthcare, it widens the gap among the haves and the have nots and creates a social chasm that only perpetuates social stigma and inequality.

I agree with you. Cleaning has a great effect on class and your personality. Cleaning is very important for good looking and it is also very necessary to clean your all house even windows and gardens etc. So, I advice never ignore cleaning in your life and always be neat and clean for a good impression.

This is such a well-written article. I can really relate to your topic. It has been always a woman's task to clean the house, wash the laundry and many other household chores, thus making the family safe and live in a clean home. Women really suffer from back pains bec. of this laborious chores. People should be careful in labeling and judging other people's work. Let's just love and respect everyone.

You truly deserve to be recognized for having a nice perspective in life. You can be called as the role model for the you children. Good luck.

Thanks for being an inspiration. Your life perspective deserves to be applauded. Thumbs up!

Cleaning a house can be an arduous task and one that can be difficult to master especially for a new cleaner. I love the way you organize your household chores. Yeah! They're right. Your such an inspiration and a good example to others too.

I agree with cleaning and class. Because everyone wants their house environment is fresh and healthy.

Great article. I agree that cleaning has enormous effect on your personality. It should be educated in mid schools. I am so glad that I have found your article. Greetings!

thanks for sharing such a great post

Thanks share this type article on this site,they are more useful to their on site,I think you are manage by them work to understood peoples so you grate work to wrote this article so keep it up i read your blog every time..

Agreed with your post because everyone likes house environment fresh and clean

Thanks for sharing your story. I'd love to hear more from you.

Cleaning and sanitizing is very important to keep it hygienic and clean too, very great and infromative article Thank you for sharing this,

Excellent article. In todays COVID 19 time cleaning and sanitization is very important part of life. Your article will help people to understand cleanliness important. thank you for sharing great article.

This is great and very informative blog related cleaning. I know so many new points and techniques of work. I'll implement it in my future clients work.

Yes, yes, yes! It is important to clean daily especially when you have a child. This is a way to not pile up on cleaning during the weekends. Love your blog!

Nice Post,

If you are looking for the best housekeeping service in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune, Then SD Hospitality should be your first choice because it provided the best services for the last 11 years.

The point about cultural expectations of cleanliness and how they differ based on social class is thought-provoking. It makes me wonder if certain cleaning practices are considered more "prestigious" or "acceptable" in higher social classes, while others are stigmatized or devalued. I'd love to hear more about the cultural factors that influence our perceptions of cleanliness.

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