Green clean vs. 'sterile'

My housemate and I are in the midst of the Great Green Cleaning Debate. It began in earnest a few nights ago, but it's been looming over our little household for months.

Let me set the stage:

He is what most people would consider a neat-freak. He spends about 70 percent of his waking hours cleaning. It's fun for him. It's his pastime.

I, on the other hand, have more important things to do than clean. Such as tracking in mud from the garden as I look for that glove I must have just set down in the refrigerator as I was searching for something edible and not three weeks old so I could make some dinner, before I realized all my pots were dirty and gave up to see what I could eat from the garden.

I don't mean to be maddeningly messy. And he doesn't mean to be neurotically neat. It's just the way we are.

I was reading poetry on the couch Tuesday night when he came home and immediately began vacuuming all around me. It was like being imprisoned in the cleanest, loudest jail cell you can imagine. Next, he went into the kitchen, where I could hear him scrubbing and organizing. "Come look at my new project," he said.

"I'm trying to read a few poems here," I said.

"Come on, just check this out."

I walked into the kitchen. He was beaming as he stood next to the sink, which was also beaming. It was the cleanest sink I'd ever seen. "Cool," I said.

"Look at how clean it is!"

"How much time did you spend on that?"

"At least I have something to show for my work. All you have is a bunch of words in your head."

"This is Whitman. 'Leaves of Grass.' One of the best poetry books ever."

The conversation here may or may not have segued into whether Whitman was a pothead. At some point, we continued the Great Green Cleaning Debate.

I cited a New York Times blog post I read about research showing that one of people's flaws is being unable to separate metaphorical dirtiness from literal dirtiness.

"There's a reason people are evolutionarily inclined to value cleanliness," my housemate said. "It's because being dirty can kill you." He cited the Middle Ages, when people would dump sewage in the streets.

"But the answer to living in sewage is not living in sterility," I said, citing research that shows too sterile of environments may weaken immune systems and cause kids to contract allergies and asthma.

"This is not sterile," he said. "Look at this windowsill. It's filthy."

We can argue forever about the level of cleanliness that is acceptable and sane. But on this we both agree: If you're going to clean, don't use toxic chemicals.

Why not create your own cleaning products using staples such as vinegar and baking soda? The city's Parks and Recreation Department is holding a $12 class tonight to show residents how to make natural cleaning products. For more information on the 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. class at Pioneer Hall, 73 Winburn Way, see or call 541-488-6606.

As for my housemate and I, we both decided that we actually have a pretty good system going. "It's got backups built in," he said. "If you forget to clean something, I'll just do it."

"And even if I do it, you'll do it again," I said. "So there's really no reason for me to get involved."

"Exactly. It's fail-safe."

But, to the surprise of everyone, including myself, I got out the vacuum late Tuesday. And, for the first time in weeks — months? — I used it.

It felt good. But probably not good enough to persuade me to do it more often. Vacuuming just can't compare to "Leaves of Grass." Poetry is its own natural high.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or For past columns see

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