I recently went to an Enjo demonstration (party?). I can’t say that I’m a convert, but you have to wonder since over 250 years have passed since the Industrial Revolution, something had to be done about improvements in home cleaning. The demo went fine; we all listened, we all put on a glove and we all had a go at cleaning our friends not-so-dirty stove top, hand railings, benchtops, bathroom screens, did a bit of mopping and so on. But what was really interesting was how we interacted and how the filthiness of everyday life became sanitised through our participation in the demo and our subsequent confessions of bad housekeeping. We were now a community of dirty confessors and had become united as filth fighters.
Housekeeping has a long tradition and a history populated mostly by women who have worked hard and tirelessly in recreating the everyday rhythms of hygiene that mark their (our) cyclic contributions to household labour, to creating and maintaining household wellbeing. It is not a choice but an essential task for the survival of the household, even though it’s not sold as such. There is no room to make reference to the literature on housekeeping and its importance in the construction of identity for women within some cultures. Housekeeping is drudgery to some, enlightenment (yes) to others and a business means of survival to yet others. Or a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but that’s not for today’s post.
For me, housekeeping is hell on an endless loop accosting me every day as I swear that I’d already picked up/tidied/washed/vacuumed/scrubbed/emptied/wiped down that thing. I could never envisage hiring a house cleaner though, because after all, how would I find all those missing items that always turn up when I’m doing what I call ‘parallel searching’ (ie cleaning)?
At the demonstration the hostess was asked how she cleans? What sort of a question is that? I had a moment of panic when I thought that I too might be asked about my housecleaning habits and was relieved when the hostess answered, bringing to the fore some of those unspoken and taken-for-granted bits of knowledge that we all share but never talk about when it comes to the reality of how we live our lives. She said, “I work full time and I hate Saturdays because I just can’t get on top of the housework”. I was mesmerised. Was a cleaning glove going to solve this problem for our hostess? Yes, it seemed, the glove and its associated paraphernalia were coming to the rescue.
She went on to detail a history of dirty windows, of dusty piano tops, of bannisters impregnated with dirt. We heard about floor spills, greasy exhaust fans, marked sofas and no time to get these surfaces clean. The Enjo demonstrator tirelessly worked through her explanations of all the different zones and how we could all save time and money (not possible is it really?) if we just bypassed the cleaning aisle at the local supermarket and spent over A$400.00 on the ‘Essentials Pack’. Honestly? The place didn’t look too bad to me at all.
We heard about other demos/parties, about the kind of people they were and about the kind of products they purchased. This was the instructive part where the hostess was letting us know what was typical behaviour for these demos/parties. We actively listened and learned while appearing to reach for the home made biscuits to consume with our coffee. Unfortunately one of the hostesses described did indeed probably qualify for OCD, so I immediately mentally discounted that story and that purchase history.
The hostess looked like she’d really aired her dirty laundry though. I think that she was ashamed. Just a bit. We women who had come along weren’t really friends, we were marks really, no – acquaintances. Under normal social circumstances, we were the sort of people that you definitely DO NOT want to detail your worst cleaning nightmares to, no matter how much you want a solution to them. Or how much you want the fake dollars that come with hosting a party so that you can put it towards the wonder mop, or whatever it’s called.
And then there it was, “And how about you, AA? Tell us about your place?” Oh God. I had to ‘fess up now that I’d been asked. I admitted to being a kitchen Nazi on Saturdays, spending most of my day in there cleaning out the fridge, wiping down benchtops, cupboard doors, stove tops and the oven and grill. I detailed the slime on the bottom of the vegie drawer, the slop on the stovetop, the splatter pattern on the splashback that looked like it was ready for analysis by Dexter. It doesn’t sound like much when I put it in print, but it’s interspersed with essential cooking for the week ahead, so I end up spending practically all day in there and thwarting the entry for anyone who simply wants to come into the kitchen for a quick bite. I always yell at the kids to get their rooms clean and finish with the floors.
And I have my Saturday Husband in there with me, who I’ve talked about before. He’s the guy on public radio who spends Saturday morning the way YOU want to spend Saturday morning: talking about food, repairing and renovating the home (not the house), talking to people about markets and fairs and gardens and supplying a What’s On for the weekend that makes you want to pack your bag and go right away. Makes the cleaning pass fast as you imagine picking apples instead of rubbing your fingers raw with the steel wool as you attempt the oven shelves. There’s probably a glove for that too.
We were taken to the hostess’s bathroom (the nice new one downstairs, not the really grubby one that the family used upstairs) to have a go at her shower screen with the bathroom glove. I really wanted to go upstairs, but how does that look if your acquaintance really wants a gander at your soap scum? Too much reality perhaps, so I let it slide. But I wasn’t convinced about the downstairs shower, “no way!” not with the barely there sprinkles of soap that the glove worked its magic on. I secretly yearned to see the glove work its way through the bacteria that held my own shower screen together.
When we got to the toilet it was too much for me. And clearly for others too as Enjo offer up a product with a company they’re aligned with because it’s just too much reality (they call it yucky) to clean the dunny and then chuck it in the wash with the rest of your stuff. Me? I’m hooked on bleach which will probably give me cancer of the nostrils and eyeballs, but there you have it.
What got to me was the fact that if you point out that the surfaces aren’t really clean or sparkling, or query whether the microfibers can provide a sterile surface you get shouted down. It’s like groupthink: everyone there really wants to believe that the products work. We have all invested our time to come around, the hostess has brewed coffee and made cakes (and yes, she vacuumed before we got there because I’m sure she couldn’t stand not to) and the demonstrator has come with the intention of showing us her product range and we should pay attention and buy something. So we’ve all made an investment before we’ve bought anything, and like any relations in capitalism we don’t like our investments to turn sour.
As an anthropologist I’m less interested in the facts of whether the products work than I am in people’s desire to believe in a thing. It’s very much like witches and witchcraft.
So I was gently shouted down when I voiced my scepticism (only gently though), and sidelined from further questioning with comments like, “It’s only a demonstration; you wouldn’t really do it like this if you were cleaning your own home” Or, “Of course you’d rinse in between surfaces, I’m just showing you for the purposes of proving that you could go from one surface to another without rinsing” So I got the message: clearly we all want to believe it’s the Messiah!
Then it was on to the next woman: what secrets was she going to divulge about her messes? I think she gave a bit of a whitewashed account of her cleaning history, but hey, who am I to judge a fellow dirty/clean junkie? The parallels with therapeutic 12 step programs were evident, although not entirely parallel. Perhaps I should have started with, “My name’s AA and I’m a cleaning junkie and it’s been 6 ½ days since I last pulled out the Spray and Wipe” Nevertheless, the parallels with the confessional were evident. We had bonded in dirt and cleaning stories and were being offered redemption through shiny brochures, an array of fuzzy, multi-coloured cloths, a few products and the promise of ongoing participation in this new community by simply agreeing to host a demo/party ourselves.
Still, there wasn’t enough grime for my liking. No one once mentioned the word ‘shit’. There was no discussion of cockroach poo, and what about the mess associated with babies, young children, hobbies and old pets with weak bladders? I was going to need a wardrobe full of gloves to thwart the dirt and filth in my life. And the personal gloves for face and body cleansing? Now there’s some real work to be done.
But the beauty of the Enjo demo/party was in the magic being spun by the demonstrator. She was experienced, accomplished, very likeable and good at what she was doing. She presented an authentic self who desired money, to benefit the planet and her household. We were easily convinced, in part because we wanted to be convinced. We wanted an easier alternative to what we doing, something that was kind to the pocket, kind to the planet and definitely not yucky! We listened to her frame the problem. We listened as she described our cleaning and product dilemmas. We paid attention when she offered us an alternative to the ineffective, expensive, dangerous and toxic things that we were doing right now. It’s all in the story, it’s all in the spin. We love being marketed to and this is so personal, after all it’s about the scum on the toilet seat, the ring in the bath and the wine splatters on the floor, so of course it’s personal.
The demo/party is a good system: you share your filthy history and then you get to go through the ritual of purification as you clean the house you’re in with the products you’re provided with that are being directly marketed to you. And there are shamans (the demonstrator), powerful magic substances (Enjo cloths and products) and ritual participants (us women with dirty houses). We took it in turn to perform at the altar (kitchen, bath and living rooms) in order to move into the liminal space demanded of transformation as in turn we experienced, enacted and in turn were convinced (feel the resistance and then feel it glide) of the efficacy of that in which we were participants in creating: a cleaner self and a brighter future.
We all leave feeling clean and hopeful and after all, isn’t that what all therapeutic groups are aimed at? As I walked down the driveway and got into my car I thought about the experience that I’d just been involved in and mentally made a note of my new sisters-in-dirt to whom I would forever now be able to share my filthy tales of housecleaning with. I’ll never be able to look them straight in the eye again though, not now that they’ve shared their toilet secrets with me and I know that they too live like me.