The Healing Power of Rage-Cleaning


When it comes to rage of various kinds — interpersonal, political, existential — the modern world has so much to offer. (1) and (2). (3) and the results of (4) being absolutely everywhere. Student loans that will outlive us all. The “breast is best” thread-jacker in your neighborhood Facebook group who suggests you’re poisoning your baby in an otherwise-unrelated discussion about children’s snowsuits. Of course, the present moment also offers some pretty fantastic options for channeling said rage. Taking to the streets with a few hundred thousand women who’ve fucking had it is a good one. Some people swear by Orange Theory and SoulCycle. My neighbor — this is true — has taken up ax-throwing.

But I’d like to suggest a more mundane option. It’s free and available to one and all: rage-cleaning.

When anger and helplessness combine to turn you into a dangerous creature bent on destruction, rage-cleaning is here for you. Our homes are pretty gross. Who has time to scrub the floors when all eleven seasons of *Cheers* are available on Netflix? Then again, you’re probably too furious to sit down. So make yourself useful. Bat the cobwebs away from the cupboard where you keep your cleaning products, and let’s put that rage to good use.

Not all household tasks are worthy candidates for rage-cleaning. When you are white-hot with fury over (5), it is not the time to weed out old photos or sort statements from your insurance company. They might spontaneously combust in your hostile hands. Rage-cleaning is red-blooded and athletic. It is here to right the wrongs in your domestic space and to stop you from throwing a brick through somebody’s window.

You need a task with a big payoff. Stalk with clenched fists from room to room and take note: What is pissing you off about this space? What have you, or, God help them, the people you may have married or spawned, been ignoring each day and assuming some kindly gnomes will eventually deal with?

Maybe your hall closet is so overstuffed the door won’t close. First, take absolutely everything out. Sweep the floor and wipe down all surfaces with a gentle cleaner. Look at the empty space and feel your pulse slowing down. This void represents the future. You must put only happiness and light back in there. Sort the impossibly huge pile of stuff into three categories: garbage, donations, and things you actually want to keep. Throw away 80 percent of the grocery bags. Throw away the wire hangers. (6) Give away the coats so long unworn they have dust on the shoulders, or take them out into the yard and set them on fire while chanting the names of your enemies.

The scale of your rage-cleaning tasks can be large or small, depending on your flair for the dramatic. You can wash windows inside *and* out. Bleach the flu virus off your doorknobs before it kills us all. Most of us have enough rage to rake a whole football field’s worth of leaves. But a deep clean of the kitchen is a good place to start. Wash, dry, and put away dishes. Wipe the counters. Sprinkle baking soda in the sink and give it a deep scrub to remove stains and smells. Go through your freezer and fridge and throw away all expired and dubious food. Microwave a large bowl of water with half a lemon in it for three minutes to ungunk the inside, then wipe it all out with paper towels. Since you’re going to sweep and mop anyway, why not — oops! — drop that fugly vase you’re pretty sure was a hate gift from your old boss? Rage-Kondo: smash everything that does not bring you joy.

Do you have a down-puffer coat with makeup on the collar that makes you feel like garbage and curse the six months of winter in the terrible place you’ve chosen to live? Have you taken it to the cleaners and received it back again with the same smears in place? All hope is not lost. When you fix this, you will have the wind — a balmy summer wind — at your back for months, I promise you. With a bowl of hot water handy, squeeze a gentle dish soap onto an old toothbrush and scrub the oily spots on the front and back of the collar, using just enough water to create suds. Wash the coat on delicate, and put it in the dryer with three tennis balls until it is absolutely dry. This might take a few cycles. Tennis balls in the dryer are really loud, so it’s the perfect time to scream into the void until you pass out.

My most storied episode of rage-cleaning occurred after we first moved into our Chicago condo. The previous owner had rented it to a terrible tenant who had neglected even the most basic cleaning tasks. As a result, the metal frame of the shower door, which was screwed into the tile, was coated in mold I could not seem to remove. I’d tried vinegar, baking soda, bleach, mold killer, brushes of various sizes — but nothing worked. It was just too far gone. I also had a book on submission that wasn’t selling, no marketable skills, and no backup plan. Money fears dogged me, and there was a faint smell of decay coming from a room I had to enter multiple times per day. Something glorious inside me snapped. I found a flathead screwdriver, removed the screws holding the door frame in place, and then wrenched that sucker out of the wall one scream at a time. The door was made of heavy frosted glass and weighed about 80 pounds, but that was OK, because I had transformed from a fretful Midwestern lady into the Hulk.

Sometimes rage-cleaning morphs into rage home demolition — that’s just your path right now. Go in peace, my friends, but if you cannot, clean until your home begs for mercy.

*Kelly O’Connor McNees writes novels. Her latest,* (7), *is out this month.*

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