By Renee Langmuir
Whenever I am in a medical office and I need to make the next appointment, I always tell the receptionist I can come anytime because I am retired. Such an interchange prompted my partner in conversation, who was nearing retirement age herself, to tell me that she didn’t want to retire because she wasn’t thrilled about “cleaning all the time.” Her remark struck me as odd. Why would one equate retirement with cleaning?
Then I took a step back. If I were to do a data analysis, I am doing housekeeping chores for a good amount of time. I’ll define housekeeping as the maintenance of the physical environment. Inside the house, I include such recurring tasks as cleaning, cooking, and fixing things. There are also unending clothing-related chores, including changing over closets, doing laundry repairs, and weeding out unwanted items. My favorite tasks concern aesthetics, such as displaying flowers, picture hanging, and rearranging favorite objects. Outside, there are an equal number of tasks in the realms of gardening, sweeping, repairing, and seasonal duties.
Briefly, I sometimes wonder how a modern, professional, working woman like myself came to be in such a situation. When I was working, I did maintain a clean, attractive house, with the assistance of my weekly cleaner. However, it was always a challenge and hardly my main area of focus. In those years, my house was a storage unit/hotel. Conversely, today it is my home: a reflection of my life in its entirety, and the place where I choose to spend most of my waking hours.
Here is an outsized disclaimer: Housekeeping is not for everyone. It can be a large drain on one’s self-worth at any time in life. After retirement, one might wonder….is this what my life has come down to? I think it can be especially troubling for boomer women raised to be fully engaged outside the home. Lois Collins, writing in The Desert News in July 2018, reports on a study in the Journal of Women and Aging. The results are disconcerting, but predictable: retired women do most of the housework because that was what they were doing before they retired. Men gravitate towards gender-assigned tasks and diminish their assistance if they become ill. It may not be possible for you to ever embrace housekeeping. I NEVER thought I would, but here’s my story.
My wonderful cleaner came regularly all through the pandemic. I was the only one of my friends who had such a luxury. Everyone else was doing their own cleaning for the first time in many years. But the pandemic made my cleaner rethink her work options. She got a job in a supermarket to make up for all the clients she lost and realized she was very tired of cleaning. She decided to move on.
I completely panicked. I had not done my own cleaning in decades. I had no idea which things needed attention weekly, monthly, or seasonally. I thought everything needed to be done all the time! I had no choice but to face the issue. My motivation was that my new retirement reclusiveness had me somewhat grateful that no one was invading my home anymore and that I didn’t have to disappear for a few hours when the cleaner came. Of course, the money would also come in handy.
Out of desperation, I became reacquainted with my home. After the horror of finding that some areas hadn’t been cleaned in years, I tackled those first. Since dusting was last on my list of priorities, I removed many, many knickknacks that added no value to the environment. Then I began to fall in love with my living quarters.
After the horrors were tidied up and the useless items disappeared, I began noticing everything in detail. I had the singular vision of a hawk on its prey! I decided that cleaning was not going to dominate my retirement life. I would be on the “every-other-week” plan. I would do the necessary hygiene work in the kitchen and bathrooms each week and then have a one-week-on and one-week-off schedule for other needs. My husband, like the men in the studies, volunteered to vacuum once each month. I bought a nifty, inexpensive stick vacuum for my turn to do the floors.
I kept refining my plan. I realized that housekeeping is excellent exercise. There are actually many studies like the one cited by AARP in September 2017 that these activities have the same health benefits as the gym! They can actually reduce your risk of death by 28% and heart disease by 20%! No gym, yoga, or walks for me when I am cleaning!
I found ways to be kind to myself. Even though it might be a “week on” for cleaning, I sometimes give myself a “bye” week, similar to those weeks in which sports teams don’t play. Maybe the house doesn’t look dirty, maybe we’re traveling or there are more pressing things to do. Presto – no cleaning this week! I also outfitted myself with the coolest new cleaning tools. There are microfiber cloths, mops, and dusters. I bought devices with long handles so reaching and bending aren’t as necessary. The nifty, new stick vacuum comes apart like a dust buster which can be used on the stairs and upholstered furniture. I also do only one cleaning task on the day I choose, accompanied by Beethoven and Mozart on the new Apple Music Classical App. Such music elevates the mundane.
I now feel like I know and have had input into every inch of my home. I feel comfortable at this stage of life to make lots of donations, as material possessions become no longer useful or pleasing. I am not buying anything new unless it is to replace something that doesn’t function well. When I am home most of the day, rather than out in the world, I look around at an environment that has been totally curated to my taste and reflects the important experiences and values of my long life. My home feels like a beloved, family member. I don’t think of myself as a “homemaker.” I am the property manager.
Renee Langmuir has been an educator for 34 years in Pennsylvania public schools and as Director of Student Teaching at a local university. Several years ago, there was a perfect alignment of personal, family, and work-related issues which resulted in a very abrupt and unplanned retirement. Because the teaching of writing to children was a lifelong passion, and professional writing was always part of her job description, Renee decided to chronicle the transition from the world of work to the world of retirement in a series of personal essays. As each challenge arose, research was done, and an essay was penned. These musings are now housed on the website, www.therookieretiree.com, for the benefit of the growing cohort of the newly retired. Renee is the mother of two adult children and lives with her husband in Chadds Ford, Pa. Besides writing, she spends her spare time as both a livestock and garden volunteer.