Other People’s Dirt and Some of My Own

Do you find this image at all unsettling?

I do, but I’m not sure why.

Mr. Clean was purportedly modeled after a real U.S. Navy sailor from Florida (hence the tan), although some people think he’s a genie because of his earring. I think he bares a mild resemblance to the Green Giant, myself.


As my little cleaning adventure commences (I’m emphasizing little, here), I’m at once reading not one, but two, books on the subject.

Both are memoirs.

One is called, Other People’s Dirt, A Housecleaner’s Curious Adventures, by Louise Rafkin. She’s a professional cleaner with a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature and the mind of an archaeologist. Piecing together clues from the stuff people leave around, she discerns the secret lives of her clients: Who’s an alcoholic, a binge eater, an unlikely spiritualist, etc.

Details magazine compares her writing to that of David Sedaris because she’s a social observer whose weird essays reveal something meaningful about our values, our society and ourselves. Plus, she’s funny.

In fact, I have to admit I bought the book largely because of the excerpt printed on the back:

“My closest claim to fame is that I once heard Barbra Streisand’s voice on an answering machine at the precise moment I had both hands in the toilet.”

Sounded interesting to me.

Also, she goes on a research trip to Japan to stay at a cleaning ashram. That’s right. It’s a community called Ittoen in Kyoto, Japan, whose members devote their lives to the principles of non-attachment and humble service.

In the late 1800’s, its founder, Tenko-san, lived the life of a wandering mendicant, mopping and scrubbing other people’s floors and privies. For him, this was a means to enlightenment.

The second book takes the subject of cleaning to a whole different level. It’s called, The Journey Home, an Autobiography of an American Swami, by Radhanath Swami. I was sent a galley proof by the publisher because Radhanath Swami will be visiting Maui next week on a book tour, and I was asked to introduce him.

It’s an extraordinary story of a young man who finds himself in India in search of the ultimate Truth, receives inspiration from a host of spiritual luminaries, including Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama, and ultimately surrenders himself in service to his guru, A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami, and to God, known to him as Sri Krishna.

It’s definitely a book about cleaning.

Actually, it’s a book about devotion, with cleansing the heart being its natural byproduct, but to my mind, any inner-housekeeper would find inspiration in it. Whatever your religious particulars, the book reads like a spiritual adventure.

What I got from both memoirs is that cleaning –both inner and outer—is best done as a regular practice, a little every day.

While going on an intensive spiritual retreat can be a very good way to refocus one’s attention –and, likewise, clearing one’s clutter as a focused, eight-week project may be similarly beneficial—one’s peace of mind will depend on what happens afterwards.

A simple daily ritual of both mindful house-cleansing, inspired by Tenko-san, and mindful heart-cleansing, like that of Radhanath Swami, should do the trick.

All I need is a bucket, a broom and my beads. Hare Krishna.


You can follow me on Twitter (@TheYogaofLiving) to see how it’s going or just to say hello. And, if you’re  wondering, in 1962 Mr. Clean was given the first name, “Veritably.”

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7 Responses to Other People’s Dirt and Some of My Own

  1. Kaleena says:

    “What I got from both memoirs is that cleaning –both inner and outer—is best done as a regular practice, a little every day.”

    Yes!! Cleaning is easily one of my least favorite things to do, so of course clutter frequently reigns. I’ve come to the realization that an all day clean-a-thon is just beyond my capabilities. BUT, I can manage to put a couple of things away every day or so. Much easier to maintain a semblance of a livable habitat then avoiding the mess until it grows too into a giant intimidating monster that makes me want to avoid it.

    Spiritual life is like that too. I know that I benefit much more from small, frequent doses of regular yoga than the occasional several hour marathon. That tending to myself doesn’t always require a huge effort. Sometimes just a few minutes of breathing will be enough for me to tend my “house”. This post is a great reminder. Thank you.

  2. Bertram & Snow says:

    You being selected to “introduce” the Swami really speaks to your great
    reputation and talent as a spiritual leader. Brava!!!

    As for scary Mr. Clean…I find it interesting that his machoness has been diluted and or softened…though the earring is in the correct ear. When I had to purchase a refill of the product just the other day I was surprised to find that there were several “flavors” from which to choose. Not just the original scent. Guess this means not everyone associates cleanliness with one scent or even one product. I suggest it also means that there is an effort to make the whole process of cleaning more enjoyable by relating more directly to our individual senses. Not too scary, eh?!

    • Dasi says:

      @Kaleena- Thanks for sharing your experience, Hon. I also know the “giant intimidating monster” too well!

      @Bertram & Snow- Thank you for your kind words. :)
      Re: adapting a cleaning product to our senses, you’re probably right. Mr. Clean should come up with a chocolate scent.

  3. I’m definitely going to have to read The Journey Home.

    Several years ago I used to get daily emails from Flylady and they were designed to get you into a routine of doing little things on a regular basis that keep things running smoothly all the time. I did it for a long time and it worked. The danger is that when things are running smoothly, you think you can let the routines slip. It’s the same thing with food: I eat well and feel great. Pretty soon I’m feeling so good that I think a few potato chips can’t hurt me and next thing I know I’m in a cycle of eating junk and feeling lethargic.

    Thanks for pointing out the correlation to our spiritual lives.

    • Dasi says:

      Well put, Q.

      Your comments remind me of an analogy of riding a bicycle:
      One can only cruise for so long without peddling before eventually tipping over. The lesson? Keep peddling…

  4. Elizabeth says:

    You reminded me that I saw the “Other People’s Dirt” book listed somewhere a long time ago and wanted to read it. This time, I am actually writing it down. I wonder if our library will get the other one.

    I don’t love the image because it bugs me that he’s not holding the bottle normally but is holding it with his fists. It just seems odd. (I suspect it’s because you wouldn’t be able to read the words otherwise, but still ..)

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