Cleaning Your Own Toilet

MopbotLike almost everyone else, I do not enjoy cleaning.  Like most people, I find living in filth unacceptable. As such, I need to either clean myself, get someone else to clean for me or change my abode frequently. I have chosen to do my cleaning myself. I was forced to give this matter some thought when, while complaining about cleaning, I was asked why I did not hire someone to do it for me.

There are a variety of reasons for my choice. Some are psychological and thus not particularly interesting. Most of these have to do with the fact that my mother would have made Aristotle proud: she was rather big on making sure that I had plenty of character building opportunities and, as such, I now (as per Aristotle’s theory of moral education) find it less irksome to do such chores.  I am also quite a character. As a kid, of course, I found such tasks less tolerable—but that is what habituation is all about.

Some of these psychological factors are due to the influence of my interpretation of the American ideals of responsibility, egalitarianism, and a classless society: no person should be so full of himself to think that he is above doing his own chores. As far as changing my abode frequently, that would be a bit too pricy for a frugal Yankee like me. But, psychological reasons are not philosophically interesting. So, I now turn to the ethics of cleaning one’s own toilet. Or, more generally, cleaning up after oneself.

Turning back to Aristotle, one excellent reason why a person should clean up after himself is that this is a method of building proper habits. There is the obvious good habit of keeping things clean, but there is also the deeper impact on a person’s character. While I am sure that not everyone has been affected in the same way, doing my own cleaning (and other such work) has had two main impacts on my character. The first, to put it bluntly, is that it is hard to be too full of yourself when you are scrubbing your toilet or toweling up some husky vomit. My detractors can certainly imagine how arrogant I would be if I did not have these regular ego-reducing activities.

To pre-empt a likely criticism, I do not think that cleaning is a “lowly” activity that beats down the ego because it is worthy only of disdain or contempt. Rather, I think that it is doing my own cleaning that helps me not regard cleaning as something disdainful or worthy of contempt. It is usually not a pleasant activity, but it is both necessary and worthy of respect. As such, it is not that the cleaning helps me remember that I am not too good to clean, it is that such work should not be held in contempt. This helps keep the old ego under some degree of control.

The second is that cleaning up my own messes (and those of various pets) has taught me to be more considerate of others. Knowing how much fun it is to clean up a mess, I am certainly not inclined to make messes for others to clean up. As such, I do not litter and I am respectful of public places. After all, normal cleaning is work enough. In contrast, there are folks who are fine with creating awful messes. I have had to clean up a few of those myself—like the time I had to clean up discarded diapers left by trespassers at the homeowners’ association pool. I did not have a problem with people outside of the association using the pool in the hot Florida summer, but did have an issue with cleaning up their mess.

I will freely admit that there are people who do not learn such lessons from cleaning—but that is true for all lessons. You can lead the person to the mop, but you cannot make him learn from mopping up husky vomit.

In addition to the character building value of such tasks, there is also the matter of moral responsibility. When I was an infant, I was not accountable for my actions—I lacked both the knowledge and control to be responsible for the messes I produced. However, once I had both knowledge and control, I became accountable for my actions. This accountability includes the messes I create—be it mud tracked in from a run or screwing up something at work. To not clean up my own messes would be morally irresponsible and thus worthy of moral condemnation.  Despite the fact that I find my view sensible, it does face some reasonable objections. I will focus on moral arguments aimed at showing that it is morally acceptable for a competent adult to have others do her cleaning for her.

While it is just me and my non-cleaning husky living in my house, I have lived with people before and I am familiar with the challenge of sharing the chores. I am fine with sharing chores on the basis of my responsibility argument. However, I am aware of an interesting argument in favor of having one partner doing the cleaning. Consider, if you will, a situation in which one person makes significantly more money than her partner. Her time is thus more valuable than that of her partner, especially if the time she would otherwise spend cleaning is spent earning money. Since the partner’s time is literally worth less, it makes more economic sense for the partner to do the cleaning.

This does have considerable appeal that is grounded on smart use of employee resources. To use a concrete example, if the toilet overflows at a small law firm, it makes more sense for the least valuable employee to deal with the toilet while the more valuable employees keep racking up those billable hours. The loss of revenue is less this way.

The obvious counter to this, at least in the case of people who are in a relationship, is that the value of each partner’s time as a person is not a function of her work salary. While it is something of an ideal, a person should value his partner’s time on par with his own—or someone should re-consider that relationship. There is also the matter of respect—to regard a person as being worth less simply because she makes less money is to fail to respect that person as a person. As such, chores should be divided fairly. This can include dividing the chores based on each person’s cleaning skills, preferences and level of mess creation. For example, if one person has a habit of creating muddy messes on the floor, then that should be his responsibility to clean. But, to the degree that each person contributes to the mess, each should contribute to the cleaning. There can, of course, be some “exchange” of chores—but the responsibilities should be shared based on the principle of fairness.

As mentioned above, what caused me to reflect on this was being asked why I did not hire someone to clean for me. Obviously enough, hiring a person to do the cleaning is morally different from having one’s partner do the work. The easy and obvious moral justification for this is one of utility. If a person values avoiding cleaning more than what it would cost to hire someone to clean, then it would be reasonable and morally fine for him to do so. This is no more morally problematic than hiring someone to perform a root canal or argue a legal case. This assumes that the person is not coerced and is being paid a fair wage—if this is not the case, then another moral concern arises.

I must admit that this is a sensible view. I certainly hire people to do work for me, such making and installing the dental crown I recently had to get. I have also hired people to take care of my pets when I am out of town, thus paying someone else to take care of my responsibilities. However, in these cases I am hiring people to perform tasks that I cannot perform (or cannot perform as well). I am not paying someone to avoid something I am responsible for, namely my messes. As such, I think part of the cost of hiring someone else to clean up after me would be moral costs: failing in my responsibility when I could fulfil my obligation and engaging in behavior that is not good for my character. Put another way, I think that the lesson that you can make whatever messes you want as long as you have enough money to pay others to clean it up is the wrong sort of lesson.

A sensible reply to this is that any alleged moral harm done to the person doing the hiring is offset by the good done at creating a job for someone. After all, there are people who make their living cleaning up other peoples’ messes and if everyone had my view, these people would need to find new work or be unemployed. This, I admit, is certainly an appealing argument. At some point, probably when I finally get sick of scrubbing toilets and mopping up pet puke, I might let it convince me. But until then, I will keep making my mother proud and build character by cleaning my own toilet. Until mopbot arrives, most likely followed quickly by the killbots. Who will no doubt make the poor mopbot clean up my remains.


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  1. For some people, like myself, cleaning the toilet is not that difficult and not that unpleasant. Like gardening or weeding or raking leaves, these are times to enjoy the property that one lives. I find removing leaves by hand to be tedious, but the end result is usually hours spent outside with my yard. Likewise, we have a sprinkler system but I prefer to water by hand as it is time that is forced upon me to appreciate the finer details of my yard.

    Ultimately all house, office, and yard cleaning can lead to more connections in one’s memory about immediate surroundings…surroundings that are some of the most frequently visited places in our lives.

  2. Kevin Henderson,

    I agree with you when it comes to doing repairs and garden tasks. But, I think my bonding through cleaning my house is complete. 🙂 I am very bonded.

  3. First of all, it was interesting to note the references to toweling up ‘…some Husky vomit’ (naturally I have theories about erstwhile ‘Husky people’, but that begs another venue for discussion), since we are life-long Husky rescue people ourselves and WELL used to that routine (it presupposes certain adjustments to one’s environmental standards, of course). Second, as someone who has one time cleaned Hitler’s ceramic throne (at Kehlsteinhaus, AKA the ‘Eagles Nest’), I feel well qualified to weigh in on the matter of looking after one’s own sanitary affairs.

    Although I find that I am resolved to tolerate a certain level of domestic detritus in my domicile and whereas my wifely unit (as a practical & pragmatic Cantonese woman) has wisely recognized the logic of that accommodation to reality in a household of dogs (I am a Fire-Dog on the Chinese astrological chart, so we truly live in what the Cantonese would call a Gow-Dow,or ‘dog house’; she, to my everlasting regret, is a Rooster!), given that our hose is full of artifacts (a mini-museum, almost), even I have my limits. When the dust, for example, reaches a mean depth of about two mm on said objets de curiosité, then it is generally recognized as being time to make a superficial (largely symbolic) effort to lower the overall level of excrudesence hereabouts. My willingness to do so is disfavorably impacted by an existential recognition of the fact that this is a largely Sisyphean task and therefore (viewed pragmatically) not high on my list of critically important human life-support concerns (viewed from an energy conservation standpoint).

    Wifely Unit, however, demands a certain level of accommodation and/or compromise, since her standards are somewhat higher than my own. Thus I begrudgingly placate her (within reason) and do a bit more of the household scutwork than my lordly status as the house’s ‘Loh-gung’ would otherwise require.
    While in public I am the soul of proprietary responsibility (probably the combined result of having had both an equally Aristotelian mum AND a strongly inculcated sense of civic responsibility acquired in school…back when civics was still an important part of the primary & mid-level curriculae), dutifully picking up after my personal surrogate wolf pack and even shagging stray bits of refuse from the street, sidewalk and lawns of neighbors, at home more often controlled chaos is the quantum norm that obtains.

    Speaking of that, echoing comments made by both Ann Coulter (Adios America) and Victor Davis Hanson (Mexifornia), and Aristotelian ethics aside, it is a source of continuing amazement to many upper middle class Anglo-Saxon descended Americans that Mexicans (both lower class Mexican-Americans and virtually all illegals) have such a deficit awareness of the need to shoulder basic communal responsibilities (that include cleaning up after one’s self, such as in public littering). As Hanson points out, this is antithetical to the hybridised Mexican-Indio culture and in fact the cultural norm in Mexico. Up here, a disinterest in picking up one’s cast-off clutter is further augmented & reinforced by the ‘gangsta culcha’ that views casting off clutter in a pubic venue almost a duty (i.e. a deliberate & symbolic display of rejecting mainstream white cultural norms that include adherence to certain civic standards of both propriety and collective social hygiene); or, more simply put, a handy way of saying ‘f**k-off’ to the dominant social paradigm. Regrettably, highly susceptible adolescents admire that ‘bad boy’ ethic to the extent that they embrace & parody it as well, and thus it continues.

    As for lower-class multiculturalism, all we have to do is look at the media footage shot of the Syrian immigrant trail and the remarkable clutter that serves as its milestones to gain some glimmer of understanding that unless multiculturalism is embraced in a socially altruistic manner, with good faith and a strong sense of the need to pick up (at the very least) one’s own virtual excrement, multiculturalism is simply another Leftist Liberal Progressive ideal that fails remarkably in the translation from doctrine to practical application. Sadly, these indicators all seem to be ignored in the rush (by liberal progressives) to expiate nameless social guilt of all types.

    At least my Huskies and I are in agreement that within the home we can not only tolerate a certain level of disorderly and half-arsed cleanliness, but find (by consensual agreement) a certain primal bond within it. In the community and in society at large, those same tenets of American democracy that you referenced (individual & collective responsibility, egalitarianism, character and adherence to higher ethical/moral standards, etc.) demand that we not only clean up our own (public) messes, but that we make a stab towards taking on a certain responsibility for cleaning up the messes of others as well. As for Wifely Unit in the home, in the finest demonstration of American freedoms, we’ve simply outvoted her (to her credit, she’s both a good sport and a pragmatist!).

    ‘Classlessness?’ Well, as we both know simply pretending America is a classless social culture does not make it so. America is about as class-conscious as any past culture has been…perhaps more so. And yes, the Emperor IS wearing magnificent clothes.

    Finally, concerning my alluded-to stint as a toilet cleaner to Der Fuhrer, it was many years ago, when I was cadging a few extra Marks working for the Bayern state concession (at Obersalzberg) that now operates the former Fuhrer’s scenic outlook (Kehlsteinhaus) on the scenic panorama that is the Untersberg massif. There’s something rather humbling about cleaning the ceramic throne of one who had such a fearsome grip on the bowels of so many, back in those dark days. It was good, however, to be presented with at least circumstantial evidence that, monster that he ended up becoming, at least Adolf defecated in the approved Homo sapiens manner, just like we are told Kim Jong-un does not… 😉

  4. I’m not sure that are ethical reasons why one should clean one’s own toilet, but a while ago I had a woman friend who worked at times as a maid and after listening to the way she gossiped about her employers and her caustic observations about the details of their intimate lives, I committed myself to cleaning up for myself (which I hate doing) rather than have a being as intelligent and observant as myself, with no reason to feel benevolent or well-disposed towards me, in my personal space, possibly entertaining themself by noting things about me that I don’t want others besides those who care about me and whom I care about (family, close friends, lovers) to note.

  5. Have to admit that that same idea occurred to me (addressing Wallerstein’s remarks), before I penned my earlier reply. The feeling that a stranger has accessed a part of your physical environment that is intensely private is vaguely unsettling. I experience the same feeling when a friend is visiting and uses my bathroom facilities. Who among us has never opened up the medicine cabinet of a friend and taken a gander, when no one else is around? It’s part of the inherently inquisitive nature of human beings, but one that may be constrained by not allowing others unmonitored access to this otherwise very personal sanctum sanctorum.

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