This is a painful, personal and political subject that affects us all.
By Phil Hall
Cleaning can be enormously glamorous. It can also be one of the most important activities people can perform. If the rubbish people stop collecting rubbish, then it won’t be long before you start to weep. If the water supply stops, it won’t be long before you stink. Don’t you want to grow up to be a mafia cleaner like The Wolf in Tarantino’s movie, Pulp Fiction? Don’t you wanna be Marie Kondo and make people cry with happiness? How about owning a big cleaning company like FastKleen, or doing cleaning audits for the NHS? Or you could be the cause of much of the relaxation, safety and satisfaction experienced in a care home. If you are working in rubbish and recycling then you are a big part of the reason why people are proud of their neighbourhood.
Don’t you wanna be Marie Kondo and make people cry with happiness?
Being dirty can be associated with a lack of education, while being too clean, or hoarding can be a sign of a psychological problem like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Relationships break up because people have different ideas about what should be cleaned and how often it should be cleaned. Cleaning becomes a domestic battlefield. Many an otherwise happy couple have ended their relationships over the toilet bowl, or the sink. The weapons are toxic chemicals, brooms, dustpans and plastic brushes.
Cleaning is stigmatised and considered to be lower class by some people. Yet think of all those high status managers bandying about their empty words, while they sit their arses down on chairs that are spick and span; in shining rooms; with windows which have been cleaned by people hanging hundreds of metres above the street. Who is really adding value to society?
Many an otherwise happy couple have ended their relationships over the toilet bowl or the sink.
The rich in the west can afford to pay for people to clean their spacious flats and houses, while in developing countries even the lower middle class can employ vulnerable young country girls. The young women clean and clean, while the whole family orders them about and sometimes abuses them. Men and Boys in Britain, for years, have leaned back while their mothers and sisters cleaned. Because they are just so ‘useless’ at it, you see.
‘Let me do that, son.’.
Such a useful incompetence, indeed?
‘I am no good at ironing. Ha ha ha.’
Grateful smile, indulgent smile.
If you examine our streets and our beauty spots sometimes you see the tragedy of the commons in action. Some young people don’t care about the common good. Yobs throw empty cans and sweet packets. They put their feet up on the tube train seats. They throw up on the sidewalks after the pub and leave half eaten pizzas for the rats. After all, it’s not their stuff. They deface walls with graffiti and piss in the corners like dogs. They throw plastic bottles into the river, into the sea, … but don’t lock them up, teach them.
Men and Boys in Britain, for years, have leaned back while women and girls cleaned.
Worse than hoi polloi are the get-rich-quick fly tippers and water company managers emptying sewage into the sea and rivers, the car companies that game the emissions standards agencies, the construction companies, the agribusiness, and the mining companies and metal, fossil fuel and chemical companies who silently and secretly release toxins into the environment.
The whole skimming, profiteering blood sucking lot of them! Scatalogical imagery is the correct imagery here! We are talking about getting rid of waste. What these companies do is the equivalent of pulling down their trousers to crap on your living room carpet.
People are stupid., companies think. The poisons companies release into the earth, air and water are invisible. People can’t see them. It takes a while to suffer the effects. The children and vulnerable people feel them first. Meanwhile, polluting companies carry on regardless. All of them! There are no friendly companies. No company is moral because they are all out for a profit and must compete to survive. So, they up the ante and start fighting dirty when you challenge them. Are you shocked? Did you believe privately owned companies were law-abiding? Really?
Cleaning is also cultural. In places like the UK people merely wipe poo off their bums with tissue, in the Middle east they wash it off properly. In the UK we tramp in the dirt from the street with our shoes, while in Asia they take their shoes off at the door. In the UK we pick the dry snot from our noses, but in Muslim countries they clean their noses before every prayer time. Who do you think is dirty? Do you know about other cultures? If you imagine everyone who isn’t like you stinks, maybe you have something smelling on your nose.
But if we include hygiene, cleaning and recycling in the national curriculum, that will help us build a better society and solve many serious personal, environmental and political problems. What is as important as a STEM subject? Cleaning is as important. The pandemic taught us that. A certification in cleaning would take us a long way towards creating a culture of civic and family harmony. Of course some courses like this are already available, but they are limited, short courses aimed at the lowest common denominator. I strongly recommend that we offer students three certifications as an ongoing part of the National Curriculum.
I know there are already courses like this being offered, especially the vocational courses given by organisations like City and Guilds. But cleaning should also be given the emphasis it deserves in schools and colleges. Schools should offer courses in cleaning. The expertise is there to teach them.
There is also the three stage Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education programme which came into the National Curriculum in 2020. It has some overlaps, with the sort of syllabus I propose, but the PSHE programme is only for key stages 1 to 5 and it focuses more on managing relationships, health and safety, sexuality and responsible behaviour, rather than cleaning and recycling.
PRIMARY SCHOOL: Basic Certificate in Hygiene, Cleaning and Recycling (BHCR)
- How to keep yourself clean
- How to keep your bedroom tidy
- How to clean up after yourself
- How to avoid annoying other people by messing.
- How to help in the kitchen
- How to look after your shoes
- How to look after your clothes
- How to clean up after your pet
- How to tidy up after yourself in the bathroom
- How to recycle and conserve
- Food hygiene
- Global warming, me and you
School visit to the dump.
Work experience: Voluntary community cleaning. Cleaning playgrounds and outside your house, cleaning your school.
SECONDARY SCOOL: Intermediate Certificate in Hygiene, Cleaning and Recycling (IHCR)
- How to make yourself presentable
- How to keep the kitchen clean.
- Food hygiene part II
- How to keep the bathroom and toilet clean.
- How to wash clothes properly and regularly.
- How to clean floors, windows and surfaces properly.
- How to use cleaning products ecologically.
- How to shop properly.
- How to deal with messy siblings and friends.
- How to fix small things.
- How to assemble furniture
- Cleaning the cracks and corners.
- Helping your community by cleaning.
- Campaigning for the environment.
- Handling toxic cleaning products
- Cleaning and gender equality: sharing the load
- Cleaning and class
School visit to the sea or a natural beauty spot to audit pollution
Voluntary work: cleaning in the community. Reporting litter, rehabilitating public spaces like parks.
SIXTH FORM/HIGH SCHOOL: Advanced Certificate in Hygiene, Cleaning and Recycling (AHCR)
- Making your home eco-friendly
- Personal grooming and appearance: fashion, style, scents …
- Managing the cleaning of a shared accommodation
- Husbanding resources and buying responsibly
- Home decoration
- Democracy and direct action for the environment
- Cleaning, hygiene and recycling across cultures
- Toxicity and the externalisation of costs
- Dressing to clean.
- Carrying out cleaning audits.
School visit to a company to examine its waste disposal systems and guidelines and the related law
Work experience: voluntary cleaning in the homes of people with disabilities.
An extra distinction does to people who volunteer to work for 2 days cleaning in care homes and hospitals and for people serious about a career in cleaning and recycling, work placements should be offered in recycle depots, with MPs and NGOs concerned with the environment, cleaning companies:
Additional advanced courses in HCR:
- Sustainable purchasing
- Environmental auditing
- Managing large cleaning programmes
- The Psychology of Cleanliness and Cleaning
- Starting a Cleaning, Hygiene or Recycling Business
- Cleaning in Catering
- Cleaning in the Media
- Cleanliness, Hygiene, Recycling and the Law
Phil Hall is a university lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.