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Going Grubby: The Primal Benefits of Dirt, Dust and Dishevelment
Posted By Worker Bee On September 10, 2008 @ 8:40 am In Health,Hype,Research Analysis | 19 Comments
Clearly, cleanliness is next to godliness, as they say, in this country. The number of products devoted to the sacred rite of purging and scouring American households staggers the imagination. (Ever roamed the cleaning supply aisles at Target? It’s a trip unto itself.) Every strength, size, scent, packaging, active ingredient, and formula (Would you prefer powder, gel, spray, cream, or specially concentrated disk?). But wait! There’s the anti-bacterial, virus-killing, and “odor shielding” options. And, of course, we now have a plethora of “green” cleaners infiltrating the line up. (Some more green than others.)
But just what do we get for the infinite invention of the last thirty or so years? Are our living quarters really all that much cleaner than our grandmother’s homes? Have we truly transcended the power of elbow grease, hot water, and simple routine?
While basic sanitation has clearly made a critical difference in human health, what happens when old-fashioned diligence becomes super strength obsession?
We all remember learning in school that 90% of household dust is made up of sloughed human skin. Yeah, it grossed us out, but is it really such a major health threat that we use language suggestive of military assault to “combat” it? We tend to think that there are some useful things in there. How about pet dander? Numerous studies have shown that exposure to pet dander throughout childhood reduces the incidence of pet allergy and asthma.
We agree that if you can write “wash me” in the dust on your window sill it’s time to dig out the Swifter. (We didn’t say we were fans of filth.) Keeping a handle on the dust that accumulates is important, we think, but not because of the heebie jeebies elicited by the skin statistic or any aesthetic reasoning. It’s those nasty flame retardant particles (PBDEs) that get kicked up from furniture and other household items we talked about a couple of weeks ago . (Suddenly that human skin sounds pretty good.) Nonetheless, we don’t believe in flying off the handle. Cut out conventional flame retardant products where you can and happily retire the white glove test.
O.K., this one’s our favorite. We could write an entire post “Ode to Dirt.” Suffice it to say, since our long lost days of mud pies, too many of us have forgone the unique pleasure of luxuriating in nature’s emollient.
For anyone who’s had a mud mask or massage, you likely need little convincing. For those of you who lived in the mud as children much to the desperate chagrin of your mothers, we know the love isn’t something you truly outgrow. (You wouldn’t happen to be outdoorsmen/women now would you?) But if you don’t fall into these categories, consider that your run-of-the-mill, basic, unassuming, backyard soil can act as an anti-depressant? You bet your buckets! Naturally occurring bacteria in the soil, it turns out , trip the neurons that produce serotonin.
As for soap, consider it overrated. There’s genius in that skin of ours – a nifty little “acid mantle,” to be specific, that protects the skin from dehydration, inflammation, and cracking that leaves it open to infection.
As for the typical household cleaners designed to rid your house of every speck of dirt that may trespass beyond your doorway? Well, as we said in our chemical load post , the endocrine-disrupting and respiratory damaging chemicals that make up so much of those products seem to be a much greater threat (understatement) than the good old dirt that Grok  lived, ate and breathed.
O.K. We don’t have much of a “health” argument to make with this one. In fact, household clutter has even been linked to higher obesity rates. However, in light of the “clean” obsession, are we overdoing it on this front too? There’s the part in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when Ferris describes Cameron’s house (to paraphrase): It’s like a museum. It’s very beautiful, but you don’t dare touch anything.
In Grok’s day (and perhaps in our grandmothers’) it was probably easier to keep a clean house because – well – people just didn’t accumulate as much stuff. In the age of Rubbermaid bins and The Container Store, isn’t it so easy to just keep adding to the collection as long as everything ends up with a place to “live,” as professional organizers call it?
We think there’s a place for dishevelment to be sure. To affirm the old adage, recent research suggests that the owners of messy offices are more creative than those with very neat spaces . Apparently, the proverbial, creative, “light-bulb” moments tend to come as a result of mental happenstance. The mind finds momentary distraction in a “side track” thought (or random unearthed document) and has the chance to make new and novel connections. Sound true to you?
In the spirit of good old Mother Nature, the opposite of dishevelment isn’t meticulous organization. In one setting, one moment, it’s layer upon layer of rich detail. Stark spareness in another. (Perhaps there’s something to living with both possibilities. Hmmm?) In either and any case, it’s messy, dirty, dusty, rough, ragged and will probably leave a mark. In the postmodern, super sanitized, Fabreeze-misted world of Mr. Clean versus Grok, thanks, but we’ll hang with Grok any day of the week.
Have your own thoughts to share on the joys of living with dirt, et al? Send ‘em our way!
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