Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 14: Cleanliness

Sometime after Deus Ex Machina and I started on our journey toward a lower impact life, I was talking with my mother on the phone. She grew up on a 100+ acre dairy farm in central Ohio, and she often shares with me stories about her childhood. Among them is the fact that she didn't have indoor plumbing when she was very young. They had an outhouse, but used chamber pots in the house, and right off the kitchen, there was a "washroom", where they bathed in wash tubs.

Once, sounding like the MC in a beauty pageant, I asked her, "If you had to give up all but one modern convenience, what would you keep and why?" Without hesitation, she said, "Indoor plumbing."

Not electricity.

Not refrigeration.

Not wall-to-wall carpeting.

Not cable television.

Indoor plumbing.

Which says a lot (to me) about the importance of sanitation and cleanliness.

Sometimes we have these little nigglings, this little whisper in the outer recesses of our consciousness, that try to tell us something, but which we often can not or can just barely hear for all of the noise that wants to contradict what that niggling says.

Big pharma, our overblown (and overly expensive) medical establishment, and now our too-big-to-fail school system will tell us that the reason we no longer see childhood diseases is because of vaccinations and vaccinations alone (although some - not insignificant - percentage of those who have been vaccinated do end up sick with the virus to which they were supposed to be immune). I won't rehash my anti-vaccine argument right now, except to say that the eradication of childhood illnesses as a significant threat to child mortality happened at about the same time that we, as a society, began to make a more concerted effort toward sanitation, especially in our densely populated urban centers.

In short, I'm not sure that it's the vaccination program - alone - that has resulted in the decrease and severity of these childhood illnesses, but perhaps it has something, also, to do with our society's (over) emphasis on being clean. The thing that makes me wonder about a potential connection is that - as far as I can tell from the information I have been able to glean - cleaning up our cities happened on a grand scale before there was a nationwide push to vaccinate all children, and there was a significant decrease in the number of cases, as we started cleaning things up.

Regardless, though, I just like feeling and being clean. Of all of the things I've been willing to change, all of the conservation efforts we've made, all of the things we've given up, the one indulgence has been and will be my daily shower.

Many years ago I happened upon this list entitled 100 Items to Disappear First. It is compilation of the kinds of things we often take for granted, but that are some of the first to be used up when supply lines are severed. Items like laundry detergent, soap, and feminine hygiene products made the list of 100 things that go fast, and which are very much missed.

A Sarajevo survivor is quoted as saying, "The feeling that you're human can fade pretty fast. I can't tell you how many people I knew who would have traded a much needed meal for just a little bit of toothpaste, rouge, soap or cologne. Not much point in fighting if you have to lose your humanity. These things are morale-builders like nothing else."

In the years since I found the list, this comment has stayed with me, and when I read stories of war survivors or stories from extreme economically depressed times, where dirt was abundant, but little else was, I'm struck by how fortunate we are, as a society, to not have to live with things like dirty hair or parasites crawling on our bodies.

One of my big concerns as our society collapses is that we will forget how wonderful clean feels, and my hope is that we fully understand the correlation between our robust health (with regard to how seldom we're stricken with viral, parasitic, and/or bacterial ailments) and our practice of keeping ourselves clean.

As a treat, I have a sampler-sized bar of hand-crafted-in-Maine soap from our local farmer's market and a hand-knit (by me) wash cloth. As usual, please leave a comment.


The winner of the book Sewage Solutions is Fleecenik Farm. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... there are only seven days left (not including Friday) - one week until the end of the world as we know it. I'll be posting - with a giveaway - every day until the end of the month. Be sure to check back, and comment, if you would like to be entered into the random drawing for any one of the great items being offered.


  1. Interesting post. I couldn't care less about a shower. It's only the most convenient way to get clean, not something I consider a pleasure. And I only shower when I feel dirty, which definitely isn't every day in winter. Daily showers are for those times when I'm sweaty and actually dirty from garden work. I could easily give up showers for the rest of my life if I had access to a sauna with a washing room. The cool thing about a traditional sauna is that it leaves you feeling clean - really clean - for days and days afterwards. Nothing like it, truly. So yes, a sauna is on the project list for some point in the future.

    In the meantime, please count me in for the soap and washcloth. And maybe for those who don't end up winning, you could share your pattern for the washcloth as a consolation prize? I'd be interested. Thanks for the chance to win!

  2. Because I teach an exercise class, I shower - everyday, sometimes twice a day. When I don't teach, it is a little easier to just 'wash up'. Would love to win the soap and wash cloth.

  3. Yes to what Kate said, my great-grandmother knows how to make washcloths, but she lives so far away I've never been able to learn from her. Could you post your pattern?

    I too have trouble giving up or limiting my showers. I do a lot of other things for water conservation, but the shower has continually resisted my efforts. I've settled (for now) on limiting myself to 5 or 6 a week.

    I too hate the emphasis our culture places on immunizations. I'm not one of those crazies that think they cause autism or that the trace amounts of weird stuff is really going to hurt my child. I know that for some children these are literally lifesaving. But at the same time, why is it that clean living and improved nutrition/sanitation is completely written off while the expensive and complex system of immunizations is hailed as the be-all-end-all? *sigh*

  4. As a child I spent some time without indoor plumbing. Outhouses and a bath at grandmas once a week if we were lucky. Your mother is right and wins the crown. You just don't know how great indoor plumbing really is until you spend a significant (many seasons) amount of time without it.

    We were without power for a pidily 3 days last winter during a blizzard and the first thing I noticed was how quickly the house got that grubby feel. It was worse than the feeling a home might have after the flu had been present for a spell.

    One of the items I keep stocked are the Clorax wipes. I'm clean but not sterile. I use them for really quick clean ups but in a SHTF situation they will get used regularly.

    I believe we need to build up our immune systems naturally and most times just allow mother nature to run it's course but I hope I won't have to live with that nasty gross feeling in the air.

    Another thing I keep stocked are baby wipes. Can't go wrong with that baby fresh smell.

  5. It's probably here on the blog somewhere (or possibly in the book, lol!) but have you had any experience / success with making soap the old fashioned way (ie, with wood ashes etc)

  6. Irma - I have not posted any information about old fashioned soap making on my blog. We have lye water (made from wood ash) on the front porch, though, and raccoon fat waiting in the cabinet for warmer weather so that we can make the soap outside as it's a better outdoors project - and yes, there is a recipe/instructions for making a very small batch of lye soap in my book :).

  7. My "48 Hours in the Dark" post touched on this too — being able to keep clean can be a huge morale boost when not much else is working right. The military buzzcut is mostly done for tradition these days, but it originated from the need to control lice among people living in close quarters. Short/no hair is also easier to keep clean.

    I think I've mentioned this before, but in living memory of *my* generation, there were people who didn't have indoor plumbing. Mrs. Fetched remembers crossing a footlog (shades of Barney Google) to get to the outhouse when she was little. I can get by with one or two showers a week, but it's not hot weather yet and my lifestyle is more sedentary than it should be.

    I was wondering: is there a "Your Parents Survived the Apocalypse — Now What?" book out there, documenting such low-tech lifesavers as clean water, personal & public health, repurposing, composting, gardening, etc? Such a book, in hardcover on acid-free paper and library binding, would be a valuable thing to have…

  8. Hmmm....I wrote a comment but didn't do the secret word verification thing. I shower less now that I'm getting old and dried up, especially in the winter....but I LOVE the feeling of the warm water and being all clean and fresh. I did manage with sponge baths for a couple of weeks (in summer) a few years ago when the bathroom was being remodeled and it was surprisingly ok....but of course I still had warm, running water in the kitchen to wash with. I would love to be entered in the draw.