I was 15 the first time I realized the true power of rage cleaning. That day, I had returned from a tenth-grade field trip to find my locker partner making out with the boy I was crazy about against the locker we shared.
That night, I did not get on the phone to cry to friends. I did not flop onto my bed and do the whole woe-is-me sob festor maybe I did, but only for a few minutes before I noticed my closet door was open by an inch or two. From my bed, I could glimpse a jumble of shoes at the bottom. To a soundtrack of Indigo Girls and Counting Crows, I started with lining up the shoes and within minutes, Id progressed to emptying my entire wardrobe on the floor of my bedroom. This was more than my usual neat-freak mode: I was now a wrecking ball of rage. For three full hours, I wiped down shelves, purged clothing, and folded everything into impossibly precise little squares. I colour-coded shirts, for Gods sake. At the end, my closet looked like a rack at the Gap, I had three bags of clothing to donate and I was exhausted. But at least I could sleep.
There have been many, many other instances of rage cleaning since that first one.
My dorm room, when a friend handed in an essay Id written the year before and we both got hauled into the deans office. My tiny bachelor apartment, many times, when my first boss turned out to be someone who subscribed to The Devil Wears Prada School of Management. The apartment I shared with my then-fianc, when we got scammed by our wedding DJ and lost our deposit. (That one featured mearmed with a toothbrush and baking sodaversus the bathroom grout.)
But nothing compares to the rage cleaning I do as a parent. It takes a lot to push me there, but when I get to DEFCON Level 1 of angerfor reasons that range from a sassy-mouthed daughter who is on my last nerve, to a schoolyard bullywho just wont leave one of my kids aloneI figure its better to clean than to scream.
I know rage cleaning is not the solution itselfin reality, I usually process the problem and arrive at the solution while feverishly mopping the kitchen floor. But it helps me find a more appropriate, less Godzilla-meets-Tokyo approach or perspective to the situation.
Mom rage is a real thinghere's how to deal with itI cannot explain the sheer sense of relief I feel when Ive sorted 769,342 pieces of LEGO. Or scrubbed the tub of those damn tile-safe bath-crayon scribbles. Or stripped all of the beds and washed all of the sheets in the house (sometimes with dramatic mattress flipping included).
To be clear, Im not Marie Kondo-ing. Im not a calm, does-this-spark-joy evaluator in these moments. Theres no joyits rage. And this is simply a means to an end.
Ive heard a million times before that I should journal. That I should write and reflect on my feelingsand I know this is a proven technique for so many people. But Im a writer for a living, and to me, writing as a form of catharsis is like telling a surgeon to head to the operating room to decompress. No, my catharsis is making my oven look brand new again, or finally finding and matching all of the Tupperware lids, or feverishly polishing my grandmas silverware.
I cant tell whether rage cleaning is healthy or not, to be honest. I know it forces me to take time for myself and think my way through any issue Im having, and that cant be bad. I like that I get to see the instant results of my labour. Plus, its cheaper than therapy, and theres the added bonus that I dont even have to leave the house to do it.
Of course I know there are many problems and challenges that do require professional helprage cleaning only alleviates minor, everyday tension. If the kitchen floor is sparkling but it still hasnt yielded the relief I crave, then I know Im in over my head. But when it works, a good anger-scour of something in my house is usually enough to clear my head and help me determine a path forward.
That said, I suspect if you ask my kids what its like when Im in the power-vacuuming zone, theyd probably tell you theyve learned to just stand back and leave Mommy alone. At least they appreciate my cleaning soundtrack these daysnow cue up some Lizzo and pass me a dust rag.