Dirt blindness, its symptoms and cures

by Libby Sternberg

When I was a child, my mother would put my sister and me to work scrubbing down the kitchen walls during spring cleaning. We used buckets of soapy water which I imagine contained some grease-cutting detergent. I remember it smelled….clean.  But heck if I recall the actual dirt and grease on the walls. For all I could see, we were just wiping spotless surfaces.

I'm told this is a dust bunny. I see nothing.

I’m told this is a dust bunny. I see nothing.

This, I now realize, was the first symptom of a syndrome I have borne all my life: Dirt Blindness. (Immundus Caecitate is the medical term.) After years of therapy, I have come to accept my affliction. Symptoms of Dirt Blindness include some or all of the following:

  • the inability to see dust in corners, tabletops and especially on lamp shades
  • the inability to see grease buildup on any kitchen surface except when the angle of light is just right
  • microwave amnesia: immediately forgetting the way the inside of the microwave looks once you’ve shut its door
  • regularly mistaking cobwebs on walls for sun-dappled shadowscapes
  • viewing stacks of papers, magazines, junk mail, and old store receipts as a charming still life about which you occasionally fantasize spray-painting neon pink and submitting to an art contest
  • thinking there’s something wrong with your computer keyboard when crumbs make one or more letters hard to click
  • shaking your computer mouse and screaming “Oh, the humanity” rather than opening it to empty debris (what debris?)

Dirt blindness has no lasting cure. But it is possible to trigger remissions. Here are some techniques I’ve found useful:

  • Go on vacation. Coming home after several days away allows the Dirt Blindness to lift for fleeting moments as you see your house afresh.  Be warned: The moments of remission might leave you shocked and in need of emotional support. Or a martini. Yes, a martini is better than emotional support. Sometimes two.  (Note: To be truly effective, long and luxurious vacations are the best. )
  • Have company. Dirt blindness seems to recede in the fifteen minutes before any company arrives on your doorstep. This strategy has the added benefit of giving you a high-power workout as you scurry to get rid of the dirt you can finally, finally see in that short window of time.
  • Change your light bulbs: Amazingly, a higher watt bulb can sometimes illuminate dirt for brief periods (up to five minutes if you’re lucky). Please note, however, that this is temporary and curiously only works in the area immediately near the light.
  • Hire a maid. Technically, this doesn’t get rid of your Dirt Blindness, but it does make life easier for the rest of your family, so they don’t have to suffer with you. And, strangely enough, while Dirt Blindness makes it impossible for you to see unclean surfaces, you are able to appreciate, in all its splendor, a sparkling clean house.

I’ve learned to cope with my Dirt Blindness over the years, mostly through acceptance of this sad affliction. I hope my ideas help others who’ve been cursed with this syndrome. Please, feel free to share your own strategies for dealing with this problem, if you are a fellow sufferer.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. In lieu of contributions to the Dirt Blindness Association, please buy her books. That temporarily lifts her Dirt Blindness Ennui, a secondary syndrome caused by the primary disorder.  Check back this Wednesday for the TGIW post on television ads to love and loathe.

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