I was reading another mommy blog off a blog roll and came across an article talking about another article. The original article made the argument, Fly-lady like, that if your life is a mess, then your bathroom floor is a mess, and to make your life less of a mess, you need to clean your bathroom floor because this is all interconnected. Sort of a broken windows hypothesis for your life.
How do you know your life is a mess, asks the article? The proof is whether or not the area behind your child’s car seat is sparkly clean. Ignoring for the moment that that test says that all but the most OCD or wealthy enough to afford servants have lives that are messes, there are several logical and mechanical reasons that making a causal link from cleaning your house to cleaning your life doesn’t make sense.
Let’s start with the mechanical arguments. As Laura Vanderkam is fond of noting, there are 168 hours in a week. Every hour you spend cleaning behind the car seat is an hour you don’t spend organizing your paid work, your meals, your finances, your exercise routine, or anything else that people find worth organizing that makes them happier. I’m guessing that area behind the car seat that is just going to get messy again ranks pretty low on most people’s priority list. (Unless, of course an apple core got wedged there, then clean away! But the example in the article didn’t include potential for rot or bad smells.)
Adding to the time-based mechanical arguments is research on willpower. If cleaning is unpleasant, it takes willpower to do. We have limited reserves of willpower that are replenished with sleep, rest, and food. Willpower used on cleaning behind the car seat is willpower not used at work. Or it is willpower to be replenished with sugar leading to unhealthiness.
Finally, even if there is a correlation between having a clean bathroom and feeling together with the rest of your life, that doesn’t mean that the clean bathroom *causes* you to have (or to feel like you have) the rest of your life together. There could be endogeneity.
Endogeneity comes in two flavors.
The first is reverse causality. Here, feeling together would be the cause of the clean bathroom, not vice versa. Maybe you have free time from being organized and good at delegating so you can clean the bathroom. Maybe you’re so awesome at work and confident in yourself that you can easily hire a housecleaner.
The second source of endogeneity is omitted variables bias. That means there is something else that causes both your bathroom to be clean and you feeling like you have your life together. An omitted variable could be something like, being Martha Stewart. Or having a really low sleep need and high reserves of will-power. If you only need a few hours of sleep per night you have more time to do everything and to have a clean bathroom. Or maybe having a partner who is supportive and enjoys cleaning– that could lead to both clean bathroom and the rest of life working. (Just like having a partner who acts like an additional toddler rather than a caring and sharing adult can lead to messy bathrooms and unhappiness in other areas.)
Do you think that if you want to be perfect at one thing, you have to be perfect at everything?