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For many people, cleaning is a hated chore. For you, however, it is not only your profession but a veritable vocation – and has been for over 30 years. In 1988, you founded an “ecological cleaning institute” in Switzerland. Today, you are a successful author and speaker – and firmly believe that all cleaning is not the same. What exactly do you mean by that?
There is actually a very great difference. While some people just clean their homes, others actively care for them. At first glance, the result appears to be the same. But if you look more closely, it is quite different. That has been my own experience. Through my love for housework, I was able to find a new meaning in everyday chores. Ultimately a whole new world was opened up to me through professional cleaning.
You’re talking about the time back in the 1980s when you made cleaning your profession. What has changed there?
At the time, I often worked nights and was constantly asking myself how I would ever be able to stick it out in the long term. Then I came across the following sentence: “If you can’t do what you love, then learn to love what you do!” That really got me thinking. And the upshot of that was that I tried to love cleaning. That prompted me to start thinking and acting in a different way. I continued to fine-tune both with regular exercises. And, believe it or not, something fundamental changed in me over time. My attitude to this work, my behaviour, my body language. Even my customers noticed it.
Did this rethink lead to a new process?
Yes, you could say that. I realised that, when I was cleaning, I was merely removing dirt that came back again as soon as people used the room again. But if I manage to carry out my work with love, dedication and awareness, then this gives rise to a whole new dimension: I am not only touching things physically but am also changing the atmosphere in the room. It is a kind of spirituality that pervades. With this added “soul quality”, cleaning becomes caring. In this way, I not only remove dirt but also make room for something new.
What did this change mean for the outcome of your work?
Both back then and today, it’s all about sustainability. That is the wonderful thing about it. If I care for a room, the result lasts far longer than if I “just” clean it. Or, to be more precise: the cleanliness lasts longer. Let me tell you a little story about this: an elderly lady had read an article about me and asked if I would be able to carry out her spring cleaning for her. So that it would stay cleaner for longer. After ten days, she called me and said: “So it’s true! You know, Ms Thomas, I already have a help who comes once a week and cleans my apartment. But there is always dust everywhere again after barely three days. I checked carefully every day after your spring cleaning and today was the first day that I found any dust.”
I’m sure that really gave you a lift! In your opinion, how closely related are tidiness and cleanliness?
I feel that there is a very close link between the two. I can’t care for a room properly if it is in complete disarray. To be able to clean, I need room to manoeuvre. If, for example, a desk in an office I am cleaning is covered with towering piles of paper, it is impossible for me to dust it. So the person who works there needs to sort it out if they want it to be clean. The same is true in private homes. Tidiness and cleanliness are two sides of the same coin.
WALA is very much involved with ecological questions and with the impact that its activities have on the environment. How is it possible to clean in an ecologically sustainable way?
There are plenty of ecological cleaning agents available on the market. However, you should pay very close attention to the label when buying them. These days, very many producers are using the word “bio” or “organic”. As far as I’m concerned, fragrances are a key criterion. If a product is 100 percent biodegradable but still contains synthetic fragrances, I don’t consider it to be a natural product.
Which cleaning agents do we actually need in our homes?
We know from chemistry lessons at school that acidic cleaning agents dissolve limescale and alkaline cleaning agents dissolve fat. So you basically need citric acid, washing soda and water. Good tools are always crucial for a satisfying result – for example high-quality cleaning cloths like the professionals use. Good dishwashing detergent is essential for washing plates, cups and glasses and of course detergent for the washing machine. I like to use white Marseille soap on soaped floor surfaces. And if you don’t use a special product to care for oiled floors, there will be streaks.
In one of your books, you mentioned that you also use WALA products for cleaning.
Yes, that’s right. In a retirement home where I worked, lots of people developed eczema because of the disinfectant used in the bathrooms and all ended up needing medical treatment. I thought about what I could do about this and switched to Dr. Hauschka Rosemary bath essence1, which worked a treat. The rooms were clean and the residents stopped coming out in a rash. If I’m caring for something that is very important to me, I always add a few drops of precious rose oil to the water.
You have been retired since 2017 and your main focus is now on your lecture tours. Do you still clean your own home?
Since retiring, I have been cleaning at home again. When I was still working and often travelling as well, I didn’t have the time. Apart from that, I was always torn between working in the house and working in the garden. The garden usually won. During this time, a student cleaned for me. She did everything just how I wanted it. The only thing I insisted on doing myself was dusting, because I felt that was like tending to the soul of my house. These days, I only get help when I am away for longer periods of time. My husband works at the Goetheanum in Dornach2 so we can always find plenty of students who would be happy to help out when I’m not there. When I come back from a trip, the first thing I always do is to re-establish contact with my home by tending to it with great care.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
1 Dr. Hauschka Rosemary Bath has since been discontinued. An overview of all currently available bath essence products can be found here: https://www.drhauschka.de/en/natural-cosmetics/body-care/bath-oils-bath-essences/
2 The Goetheanum School of Spiritual Science is in Dornach, Switzerland. Further information can be found at www.goetheanum.org