At this point in my life, the cleaning spree with which I welcome the end of an academic year has reached the level of a religious ritual. And I, humble acolyte that I am, observe it with the devotion of a fanatic.

I appreciate how bizarre this must seem. Or rather is.

But, honestly, my summer doesn’t really start until I’ve had my clean.

Lasting no more than a day if I can help it, this end-of-school cleaning involves a turning over and a pulling apart of my living space. I drag around furniture, scramble on top of kitchen counters. I dust, I sweep, I wipe. I also bleach and mop, neaten, vacuum, air, fluff, and polish. Showers get a scrubbing down, drains a thorough de-clogging. Not even the garbage cans—filthy things—catch a bye. Those I hose out in the kitchen sink or tub, sponge clean, and prop outside the apartment door to dry.

For one full day, I make order. I set straight.

As of this present writing, my start-of-summer cleaning is scheduled for—today, actually. The day this post goes live. My wife, of course, is delighted by this. In fact, she has been delighted now for the last week or so, ever since I started noticing and casually pointing out to her things in need of tidying. A cupboard, for instance, whose contents have seen less jumbled days. Or the thin layer of dust on my fingers, which I showed her after I ran a hand along the blades of the ceiling fan to check. The cleaning ritual is a good one, in her opinion—and not least (I suspect) because it happens while she’s away at work.

And me? Well, I’m the one doing it, aren’t I? Year after year? I must enjoy it, or I’d have stopped a long time ago. Right?

Moments like these remind me of how truly strange it is that zillions of insensate atoms come together and somehow, magically, produce consciousness—my consciousness. I sit here, in the living room with my feet up, writing about how I plan to give this space a good once- (or twice-!) over; and yet somehow this thinking, integrated self consists entirely in particles over which I have zero control and which anyway (if we take the second law of thermodynamics at its word) tend ultimately toward disorder and my disintegration.

I think I enjoy my cleaning ritual, year after year. At the very least, it comes as a kind of relief—like the pulling of a wine cork, maybe—when the academic term has ended. It helps me relax. Why, though, I can’t say.

Maybe I’m exorcising some real Lady-Macbeth level guilt, by taking it out on all those damned spots. Or it could be for some other reason entirely.

In any case, today I’ve launched anew my post-school campaign against dirt and germs. The apartment smells like an over-chlorinated swimming pool. The love seat stands four feet off the wall, and the coffee table has been hauled off the living room carpet and into the kitchen. The vacuum cord, meanwhile, snakes in lazy loops back to its outlet.

And if, by the end of it all, you were to enter my bathroom and not consider just crossing your legs and holding it in, I won’t have done my job.

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