I’m Upset: Dusting is a waste of time

Nothing is a better metaphor for the futility of life than the never-ending accumulation of dust.

I’m Upset: Dusting is a waste of time

Nothing is a better metaphor for the futility of life than the never-ending accumulation of dust.

Like my Social Security number and the lyrics to Limp Bizkit’s “Breakstuff,” I’ll never forget the first line of the listing for my apartment: “Bring your sunglasses, because this apartment is lit!” The broker was not lying to con me into renting out a rat den. I have six windows, an unbelievable luxury considering some Brooklyn apartments have zero; I’ve literally never needed to turn on the overhead lights while the sun is out. For the first month I lived there, I woke up every day before 6 a.m. no matter what time I went to bed, before finally realizing: “Oh, it’s because my bedroom faces the sun, and the presence of light makes it difficult to stay asleep, and five minutes after dawn my room looks like Times Square.” (I have a college degree.) I installed blackout curtains, and now usually make it until 7 a.m., unless I’ve been stupid enough to leave them open.

It’s hard to complain about your apartment being sunny — it’s conducive to plants, selfies, and day hangs. But there is one irritating downside: The infiltration of so much sunlight into every nook and cranny in my space reveals how perpetually dusty my apartment is. My coffee table, corners, PlayStation, bookshelves, headboard, nightstand, desk, any space I haven’t touched for more than a day, covered in a light film of dust, impossible to ignore when the light catches it so.

At first, I’d reach for a damp paper towel or rag, and do my best. I’d take out the vacuum cleaner once a week and use it to suck up the more egregious dust bunnies, which bred as quickly as their namesake. But slowly, the repetition grew more enervating, and existential. You mean… I have to do this every few days, for the rest of my life? And there’s nothing I can do to avoid it? Good household practices can ameliorate the frequency and intensity with which you need to clean your apartment. Don’t wear shoes inside; your floors won’t get as dirty. Quickly throw out leftovers and withered vegetables; your fridge won’t get as cluttered.

Dusting, however, is inevitable, and unlike most household cleaning, must be done every few days. Here’s Wikipedia on what dust constitutes: “Dust in homes, offices, and other human environments contains small amounts of plant pollen, human and animal hairs, textile fibers, paper fibers, minerals from outdoor soil, human skin cells, burnt meteorite particles, and many other materials which may be found in the local environment.” A 2009 NPR article summarized the contributing factors as such: outdoor materials (the dirt on your shoes, pollen that sweeps in when you open the door), indoor materials (the degradation of bedding, carpet, etc.), organic materials (dead skin, insects, pets).

Open a window? Dust is coming in. Go outside? Dust is coming in. Move, at all? You’re probably sloughing off some kind of material — that��s dust. A quick Google of “how do prevent dusting” immediately shunts you over to the search page for “how to reduce dusting,” which has vaguely helpful tips such as “take your shoes off” (did that!) and “wash your bedding” (no shit!). Even so, they’re careful to note you can’t really get rid of dust. Even if you sealed up your apartment, and laid very still in bed for the majority of your waking hours, you’d manifest dust just by walking to the bathroom. Even if you died, you’d still manifest dust as the skin would flake off your corpse. It can stick around for years: In that NPR article, Andrea Ferro of Clarkson University said they were still finding particles of DDT — a pesticide banned in 1972 — in floor dust samples.

It’s hard to imagine a better metaphor for the futility of the human experience. We’re doomed to repeat ourselves as we pass through life, because there is simply no easy solution to what ails us, nor do we have the resources to be consistently alert and attuned to the problem. There’s not even a difficult solution, either: Even if you somehow had the time and discipline to follow every step to reduce dusting, every single day, you’d still have to clean up something. At that point, you’d be working hard enough to get rid of the dust — while ultimately failing, because of the nature of dust — that you couldn’t live a regular life. (In this formulation, dusting is like clearing an overstuffed e-mail inbox.) Why bother?

So my apartment is dusty, because of all this. I wipe down the more noticeable accumulations; I break out the vacuum when I have to. But it doesn’t feel good, nor does it make sense, to give over so much of my time to preventing something that will always be a problem. It’s much easier to just apologize for it when I have friends over, and consider it only as embarrassing as I’ll allow it to be. “Your floor is really dusty,” a friend once said, after she’d accidentally dropped an earring and watched it disappear into the grubby underside of my bed. “I know,” I said, as I swept up a clod the size of a tumor. We didn’t find the earring, but I was able to live with myself, because there was nothing I could’ve done.

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