Cleaning up is a necessity to clear space and (re-)establish a meaningful order. Order is meaningful if it serves to meet basic human needs and opens up free space.
As living, corporeal organisms, we are constantly changing. We maintain different relationships with the environment and with others by absorbing, digesting, and excreting, by being sexually active, giving birth, and dying; by working, creating, and trading. With all these activities, excess is always produced, so we are required to pause for thought and clean up on a regular basis.
Problems with clearing up arise when too many things have accumulated in too little space. Understanding the limitations of space and one’s own limitations is an essential prerequisite for the act of cleaning up.
Another problem area arises when cleaning up comes from objects that are „undecidables,” such as slightly dirty laundry or semi-repaired bicycles, articles we haven’t finished reading or sweaters we haven’t finished knitting, and so on. These undecidables indicate that the existing order is inadequate and must be reconsidered. Every system of order is imperfect in this sense, because there is always something undecided.
Cleaning up means creating your own system of order, or subscribing to a particular order, thereby recognizing a provisional hierarchy. Therefore, the metaphor of cleaning in political discourse is dangerous because it can be used to legitimize or establish power and unjust conditions. Populist politicians like to use the image of cleaning, because it is often met with wide approval.
Cleaning up is perceived by many people as something meaningful and necessary. But it is important to ask what order is being used. What and who is understood to be the excess, the dirt and the shit? Is it even the people who some consider to be parasites? Does the image of cleaning up serve to legitimize practices that violate human rights, such as deporting asylum seekers to countries in which their lives will be threatened, or restricting freedom of expression and the press? Does cleaning up serve the purpose of consolidating power structures? Or, on the contrary, does it create space for freedom and for the unpredictable?
Patriarchal structures leave little room for the in-between, here rigidity, and the need to stabilize power dominate. Such structures then seem like a room that is unusable because of a large cabinet standing in the middle of it blocking the view, crammed with law books, holy scripts, altars, banners, flags, portraits of Popes and politicians, banknotes, and boxes of other unifying odds and ends.
Post-patriarchal cleaning up does not mean immediately throwing everything old into the trash. It means giving things their rightful place, for example, moving the cabinet away from the center of the room into a corner. Into the center comes a table where encounters take place. Here is where eating, playing, and talking happens; here is where life happens. However, when necessary, we can take something useful or curious out of the cabinet that was left to us by our ancestors.
Thus, cleaning up offers an opportunity to question old systems of order and to express one’s own authority in space.