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Whether to Dust or to Leave it Where it Lies

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

If we are made from dust and shall return to dust, does that give us a pass to live with the stuff?

While dust is inevitable, it horrifies some of us, as though its presence on our furniture and floors tells the world something unflattering about us, not only as housekeepers, but as human beings. And some of us just don’t give a damn.

I remember an interview long ago in The New York Times in which an eccentric artist said she hadn’t dusted her apartment in over 30 years, saying that “after the first two years or so, you really can’t tell the difference.” That kind of empirical research really impresses me.

In the HBO movie “Grey Gardens,” Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin, Edie Beale and her daughter, are depicted as living in absolute squalor in a neglected, ramshackle house with garbage strewn throughout and a hoard of cats and raccoons relieving themselves on the floor. When Jackie arrives to help remedy the situation and registers her shock at the condition of the property, Edie dismisses the condition of her living environment by saying simply that her daughter “hasn’t been keeping up with the dusting.”

Is inattention to dust the first degenerative step to chaos in the home? Maybe for some, depending on their mental attitude about it. But how do unkempt homes affect its occupants?

A recent survey revealed that 83 percent are happier in a clean house. The act of cleaning gives 57 percent of the population a feeling of satisfaction. Further, it shows that 38 percent of women and 24 percent of men experience stress living in a messy environment.

It would seem that, especially in these harsh times, dusting and cleaning can be therapeutic. Psychologists have found that there is a marked difference in mood before and after cleaning, just as with a therapy session.

According to Dr. Carol Nemeroff, professor at Lewiston-Auburn College at the University of Southern Maine, this psychological boost may be derived from biological programming to clean our nests.

“And, because we know that good hygiene leads to good health,” she said, “cleaning may ultimately be related to a basic survival instinct.”

Wow, get out that dust rag!

For those who don’t mind living with a coating of dust on their furniture and appliances, it may be motivating to know that dust is composed largely of our own flaking skin cells. Now that we know what it contains and that it can cause real stress, does this explain the expression “uncomfortable in our own skin?”

Add to our skin cells other flaky stuff like fabric fibers, dust mite excrement, hair, pet dander, pollen, regular dirt, debris and microparticles, and you have a pretty nasty brew that can give people with allergies and breathing problems a real hassle.

But beyond the psychological and unhealthy effects of dust, it can do real physical damage to most everything it lands on, from furniture surfaces to computer keyboards and vents.

There are fancy and simple ways to get rid of dust. The fancy way is with an air purifier of which there are two types: those with fans that pull air through filters that trap the dust and those called electrostatic precipitators in which an electrical charge is applied to the dust drawn into the device and captured on oppositely charged plates. Both are available as either portable units, which offer varying degrees of effectiveness, depending on the model, or as whole-house systems. Prices range from $100 for a portable model to over $1,000 for a whole-house system.

Among the houses I’ve listed or sold, I was aware of only a couple that had a whole-house air purifier system. So, unless people are plagued by allergies, I suspect that most of us dust with old-fashioned elbow grease, using either regular rags or one of those new magic dusters to which particles cling, such as the Swiffer Sweeper or Pledge Grab-It cloths. Because the latter option can be expensive, a regular rag can be made just as effective if dampened before use and shaken out frequently.

I definitely do not recommend a feather duster because it merely spreads the dust around until it lands again on the surface of things.

It’s funny how the exploratory process can affect you. As I sit at my computer, I’m very aware and uncomfortable that between the keys of the keyboard is a lot of trapped dust. Are the raccoons soon to follow?

Bill Primavera, a publicist and journalist, is also a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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