Like many expats, when I first moved to India, I had a hard time figuring out how to clean without some of the usual supplies I was used to having in the US. However, I’ve come to realize that you don’t need those special cleansers at all.
For kitchen counters, windows and floors, I use vinegar and hot water. I just washed my floor with vinegar and water, thinking I’d have to go over it three or four times (it was a mess as I’d been away for a month—where does all that dirt come from in a place that’s been shut up, anyway?), but twice was plenty. Once would have been enough if it wasn’t exceptionally dirty. Vinegar is non-toxic and it kills all sorts of germs, so it is ideal, especially if you have kids. Most of those high-powered cleaners are extremely toxic.
I’ve always been a big fan of everything that’s non-toxic and natural, anyway, but living in India has really made me get even more vigilant about what I use around the house. Not surprisingly, the companies that make cleaning supplies have a vested interest in making people believe that anything that is natural is ineffective. And they want you to believe that you need a specialized product for each use. It’s simply not true.
The truth is that the best cleaning products are ones you can easily make yourself (or teach your servant to make, if you have one). They are so simple that most can be made in less than a minute. They are also cheap, effective and non-toxic. There are lots of sites that tell how to make them. Eartheasy.com is one of many websites that has good info, but there are lots of others.
Incidentally, bar soap works just fine for washing clothes, especially when you are traveling light and don’t want to schlep around anything extra. I use bar soap at home, too. It’s so easy, and it’s not hard on your hands. You can also use it to wash dishes.
OK, I confess that I’m not fond of housecleaning. However, I find that it’s a lot more bearable if I’m not breathing toxic fumes and don’t have to wear rubber gloves to keep my hands from shriveling up or to keep the toxic chemicals from getting absorbed through my skin. And it also helps that I don’t end up with any toxic containers to throw away. To me, that more than makes up for any imagined inconvenience. But actually, is it any less convenient than going out and hunting all over for just the right products? Not really. Even when I lived in Delhi, in the amount of time it took to go to the nearest store that had them, I could have had the work done three times over. But we perceive it as being more convenient to buy something that’s already made than to make it ourselves. There’s more to life than convenience.
Living in India has made me keenly aware of how addicted to convenience we Americans have become. I think that this addiction gets in the way of a lot of enjoyments. It’s a powerful advertising ploy that has really taken over our lives in a way. For instance, cooking and baking are depicted as drudgery, yet if you get into it, there are few things more delightful than making something delicious for someone you love. Popping a frozen pie into the over just doesn’t have the same effect, either on your own heart or that of your spouse, children, guests or anyone else. No matter what the advertisements say, it’s not ‘just like homemade’. We often forgo the pleasures of soft, natural fibers for the convenience of easy-care ones that aren’t nearly as comfortable. And we tend to drive even to places that are very nearby instead of enjoying a nice walk. It’s a poor trade-off, in my opinion. But we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that everything has to be convenient, haven’t we?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like convenience as much as anyone. I was brought up with it, after all. But—this is the essential thing—I don’t need it if it means trading away something I value more, as it all too often does. And there are a lot of convenience items that are completely superfluous, anyway. Take homogenized milk, for instance. It’s too much trouble to shake a carton of milk so that the cream doesn’t stay on top? Ridiculous! And the homogenization process damages the milk in some way. I’m not sure how, but I do know that I can drink non-homogenized milk, but homogenized milk makes me sick. In the case of cleansers, since that’s what I started out with, well, I value my health and the environment more than I do the idea of saving a few minutes here or there. And it really doesn’t make any significant difference in terms of time, anyway.
One of many things I love about India (especially since I don’t live in some high-pressure place like Gurgaon or Mumbai) is that it’s considered completely normal not to be a slave to convenience. That’s not to say that the passion for convenience isn’t infecting India. Unfortunately, American-style fast food is becoming really popular here. And with it, the health of the nation is declining. Packaged foods, especially snack foods and soft drinks are taking a heavy toll on health and the environment. There has been a huge increase in diabetes and obesity in recent years. Most fast food is designed to be unsatisfying. What’s worse, it makes you more prone to obesity, diabetes and other diseases. This is a really bad tradeoff. Think about it.