The Volta Way: Cleaning Up


Marie is spicy, clever and tells you how it is. This combination of traits pairs especially well with a dark, self-deprecating sense of humor and a healthy amount of gumption. She knows how to pick me up and dust me off, and reminds me to not take myself too seriously.

Our friendship is not a competition. We encourage one another and celebrate our successes. We cook together, fold laundry, hike, thrift, day drink and, for the most part, hold each other accountable for bad habits. We teach each other the fundamental boundaries of self-respect.

I met Marie around the time I obtained the title of Cleaning Lady. I hadn’t chosen to be a housekeeper, but I found myself becoming increasingly methodical in my approach, rethinking the path and starting my own business.

Illustration of two women standing in clouds with "rise above it" written
Illustration by Lois Volta

We started working together. I would come to her home and we would discuss the functionality and state of her house. We made plans to organize and clean, strategizing methods for developing a symbiotic relationship with laundry. I was her cleaning lady and I loved it! We talked dirty and we still do. We talked about bathroom dirt, dishes dirt, personal dirt. She was supporting my new business; I was helping her get her home in order. It was mutually respectful, valuable and honest in very personal ways. What started out as money for muscle was replaced with wine for folding. We listened, cared and quickly became good friends.

It’s hard to find good friends, and I didn’t know the meaning of friendship until I went through a divorce. With no friends in sight, I was an uncomfortably heavy load to be around, little children and all. She was the first person to ask me how I was holding up. With Marie, I could be myself and it was fine; she accepted me as I was. For the first time, I felt seen by a woman as a woman.

At that time, my values changed and I didn’t know how to protect myself, but I held tight to an unbreakable thread of spirituality. The winds were strong and transformative, and I, the kite flyer, was convinced this thread would hold my kite as it sailed to a higher place. At times I got carried away, finding silver linings in every storm cloud, but Marie sanctioned my unreasonable optimism, and I liked that.

She flies a different kite from mine, but we soar alongside each other, navigating confusing emotions, and sharing similar winds and dreams of a better life. She’s taught me that it is okay to be real and to be myself, ragged flag and all.

When life brings difficulty, it’s often within this that we find our real friends. I know this sounds overly dramatic, but life is hard all of the time. There’s a war right outside our windows, and the fighting inside of our homes is more than we bargained for. Existence itself is catastrophically messy at times, and your true friends will make sure you rise above the garbage.

Marie and I recently met a group of breast cancer survivors who shared their stories with us. They reiterated that when they felt sick, the deepest kind of support was when someone cooked a meal, hired a cleaning service or played with their kids. In any heavy situation, be it sickness, divorce, death or trauma, simple acts of domestic service are transformative. It may be easier to avoid others’ misfortune, to forget that hard breaks and tough times tear apart marriages and wreak havoc on social lives. We hope that someone else is taking care of business and convince ourselves that we don’t have time. Kindness is strange, and we should give showing up more credit.

There is a giant island of trash floating in the ocean right now. I didn’t make it, didn’t cause it, so it must not be my problem. There is a massive pile of laundry sitting in your friend’s basement right now. You didn’t make it, so why would you help wash and fold? There are many ways to be a good friend and dive ever deeper into the human experience of the gift of friendship. One of the best ways to be present for each other is in sharing everyday human experiences, the ups and downs, the celebration and also the mess when we drop the balls we are juggling. When we clean, cook and take care of each other in basic ways, we communicate that we are here and present. Help out. Scrubbing the fridge and moving boxes of books is going to mean something to someone.

We are all dirty, messy humans looking for a happy place to call home. When we humbly approach one another in our low points, we understand more about ourselves and our friends. It is just a perk that it feels good to do beautiful things for others; not a motivating factor. Cleaning a friend’s toilet may not feel glamorous or significant, but the act goes a long way. Much good is born from muck and crud.

There is no longer the excuse of “not knowing what to do.” If you want to make the world a better place, do something nice for someone without expectations. You don’t need money; you just need time. We can rise above the garbage when we stand together.

My friendship with Marie was built in a dark place, and we’ve been holding the lamp for each other ever since.

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