We can, of course, approach cleaning tasks with dread, but if you’ve read former Grid columnist Lois Volta, you know that this work can provide more than just a tidy living space: it can double as a time for reflective meditation, a route around inertia or an opportunity for teamwork that opens a path to household harmony.
“In contrast to many new emerging voices that talk about how chores are quick and easy, I put an emphasis on the quality of the relationships within the home,” Volta writes.
As a single mother with three children, she lives this belief. Her three girls — Penny (14), Jane (16) and Madeline (17) — help keep the house in order.
“They all know what to do,” Volta says. When they were younger, after dinner the girls would take on basic tasks while she would do the “nuanced cleaning.” But now Volta can let them take over while she walks the dog. “I come in, and we all finish together.”
Volta’s recently-released book, “Confessions of a Cleaning Lady,” is based on her previously published Grid columns, her feminist perspectives and practical advice. Volta, also a co-host of “The Everyday Feminist,” a weekly radio-podcast program, offers cleaning tips attuned to fairness, sharing, efficiency and spirituality. Quakerism informs her views.
“My very first job was cleaning for my neighbor. So I would go over there every other week and that was my candy cash,” Volta says. As an adult, necessity became the driver. “I didn’t want to be a cleaning lady,” she says. As a newly single mother, Volta was looking for “the quickest way to put food on the table, [but] I thought I was more than a cleaning lady.”
Along the way, her views changed. Volta learned how to run a business, to hire people and to value domestic work. “I was becoming proud that I had this business, and I was realizing how impactful it was.” She began to notice “the correlation between a decluttered home and a decluttered mind,” she says.
Her work in other people’s homes has given her a lens into people’s domestic arrangements. “This is where I really started diving into the gender equality stuff.” She began thinking about the value of domestic support and wondering why women seemed more willing to pay for it than men. Before long she began speaking with clients on gender-equality issues and writing a zine, which eventually led to her monthly Grid column, and now her book.
She discovered that the work can be healing. “Even when I’m feeling unmotivated, if I go clean my bedroom, I just feel better. And it’s remembering that those types of things are actual self care … We’ve made it into something negative and bad, but reshaping the narrative is important to me.”
Volta has no plans to let up anytime soon. She has become an activist with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which in 2019 successfully lobbied Philadelphia City Council for the passage of a bill to protect domestic worker rights. In addition, she has become involved in a project working with Elizabeth Seeley to create a domestic wellness retreat center for mental health professionals at The Hermitage in Wissahickon Valley Park.
She plans to continue preaching what she practices. “When we can cultivate safe, loving atmospheres in our own homes, accordingly we can develop the skills to work outside of our homes in a bigger, more impactful way,” Volta writes. “We give ourselves the opportunity to look out from our windows with hope and purpose.”