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Down on the Farm -- Cleaning is cleansing

A study by three research psychologists released last week entitled, "The Smell of Virtue," claims to show that cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.

The researchers administered tests on subjects which measured fairness, willingness to volunteer time and willingness to donate money.

The subjects were divided into two groups: One group sat in an unscented room, the other sat in an identical room which contained a light whiff of Windex.

Those who took the test in the Windex-scented room demonstrated dramatically higher levels of ethical and charitable impulses on the tests. In fact, the willingness to donate money increased four times in the room scented with Windex.

The researchers conclude, in an article to be published next month in the journal Psychological Science, that a clean-smelling environment can work wonders in bringing about moral behavior.

Now, cynics will no doubt cut this study to shreds. Why Windex? Why didn't they use Pinesol? Or Hilex? Would the results have been the same? Couldn't it just be something about Windex?

What do they think we should do, have Windex scent dispensers in our shopping malls? Our work places?

The scary part is that, when questioned afterwards, the subjects in the Windex-laced room didn't remember the room smelling like Windex. Their behavior was controlled by a scent they didn't detect!

So, it is possible that the old scolds who made up the phrase "Cleanliness is next to godliness" were right. In fact, they now can argue that cleanliness produces godliness!

Too bad, because before I ran across this study on the Internet last weekend, I was ready to argue that cleanliness has nothing to do with morality. No, cleanliness it is just a good way to raise one's morale.

The older I get, the more I like to clean. I like to clean my desk. I like to clean the kitchen. I like to clean the yard. I like to wash the windows. I like to mop floors.

Why do I like to clean? Because it is so much easier than doing the work I am supposed to be doing! And you can always justify cleaning.

If there is a project on my desk that needs finishing, I would rather clean the desk, sweep underneath the desk, wipe the dust off the crosspieces on the legs of the desk, anything to avoid starting the project.

Ironically, by cleaning the area where I should be working, I sometimes end up feeling more like doing the work. Organizing my workspace helps me organize my thoughts.

Last week, I met a 91-year-old woman named Millie who recently moved into the nursing home. I asked her how she liked it.

"Oh, they're good to us," Millie said.

"But you can't sweep and dust and clean in here!" she added. "And we need those things!"

Cleanliness, to Millie, had nothing to do with being moral and everything to do with her morale. She loved to clean. It gave her something productive to do.

Some kids are neat from the beginning. I have a cousin who started lining up his trucks and toys in rows when he was two years old. He managed to find a spouse who is just like him and they spend their days being compulsive together. Their house is weirdly spotless.

I was the opposite. As a kid, my bedroom was chaos. My locker at school filled up with garbage. My school books were an unorganized mess.

In college, it was more of the same. Unmade bed. Messy car. Junk piled everywhere. My messiness was a rebellion against the scolds and nags who equated cleanliness with morality.

Then, I made a discovery: Cleaning helped my mood. It could bring me up from the depths of despair. A sparkling clean room, as well as the process of making it clean, made my day way better.

Now, I clean for two simple reasons: First, I like how cleaning makes me feel. Second, cleaning gives me a legitimate reason to procrastinate.

Then along comes a silly study which claims that my cleaning habit might just turn me into some sort of do-goody priss.

After considering a mid-life return to messiness, I have decided not to let some Windex-sniffing professors ruin my fun.

I will continue to clean for my own selfish reasons, not because some scolds tell me I will be better for it.