Sunday, July 01, 2007


In my "Crud" post, I showed what might be considered a truly embarrassing and awful picture of the state of the lampshade in my living room. I posted it knowing I had every intention of giving cleaning it another go and you can see the transformation above. If you'd like to take an 18-year-old light fixture like mine and turn it into the clean specimen it has become, I offer you a step-by-step technique which worked for me but could just as easily fail for you.

Step 1:

Since you will be working in a dim room (because the light needs to be off), assemble all your tools. You will need:
  • a small broom (available at 100 yen shops)
  • a face mask to lower the amount of dust you breath in
  • a vacuum cleaner with enough suction power to pluck your eyebrows if it gets close to your face
  • something stable that won't fall over if you do the equivalent of a heavily gyrating dance on top of it
  • a carpet you don't care about underneath you or some sort of drop cloth

Step 2:

Turn off the light in the room and allow the bulb to thoroughly cool. Remove the (fluorescent) bulb and set it aside. After the bulb is completely cool, dust it off. If necessary, very gently rub any residue off of it with a damp paper towel.

Step 3:

Put on your face mask. With absolutely no air movement in the room whatsoever, start sweeping at the super dusty lighting fixture only to find that 18 years worth of dust won't easily sweep off. Try to gently, but firmly bat at it like it's a pinata full of delicious candy except your goal is to knock loose huge wads of dust instead of tasty, tasty candy. Repeat until the room is clouded with dust and you resemble the character of "Pig Pen" from Peanuts.

This is going to be you.
(Image lifted from Wikipedia's entry on Pig Pen.)

Step 4:

At this point, you will have removed all the dust possible from the shade and wires with the broom and it'll still look like crap. It's time to carefully scrutinize the design of the shade and attempt to carefully remove it via the appropriate method.

Step 5:

You will realize their is no appropriate method and the shade was designed to only be removed when the socket was removed by a trained electrician. Decide that you will forcibly remove it. Turn on the air conditioning to full power at the lowest possible temperature because it's 85 degrees and humid as a dank bog. Yank, squirm and pull until almost all the blood in your arms (which you have to hold up high to do this) is pooling in your shoulders and you have forced the shade off the fixture. This will require you to, of course, break the shade.

Pictured above was the portion of the shade that got knocked out when I forced the fixture out. Pictured below is the sharp and extremely filthy piece of plastic that fell on the floor after this.

Step 6:

Carefully search the floor for any broken pieces that you may step on and puncture your foot with. Fail to find any pieces.

Step 7:

Take the lampshade to the kitchen and scrub it vigorously inside and out with a ton of soap and a sponge with a plastic scrubber side for about 10 minutes until it is thoroughly clean but still yellowed with age.

Step 8:

Take the shade back into the living room and nearly step on the sharp plastic piece (conveniently oriented in such a way that it's like a rusty nail sticking out of the ground). Be relieved that you didn't step on it and need a tetanus booster but annoyed that you didn't find it earlier when you searched for it.

Step 9:

Take the vacuum cleaner and attempt vainly to suck any remaining dust off the exposed wires and fixture. Worry about somehow managing to electrocute yourself.

Step 10:

Plant your feet firmly on your highly stable elevation device (I used the sofa) and prepare to repeat your earlier struggle. Fight with the shade taking necessary breaks to allow the circulation to return to your arms and to breath and allow your extreme frustration to pass. Force the shade back on and hope you don't break it into a non-utilitarian state.

Step 11:

Start to worry even more about getting electrocuted. Attempt to put the bulb back in. Fix the bent parts of the fixture that you messed up in your struggle so the bulb doesn't fall out. Put the bulb back in after managing to only fix two of the three bent prongs that hold it in place.

Step 12:

Vacuum again.

Step 13:

Develop a higher tolerance for filth and promise yourself you will never, ever do this again.


CMUwriter said...

Step 14: Think of an excuse for why the shade from the ceiling onto one of your students, which will happen in about two weeks. Be sure to enforce shoddy Japanese workmanship.

tornados28 said...

I have seen this in other Japanese homes. The floors are immaculate but up above there are coats of dust on pictures and light fixtures.

Of course, I see it here in the U.S. as well.

Roy said...

Shari, thank you for the photo of the lampshade. It is indeed an atrocity ;-)

Did other people, like your students, mention the dust up there? Or was it not noticable? How many years did it take to get into that state? Why do you have so much dust in your house?

Shari said...

cmuwriter: lol. I don't think it'll fall given how hard I had to wrench it to get it off and back on. I'm guessing that the shade is firm and you could swing off of it if the fixture above were stronger (which it's not).

tornados28: Given how ceilings are high even in small places, I can see why Japanese people don't clean high up. It's pretty hard to reach such areas for me and I'm taller than most of my students.

Roy: I put up that picture just because of your comment. I'm so fond of you I'd risk humiliating myself for the sake of your curiosity. ;-)

It's hard to put a time-line on how long it took to get so bad because I have, on occasion, attempted to clean it with the brush attachment on the vacuum cleaner but it's pretty pointless (as my scrapes show). For over a decade, the living room was not really something I did much with. It was mainly used as a storage area (if you look at my old apartment tour, you can see it's not used for much else) up until I started teaching in it. Our sofa was almost never used for sitting on and relaxing. My main cleaning in that room was of the floor whereas I vacuumed the walls as well as the floor in the bedroom (where we did all our "living" anyway).

Anyway, you can probably chalk up that to an accumulation over 18 years with a few hopeless attempts to suck some of it off on occasion with the vacuum.

As for why our apartment is so dusty, I'm not sure why that should be but it is incredibly dust prone. My former boss told me that he believes it's a combination of the age of our place, living on the bottom floor, and relative proximity to Ome Kaido (not right on it but probably close enough to be getting car exhaust blow off and dust off the street), particularly when there are traffic jams and cars are out their sitting spewing exhaust for long periods of time. We leave our windows open a lot compared to other people because I can't stand stale air so that may also have something to do with it.

My former boss felt that old places are sufficiently deteriorating that bits of dust are falling from the walls and ceiling every time your neighbors above you walk around. There's also the possibility that our neighbors all around us may be doing some stuff in their mini yards/gardens to kick stuff up but I can't know for sure. I do know the people who used to live above us used to toss filthy water down onto our balcony regularly, sometimes onto our laundry so we "inherited" some of their dirt as it dried on the balcony and could come in through the window.

The dust on the fixture wasn't so noticeable from below. To take that picture and get that angle, I had to stand on the sofa and hold the camera over my head. My students were pretty much under it and would have had to have been trying to see it. If anyone noticed, they never said anything.

You'd be surprised though what my students don't notice. When my banged up, scuffed up, stained white kitchen floor was replaced by a pristine faux wood style one, I mentioned to one of my students when he walked in the door and he said, "I didn't notice." A lot of my students also didn't notice that a big honking air conditioner had been installed in the room until I mentioned it despite the fact that they sit on the sofa its under. Next to those things, what's a dusty lighting fixture?