I do love shoes. This is true. I used to march around in my mom’s friend Vicki’s shoes when I was little because Vicki was tiny and they almost fit. For a while I went through a phase of only ever wearing flat shoes… I was a tall kid and in high school that was particularly vexing. But the truth of the matter is, flat shoes are not as fun, flattering, or attractive. Then I became much more of an equal opportunity shoe opportunist. Today I definitely prefer heels, and if at 5’10” that’s an issue for you, that’s your deal. Anyhow, it basically just comes down to me loving shoes.
My love of shoes, however passionate it may be, shifted on my adaptation to Asian norms for the 5+ years I was there. I came to understand shoes as a truly exterior function of living. Shoe racks became not a closet accessory (well, not just a closet accessory) but a standard outside every entrance to every home I visited. I became accustomed to never wearing shoes that I wore outside the house, inside the house. The more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense. And the even more I thought about it the grosser the idea of ever traipsing in the house with all the exterior dirt from my shoes covering the floor became. It realigned my shoe relationship, although it certainly did not diminish my love for all things zapatos. I know lots of people love shoes as much or more than I do (I mean shoe porn is actually a thing), it is all over the internet. [The images that make me wanna vomit now are these kinds where people wear their shoes in bed trying to look sexy… Your shoes? In your bed? Touching your pillow? BLECH. (I get that they think it is like, porn-star sexy, but really. Yuck.)]
So it makes sense that when I came back to the States I continued to adhere to the no shoes in the house rule, especially because I live in the Mission and if you really wanna get grossed out, check out my sidewalks someday. BLECH. I had a couple of complications with my practice: cats. While cats are very clean themselves, some of their indoor habits are not so much, eg: the litter box. My solution was to get a beautiful new Miele vacuum. And this worked well. I vacuumed in the morning and in the evenings, sometimes in the late afternoons. It worked fine. People removed their shoes in the house, I vacuumed, I maintained my sanity. [My downstairs neighbor might have been on the wrong end of this arrangement, asking me one evening in passing, “So, how often do you vacuum anyhow?”] But I kept it up because I was sensitive to the reality that people who ask others to remove shoes on entering their home and then expect them to walk on a filthy floor is as gross as wearing shoes in the house in the first place. And I was proud that was never a problem in my casa.
But then, things in my casa changed. Someone unfamiliar with cat habits (and my own vacuum tendencies) began to spend a lot of time in situ. And he was not only unused to a shoe free home situation, he was more distressed about cat dirt than the filth spiral my brain obsessed on when I thought about what was on my sidewalks and logically and subsequently on my floor, and eventually… god, who knows where…
Shoes became the norm (and I was vacuuming less for lots of different reasons, mostly because when you are sharing company with someone else they think it is weird that you would rather vacuum than hang out. Fair enough.) And as shoes became more normal, vacuuming became less critical. Housecleaning was still a priority – I mean, I am who I am, after all – but it became more like a weekly thing. And less than pristine floors were easier to ignore, as shoes were always on. We carried on like this for a long time. Sometimes frustrations would erupt around the state of the floors. Mine because, why was I the only vacuum obsessive? And his because, what was the point of vacuuming or sweeping when as soon as one was done it needed to be done again… I argued that this was flawed logic. It was as if one should never wash a dish as it would obviously get used again. Or why make the bed, it would obviously get unmade again. It is just the cycle of life… there is no futility in this repetition, there is sanity.
Or at least for me there is.
And over time, the hardwood floors became a less and less shiny, showing more and more wear and tear. I thought to myself repeatedly that they were going to need to be completely stripped down and refinished. A total do over.
Now things have changed again. I am vacuuming two or three times a day, and my shoes are off. Walking around on the floors in my bare feet feels grounding and familiar. When I came home from yoga last night and slipped off my shoes, it became clear I would need to vacuum, cats being cats. I considered that had I been wearing shoes, the circumstances would have been the same in terms of needing to vacuum, but I wouldn’t have noticed.
And this insight made me think about wearing shoes in my house for the last however long. It was just a way to ignore the real issues that were right underneath me the whole time. The dirt and refuse and icky details remain regardless if you are feeling them, or dealing with them. And walking over them with your shoes may seem to lessen them or diffuse them by swishing them around, or even appear to crush them, but they all remain, steadfast, just ground further into the beautiful hardwood beneath your feet.
What was once something easy to fix with daily diligence has now forever marred my hardwood floors, unaffected by superficial efforts to sweep it up.
It is going to take a lot of work to restore them.
But it is possible.