Deb Nelson

Deb Nelson

Cleaning as Practice was a very humbling experience, which was good, but didn't always feel good - especially the night I finished two cleaning shifts and went out to a restaurant alone on a Saturday night in downtown Montreal, wearing my cleaning uniform. They say it's good to walk in someone else's shoes. I think it's good to wear someone else's uniform, but it's not always comfortable, or pretty.

I was also surprised by how connected I felt when I cleaned a house. It's an intimate thing to do, to clean someone else's home. You're surrounded by all their stuff, their photos... It surprised me that I could feel that connected to a family that I didn't really know.

I learned a lot by getting to know the other cleaners, and they helped me to look at my life and work in a new light. Honestly, I learned the most by getting to know you, Tolu. You helped me to experience what connects us as human beings, and what keeps us separated -- and all the crazy ways we distinguish important work from unimportant work. Meaningful work from menial work. And you helped me get unstuck.

After I finished Cleaning As Practice, when I was thinking about why the experience was so powerful for me, I realized that the practices that lead to learning and innovation are the same things we have to do as outsiders: ask questions, listen well, learn from people with different perspectives, experiment, make mistakes, develop resilience, learn that it's okay to feel uncomfortable, and learn to see things in a new light.

Executive Director, Social Venture Network

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