Posted in Commentary, Desert Life

Rub some dirt on it*

Before we get to the post proper, I just wanted to mention to my fellow swappers that the CDs are in the mail, and the post about their contents will appear in this very space next Friday.


I grew up in a home where wearing shoes in the house was discouraged, sometimes strenuously.  This is not uncommon in northern climes, I guess, where bringing in 40 pounds of mud, snow, and salt with you after playing out in the snow (or, if you were an adult, working) is just not on.  And when winter lasts 10 months of the year, it just becomes a habit to not wear shoes in the house.

When I finally moved into my own place, I didn’t think much about it; I did not formulate a shoes-in-the-house policy, per se.  It seemed common sense that if you’d stepped in something icky, you’d try not to drag it into any house that was kind enough to have you, and this seemed to work out fine at my house and the houses I visited, as far as I could tell.  I prefer to be shoeless and comfy at home, but my back and hips have for a long time decided otherwise for me.  So I split the difference and wear clogs a lot so that I can spare my back when I’m standing or walking, and kick them off when I’m sitting or lounging.  I wear shoes in the house out of necessity…but I’m just as likely to walk outside in my stocking feet to get the mail or bring the dogs out, because sometimes I just don’t feel like bowing to the tyranny of footwear.  I’m a rebel like that.

That is to say, I don’t really care if you wear shoes in my house or not, and most of the people I know don’t care either.  So it’s not a problem, and I would’ve continued to not think about it, except that I’m a regular reader and FB liker of Apartment Therapy.

It never occurred to me that this was a burning philosophical debate in the world until I read this Apartment Therapy post, and the kazillion vehement comments thereafter.  There seemed to be 3 opinions:

  • If I put shoes on, who are you to tell me to take them off?
  • Who cares?  Let people do what they want, and get a life.  (The thoughtful, intelligent, and relaxed people who took this stance were in the minority, of course.)

What was most surprising me was that the first two groups both seemed most concerned with the same thing, which was cleanliness and health.  Those who didn’t want shoes in the house seemed to imagine that every single one of their guests had walked their filthy shoes through every disgusting gutter available, shuffling through dog poop and hobo pee and random globs of mucus, the provenance of which was better left unknown and unconsidered, as if they were so many delightful autumn leaves.

Those who wanted to keep their shoes on were split pretty evenly between health and fashion issues (and many brought up both).  There were a few gimpy folks like me, who must wear shoes or become progressively more crippled as a visit wears on.  But there were plenty who questioned the cleanliness of the floors they’d have to place their bare or stocking feet on, and had many choice, if anonymous, words to say about the inadequacy of the housekeeping skills of their “friends.”  They were not interested in placing their presumably pristine feet on someone else’s grody floors that had all manner of everyday dirt, kid snot, and dog slobber (or worse) on them.

(It’s true—once you’ve decided to have dogs, clean floors are pretty much a lost, Sisyphean cause.)

What surprised me beyond how adamant people were about their positions was the general terror over dirt and germs.  This is something I don’t understand at all.  Yes, I don’t want anyone’s cold and appreciate it if known contagious vectors would keep their cooties to themselves, and I do likewise when I’m sick, but beyond that, because I am not immunocompromised, I’m going to sit on public toilet seats (if they’re filthy enough to make me want to use the paper thingy, I just choose another stall) and touch bathroom door handles and the like, because the human body is generally pretty good at fighting off random bugs, and when it can’t, it makes you that much stronger the next time.  All bets are off if you have some other condition that makes you have to be extra careful, but most of us don’t have those conditions, and we NEED germs; they make us stronger.  The world cannot be sanitized for our protection, and you’re better off if your body learns to deal with it sooner rather than later, lest you find yourself living in a plastic bubble floating lonesomely on a sea of Purell.

And dirt?  Dirt is just dirt.  It washes.  In most cases, it is unlikely to kill you.  We are a species that evolved in a time when the world was MADE of dirt.  As a matter of fact, I believe it’s STILL made of dirt, but ‘twas even more so back then.  There was dirt in everything you ate and drank, and half of that stuff was probably in some stage of rot or uncontrolled fermentation anyway.  We survived to replicate ourselves to 7 billion strong despite it all, despite virus and bacterium and cancer and a lack of reliable refrigeration and flush toilets.  Evidence of our evolutionary victory greets us in every mirror, in every packed bus, in every overcrowded city.  We are, in a word, hardy.  And yet never in my life have I witnessed more people terrified of dirt and germs.  My dog eats her own poop straight out of the dirt in the yard on a disgustingly regular basis, and she’s perfectly healthy, so I’m pretty sure my picking up a dropped piece of bacon off my own kitchen floor and eating it (if the dogs don’t beat me to it) is probably not going to be a fatal error.

So whaddayathink?  Shoes or no shoes in the house?  Germs:  relatively benign annoyance or evil foe that must be eradicated at all costs?  What is your dirt threshold?

*First aid by Lee Corso.



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.

10 thoughts on “Rub some dirt on it*

  1. Sisyphean…ha! I looked it up. Way to use an obscure (I hope) word!

    Like you, my feet require me to wear shoes if I’m walking about. However, our house is to be lived in. My dogs come in from outside, where they’ve been romping in their bare feet, and they don’t put shoes on to protect my floors. Visitors are not asked to removed their shoes.

  2. i don’t take my shoes off unless im in my own house. i consider it a matter of etiquette. no one wants my feet all over their stuff. as far as folks coming into my space, i say make yourself comfortable. if you want your shoes on, cool with me. if you want to get all comfy and naked toed, im good with that too. im am far from a germaphobe. i think tyler durden said it best when he said we are all part of the same decaying mass.

  3. I could care less. I very rarely take my shoes off when I get home; my husband takes his off right away. To each his own. Sure, if you’ve got mud on your shoes, take ’em off or clean them before you traipse all over the house, but that’s the extent of it. Cleanliness? Um, they’re feet. If they get dirty, wash them.The end. Walking on dirt is not going to get you sick, unless you have a gaping wound on your foot. Ew.

    On the flipside, my sister requires everyone to take their shoes off at the door so they don’t walk on the carpet with them. I don’t really like taking my shoes off in other people’s homes, but I do it because she asked me to. Eh.

  4. Like you, I grew up in a northern clime. Unlike you, I am still there. It is customary amongst our circle of acquaintances to doff our shoes at the door. It is common for some to carry in-house slippers which are then put on. In our house, I leave my outside shoes at the door and slip into my in-house footwear.

    Having worked in the cleaning business, I learned that 90% of the dirt found in a house is tracked in from outside. Any efforts to reduce that transfer pay off in less housework (which falls on me most of the time). Plus, it makes it easy for me to travel places like Japan where no one would dream of wearing outside footwear inside a house.

    As to dirt as a necessary part of our immune system – I completely agree. You will find no bactericidal soap in this house. I wash my hands if I have handled something that a plague carrier has touched, but that’s about the extent of it, and I have a compromised immune system. Aside from living with cancer, I am generally healthy – thanks to dirt and bugs.


    1. I buy that…we thought about getting a Roomba because the dogs bring in so much schmutz from the outside, but we figured the thing would overload and croak within a week; not worth it. During pollen season, the stuff literally drifts into piles in the back yard. It’s a constant mess. But the lengths we’d have to go to to keep it outside are more of an inconvenience than just cleaning it up.

  5. Thanks for bringing up the subject. I am firmly in the shoes-off camp.

    I have an whole blog on removing shoes in homes: Shoes Off at the Door, Please. You might like to take a look.

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