Cheese Dust, Boogers and the Zen of Rage Cleaning

Paperbird advertising as group therapy in Covid

Cheese dust—the delicious residue from Cheetos wiped on our living room couch.

My daughter's orange fingers link her to the crime. I look away in disgust to find a ring of sticky shame on my mid-century coffee table, this one created by my son. His weapon of choice? Dr Pepper. What follows? A pool of urine on the bathroom floor staring back at me with no remorse. My son's handiwork again. Just a few feet away from the urine, an empty toilet paper roll uselessly sitting in the toilet paper holder, prepared to wipe no one. My daughter.

This is a typical Tuesday before noon at my house during the Covid times.

Pre-Covid, I would see my children's complete lack of home etiquette and total inability to clean up after themselves as something that was sometimes cute, funny or even odd. Almost like watching a life form from another planet. "How did that booger find its way up to that skylight?" I'd ask myself, dumbfounded and slightly impressed.

Then Covid hit. My wife and I started working from home. Our kids became our co-workers, and the messes became less funny or awe-inspiring, because there was no escaping them. We were living and working among these serial messmakers, all day every day. Our new normal was abnormally messy. We were cleaning up for the kiddos constantly.

This constant cleanup began to create a deep, ridiculous rage inside me, which resulted in something commonly referred to as "rage cleaning." I know a lot about this condition because I helped create an entire brand campaign for ShopRite's Paperbird home products based on this insight, only now I was essentially starring in the commercials without any of the residuals.

The idea for Paperbird was born in what was less of a creative work session and turned into more of a support group for my creative team as we were commiserating about cleaning up other people's messes. After sharing stories of roommates who notoriously refused to do dishes, significant others who brazenly walked away from significant spills and stains, and the uncle who just wouldn't flush, we laughed, cried and knew we might have something.

Behind that laughter was the realization of a shared injustice, that most of the messes we've cleaned up were messes that others left for us. That injustice created rage and incited fits of "rage cleaning" within us all. We needed a better way to deal with this anger.

We began to put our stories of pain to paper, each script a form of advertising therapy we all desperately needed.

But it was the handle for the campaign and eventual tagline that our associate creative director, Justin Smith, cracked that gave us the mantra we needed, a new way. In a late-night session, he calmly stated, "Clean in peace." It was a breakthrough for the idea, but more importantly, it was a breakthrough for us all.

Clean in peace became our mantra and a mantra for all who suffer from rage cleaning. By taking a tip from Paperbird's beautifully designed packaging, effective results and reasonably priced products, it invited us to transform our rage into a zen-like cleaning experience.

The work played up the tension in messy moments almost to eruption, only to release them with the power of Paperbird. A dad witnessing his daughter's cheese-dust-stained couch shaming. A husband turned home chef destroying the kitchen with pasta sauce. Using Paperbird makes cleaning up those messes somehow doable.

Paperbird TV is truly my life on display, but with a peaceful solution to the messiness that is my reality. Its radio, inspired by calming apps like Headspace, offers guided meditations to help people like me mentally cope with the countless messes I will inevitably have to clean up with my kiddos in quarantine and long after. 

Is Paperbird the long-term solution to my rage cleaning? Or bigger than that, do Paperbird home products have the power to bring calm and harmony to my house during Covid quarantine times?!

I don't know.

But I do know there's a Snickers wrapper inside out on my son's bed. Inside out. Chocolate side exposed to his comforter. How does that even happen?

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Berk Wasserman
Berk Wasserman is executive creative director at Barkley.

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