Two pre­vi­ous posts by Lynne Pet­tinger — Moments of Domes­tic­ity and Hand­writ­ten- got me think­ing more about my obses­sion with those notes that pop up in var­i­ous work­places that remind peo­ple to clean up after them­selves. I won­der who pro­duced them, how often they update them, and what drove them to it. How bad had the toi­let or kitchen been! Was some­one ‘tasked’ with the job, or did they take it on them­selves to pro­duce the notice and main­tain it over time?

Ann Oakley’s ‘House­wife’ (1974) was the first Soci­ol­ogy book that I read, and I am still hooked on the study of who does what domes­tic work within the home, for whom and why. Is this work paid or unpaid? Is it ‘recog­nised’ (Elson 2008) and wel­comed by other grate­ful house­hold mem­bers? Or is it just taken for granted, per­haps unseen even? But these lit­tle ‘moments of domes­tic­ity’ in the paid work­place are fas­ci­nat­ing me.

In Moments of Domes­tic­ity, there are great images of the office where taxi dri­vers came for their breaks. In one image, there is a note above the sink that reminds the dri­vers to ‘Please’ wash the cups. Here are 3 images from notices that I have seen around var­i­ous work­places. None are hand-written. Two were found in women’s toi­lets (do men do this too?), and one was in a shared kitchen/communal space. The ‘Toi­let Eti­quette’ notice is focused on hygiene. It is neatly word-processed, cen­trally aligned. Lynne Pet­tinger reminded me here of soci­ol­o­gist Nor­bert Elias on eti­quette. In The Civ­i­liz­ing Process, Elias cites a 15th cen­tury guide to eti­quette and table man­ners that states: ‘It is unseemly to blow your nose into the table­cloth’ (Elias 1995: 108).

Toilet etiquette2

The next note, the passive-aggressive ‘Polite Notice’, is amaz­ing. It is more detailed, and moves us beyond hygiene. We are also asked to ‘Refrain’ from using mobile phones. Who would want to use a mobile while some­one else was ‘using the facil­i­ties’? Some­one has gone to some trou­ble over it. It must have taken a lit­tle thought to pro­duce, and it had been placed on the wall quite recently. It uses dif­fer­ent colours, types and sizes of fonts; is printed using a good printer; employs bullet-points.

Polite notice

The last notice, ‘Clean­ing Fairy’, was stuck neatly to a fridge door, and pro­tected by a plas­tic cover. Again, some care has been taken over its pro­duc­tion, includ­ing adding in the image of a pink-faced, blonde fairy. Its mean­ing is to the point: if you make a mess, clean it up. But it is also inac­cu­rate. Any quick inter­net search will reveal fairies (of the clean­ing type) DO exist*. Fairy­land must be quiet these days because fairies are being employed in their thou­sands by com­pa­nies to come and clean your home or office for you. The ‘Fairy Dust’ clean­ing com­pany is local to me.

Cleaning fairy 2

*You can buy stick­ers, mouse mats etc that pro­claim ‘the dust bun­nies killed my clean­ing fairy’.


  1. Elias, N. (1995) The Civ­i­liz­ing Process, Oxford: Black­well (first pub­lished in 1939).
  2. Elson, D. (2008) Recog­ni­tion, Redis­tri­b­u­tion and Reduc­tion, Pre­sen­ta­tion at launch of UNDP Expert Group on Unpaid Work, Gen­der and the Care Econ­omy, Novem­ber, New York: UNDP.
  3. Oak­ley, A. (1974) House­wife, Lon­don: Lane.