People of Northwest Public Radio
Museum Of Clean
Wed July 10, 2013
Idaho's 'Museum Of Clean' Built As Monument To Way Of Life
There's a museum tucked away in a corner of the Northwest dedicated solely to the idea of “clean.” In fact, it's called the Museum of Clean, housed in an old brick warehouse in Pocatello, Idaho. Our correspondent Jessica Robinson discovered it's a monument to one man's lifelong campaign to improve the world – one scrub brush at a time.
The Museum of Clean at first appears to be an 8,000-square foot sunlit mausoleum of bygone advances in cleaning. Here lies the pump-action vacuum cleaner. On another wall: “Milestones in the History of Washing Machines and Dryers.” As I'm looking at a display of century-old carpet sweepers, a trim, elderly man walks up to me. He introduces himself as Don. Turns out, Don is the Don Aslett, the “King of Clean” and founder of this museum.
Aslett: “I want people to come here and see a glimpse of clean and get my enthusiasm and see the stuff we have and how lucky they have it.”
Lucky indeed. Aslett grabs a vacuum from 1890 to demonstrate.
Aslett: “And don't think these old vacuums work because they wouldn't pick up a dead cockroach eyebrow. All they did was build your chest muscles and your arm muscles is all they really did.”
If you’ve never heard of Don Aslett, a huge display in the museum tells of his almost mythic path from humble roots to sanitary stardom. After placing an ad in the local paper in 1953, this southern Idaho farm boy rose to become the so-called “King of Clean,” operating a nationwide janitorial empire and authoring more than 30 books. One of Aslett's most popular is “Clutter's Last Stand.” Get it?
Aslett: “I think junk and clutter and unclean causes tons of divorce and tons of depression.”
Aslett takes me to a shelf full of odds and ends – a broken guitar, old egg cartons, someone's bag of dryer lint. They're the winners of his junk contests, displayed here now as a cautionary tale for the hoarding-inclined.
Aslett: “Nothing will change your life faster than when you throw away your junk. You have more time, you have more space, you feel better, you're healthier.”
Aslett has dubbed a section of the museum “Kids’ Clean World.” There are different stations: one where you can squeegee the grime off a window. Another where you get to sweep marbles into a dustpan. Aslett points to a sort of life-size kid-shaped cookie cutter.
Aslett: “First thing I do, I don't allow any dirty kids in the museum so put the kids …"
It's a full-body child vacuum.
Aslett: “… it vacuums the kids off.”
As Aslett bounds from one exhibit to the next, it becomes clear this is not so much a mausoleum of cleaning history, as a church of clean. Even the building itself is a kind of shrine to cleanliness. Passive solar keeps energy use down and a rainwater collection system provides water for toilets and landscaping. To Aslett, clean is a way of life.
Aslett: “This is not a cleaning museum. It’s the museum of clean. We’re talking about clean arteries, clean air, clean water. Anything that’s clean has value. Probably next to fire, soap is the biggest cultural achievement of man.”
You might think this would make dirt Aslett’s arch enemy. But Aslett tells me in fact, the real target of his crusade of clean is wastefulness -- and the excess he sees cluttering our lives.
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