Tag Archives: cleaning

Superstition: If Someone Vacuums or Sweeps Under Your Feet, Then You Won’t Have Any Children

Main Piece: 

“If someone vacuums or sweeps under your feet, then you won’t have any children. So for example, if I was sitting on the sofa, and, you know, my mother or someone else was doing the housework and cleaning, and they came by and I lifted my feet like this, I wouldn’t have children.”


My informant heard this as a kid from his parents in Virginia. This was something that he said was meant to inure him to the right ideas about housework:

Collector: “How would you avoid? Like would you go into a another room so that they could sweep there?”

Informant: “I think the idea is ‘someone’s doing housework- you should at least be polite enough to get off the sofa and yield to them to do the work.’ That what they’re doing is more important. I think it’s more of a disciplinary like house regulation type of thing. Don’t be lazy and just lift your feet up.”


I agree with my informant’s assessment of this piece. My informant described the culture and family he grew up in as one that valued work and practical matters and wanted cleaning done right. There was disapproval, he said, for doing practical things the wrong way. This superstition, which I expect is said non-seriously but still has its underlying message obeyed, is emblematic of the values of its miniature culture. This is a superstition born out of a dislike for laziness. There is an inherent morality system here. You will be punished with infertility or bad luck for not acquiescing to the cleaner.

Sweeping After A Guest

Main Body:

Informant: My grandmother never allowed us to sweep, like sweep the floor or clean the house in any way, until the person, the visitor, who left the house gets to their destination. So for example if someone is going to a different city and we know they’re going to get there by 2 o’clock, we are not allowed to sweep or clean until 2.

Interviewer: Would you check in with your departed guest to make sure or –

Informant: No, there were no phones back then so you’d just have to guess like “Oh they should be there by now. They must have reached the place. Now we can sweep.” It’s because – the thing is, when you have a dead body in the house, for example, someone died in your family, and when they take the body away for cremation, then you sweep the house after the body. So that’s why a person leaving, and you sweeping right after, that’s, in a way, implying that they’re dying or that they will die. It’s just bad luck that you don’t want to mess around with. 

Interviewer: Wait, so you said that after someone dies, you sweep the house after their body is cremated?

Informant: After their body leaves to be cremated. Think about it as a hygienic thing. There’s a body lying in the house for a certain number of hours and you have to get the body ready. And in the old days you couldn’t really preserve the body as well so they used to cremate pretty quickly so a dead body would be pretty unclean. So to sweep after a guest, you wouldn’t want to imply that they’re, you know, dead.


The informant is my mother, an Indian woman who was born and raised in northern India (Delhi) and moved to the US over two decades ago. This tradition of folklore is something that practiced back in India but doesn’t really strictly follow as much in America. It’s just something that everyone in her family did so she regards at as one of many rules of life. 


I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my mom if she had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones she shared with me.


This makes sense to me because a surprising amount of Indian traditions have to do with the idea of cleanliness and purity. And there are a great deal of Indian superstitions that have to deal with treating people as you would treat a different class of people (whether that’s literal class or living people vs dead people, etc.). So this tradition seems to be a natural amalgamation of the two. Sweeping quickly after a body is done when it’s a dead body in question as the body degrades fairly quickly after death and you want to ensure your house is clean. So sweeping quickly after a guest invites bad luck on them or implies they are unclean, so you only want to do so once they have safely made it back to their home.

The Devil in your bed

Main Text:

“My Aunt always told me that if one of us in the house did not make our beds then the Devil would come and play in them. The only way to protect ourselves from the Devil was to make our beds before we left the house.”


I collected this piece from a hispanic male whose family is Catholic. When I asked him why he remembered this piece and why he thinks he learned it from his family he told me that he remembers it because he used to have meltdowns when he would leave the house after forgetting to make his bed and that he also thinks that his Aunt only told them this as a way to get them to clean their rooms.


I agree with the informant’s explanation that the reason that his family was told to make their beds was not because the Devil would actually appear in an unmade bed but as a way for the children in the family to get in the habit of cleaning their rooms and making their beds. I think that one of the reasons this is passed down is as a way to teach children their manners as well as discipline and it is done in a folkloric way so that the kids will remember and abide by it.

Another explanation for why this folk belief has been told and continues to be shared by that family has to do with religion. Many western people’s religions all agree that there is a Devil and that the Devil is someone you meet in hell if you sin and do not repent for your sins. I think that this has a very strong affect on children who are just learning about religion and beginning to attend church because it equates their uncleanliness to sin and something that they have to repent for in order to protect themselves from finding the devil in your bed. Naturally, when a child gets in trouble for doing something that they are not supposed to be doing they try to apologize and find some way to not be punished. In this case, the punishment is coming face to face with the devil and the only way to avoid this is to make one’s bed- which is a pretty dark but effective way to make children more disciplined and clean.

I would also like to analyze this folk belief by seeing the choice of diction and how this would affect kids specifically and allow them to remember it. This folk belief  does not just say that the devil will appear in your bed but that the devil will play in your bed if you leave it unmade. The word choice here is directly targeted towards children to whom the notion and action of playing was natural ever since birth and that is what they are used to doing. When they hear the word play, I feel like they connect to it in a different way than an adult would because that is what they spend most of their childhood doing so it resonated with them in a different way.

The Hollywood Shuffle

The Main Piece
Nile has her own family tradition which she calls “doing the Hollywood Shuffle.” Whenever she has family coming into town her family would dedicate at least a couple hours to cleaning the house. It is their own code for doing chores and “making the house presentable to the average eye.” There are chores designated for certain people, they even had a chart made for different people to know what they were doing. Being that Nile’s family is considerably large, this tradition has been passed down for generations. Each child, depending on their age and what order they were in lineup (lineup being based on order of birth), would be designated a certain task. For instance, the youngest would do the dishes, the middle child would mop the floors, and the eldest would cook the meal for the night. As they got older they would also upgrade to different tasks, sometimes multiple tasks in one Shuffle. There would also be the task of learning how to perform the job well. As soon as you were of age the younger sibling may take over the elder one’s job. At that time they would begin “shadowing the older one.” Nile’s family tradition of the Hollywood Shuffle created an organized system to prepare for guests that seemed fair and made each person responsible for a certain task.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. She comes from a large family, thus inspiring the necessity for a tradition such as the Hollywood Shuffle. Nile first started doing the Hollywood Shuffle at the age of five years old, but did not fully comprehend the system until she was in the eighth grade. Her mother was the one who first instilled this tradition in her, although it was instilled unwillingly, she obeyed under her mother’s command. Now, she has a newfound respect for the system as she understands the necessity to clean the house at least under the occasion that there are expected guests. She plans to follow the tradition and instill it in her children as well.
Nile told me about this tradition as we were preparing dinner at her place. She was reminiscing about all the chores she would have to do and how she hated having to “shadow” her older brother and sister.
Personal Thoughts
I enjoyed hearing about how larger families work. I came from a small household with only one brother so it was interesting to hear about the various chores and lifestyle Nile lead. I never would have thought of such an organized system, but I suppose it is necessary when one has such a big family. I was glad to hear her plans to keep the tradition alive as it represents not only her past experiences under the practice, but also instills it in her children.

Cuban New Year’s Tradition

“On New Year’s Eve, you’re supposed to mop your house. Then, once you’re done, you take the dirty water in the mop bucket and you throw the water out your front door. It gets rid of the bad luck so that you can start fresh in the new year.”


This Cuban New Year’s tradition has a superstitious element to it much like their beliefs of the evil eye. For Cubans, it seems bad luck can actually be a physical thing that you can acquire and then get rid of. The source said her mother used to do this jokingly. They didn’t actually believe in it, but every New Year’s Eve, they’d participate in the tradition if only for laughs and to actually get the house clean.

I asked the source where she thought this tradition started, and she said it sounded “like something santeros would do.” Santeros are what Cubans call people who practice Santeria, a Latin American religion that involves witchcraft. Much like Wiccans, santeros cast spells in order to protect their families, ward off bad luck, attract romantic partners, etc. However, what I also find to be great (and comical) about this tradition is that involves one of the ultimate Cuban pasttimes: cleaning.

Sure, the metaphorical idea of cleaning your house to wash away the bad luck sounds pretty legitimate, but to me, I see this tradition as being a way for Cuban parents to get their kids to help  them clean the house. Cubans are VERY clean people. Just about every Cuban family I know employs a cleaning lady on a weekly or monthly basis. At the end of the year, though, those cleaning ladies are hard to come by. Many take two weeks or so off to be with their family during Christmas/New Year’s/winter break. After Christmas, whoever hosted the celebration is going to have a fun time cleaning up after everyone. And if they’re supposed to have their house ready for a New Year’s celebration, too? Forget it. Time to bring out the Cuban New Year’s tradition and get everyone in on it because mama can’t be the only one with bad luck in the house.