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Minding the Home Front

I got into an interesting discussion the other day with career consultant Yu Xi Mi. In fact, it unexpectedly turned into a demo.

Here’s what she is recommending to her clients: the days of “your home is your castle” are gone. You need to keep everything about your home – cleanliness, furniture choices, color coordination – even the way it’s painted and the art on the wall – in a state that your employer – or potential employer – would approve of.

“I’ve had clients who were surprised when, in the middle of an interview, the interviewer asked for the keys to their house and they immediately went over for an inspection. Your house is a statement of who you are, and they are deathly afraid of making a hiring mistake and will even sort through your trash to make sure you’re clean,” she said.

This has surprising implications: you even need to think through such simple things as what to eat for dinner. If there is a lingering fish smell, that might reflect badly. Or if you cooked a steak and your boss is a vegetarian, that might count against you.

In another example, some people are turning to saving energy by drying their clothes outside. First, that might reflect either a brittle financial situation or, worse yet, liberal politics: that decision is robbing some utility shareholder somewhere of some profits. Your company may not look kindly on such selfishness. Even if do you decide to dry your clothes outside, then you need to think through your wardrobe very carefully, since your choices – both outer and inner – will be on display for all.

While people are naturally more careful when looking for a job, I pushed back a bit more when it comes to your average working person. Who will be walking through your house? “You’d be surprised,” she said. “Old analog door locks are giving way to digital versions that can be hacked, so, at some point, locks won’t even make sense. Anyone will be able to walk through your house at any time. It’s the new Glass House World.”

And, to my surprise, we walked out the door into a random local neighborhood, where she picked a door to knock on. When a slight woman in her 70s answered the door, much to my horror, Yu Xi simply pushed her aside and barged in, ignoring the woman’s protestations.

“See? This is a perfect example of what could happen. Someone could come through your house and not like what they see. Like those dishes piled up by the sink. Sloppy. That reflects badly on your employer: what kind of company hires sloppy people?” She proceeded to walk through the house, pointing out all of the problems.

Dirty socks on the floor. Old avocado shag carpeting. A bong on the side table. A porno case on the VCR. A painting that looked like my 5-year-old could do. All of these apparently could jeopardize your position.

Even in the back yard: a pile of dead leaves, that tomato plant that’s long past providing any fruit; that plant with the funny spiky leaves; all those apples under the tree that give the whole yard a vaguely alcoholic smell. All that would have to be fixed.

We managed to get out and down the street before the police showed up. When I used their arrival as proof that this was, in fact, not okay, she merely shrugged and said it’s just a matter of time. “While there are a few luddites that cling to that old notion of being invisible in their homes, the number of people that want everyone to see everything about them is so huge that no one wants to pay attention to the ‘private’ niche market anymore,” she said with an air of absolute certitude.

Somewhat chastened, I went home to clean the dishes.

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