Up for a challenge? I dare anyone to try to have a conversation with Gary Downing, founder of Philadelphia’s Happy Cleaning, without smiling. Gary’s enthusiasm is relentless, and no matter what type of day you’re having, you’re going to end up beaming and feeling lighter just from speaking with him. Even his voicemail makes you happy, with a reminder that “laughter is the best medicine” just before the beep.
I picked up on that theme of laughter when I reached Gary by phone recently. He confirms that laughter is absolutely the best medicine, having worked for years as both a teacher and a therapist, and transitioning into running his own cleaning business. “No matter what’s going on, we can still laugh at it.”
One of the things he loves about running Happy Cleaning is that it’s a combination of teaching and therapy. “It all ties in—cleaning, teaching, and making people feel better. These things complete me. Cleaning itself is very therapeutic. If you don’t have time to do the cleaning and organizing yourself, hire a professional cleaner so that when you come home you enter a clean house. ”
Gary is still a practicing therapist and while he’s no longer teaching elementary school (his students voted him Best Teacher of the Year in his 1st year), he’s taken his education out of the classroom and into conference rooms, businesses, industry trade shows, and the local community. His subject? The absolute necessity of switching to green cleaning, why it’s important, and how to make your own cleaning products that are free of toxic chemicals. “People feel better using green cleaning products, and it saves them money. They can use natural ingredients that they already have in their home.”
Last month Gary spoke at the Green Festival Expo in NYC’s Javits Center, and he’s one of the speakers in Las Vegas for the upcoming ARCSI cleaning convention.
“I’m on a mission in life to open people’s eyes. Rates of asthma are sky-high because of the use of traditional cleaning products. I want to help people become aware of a better way to take care of themselves. I have 2 beautiful children and I want to make sure they have a healthy planet to live on.”
As a cleaning professional, Gary is especially sensitive to the dangers of traditional cleaning products. “It only takes 26 seconds from when something is absorbed by your skin to get into every organ of your body. Your skin is like a big mouth, it absorbs everything.”
He started Happy Cleaning as a side business while he was still teaching full-time, but eventually gave up his elementary school job to focus on his eco-friendly business. The more he started to research natural products, the more interested he got in green cleaning. “This is my life mission. Even when I do therapy with kids, I teach green cleaning. I’ve gotten families to work together to make cleaning products at home and the parents are surprised because now the kids want to help clean because they made the green cleaners.”
Gary’s own two children, a 13-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, also help out. “They help me make the green cleaning products and they actually love making them. They love to clean because we’re making our own stuff.” At some point in the distant future, he hopes to be able to hand the business over to his children to run if they continue to be passionate about green cleaning.
Along with everything else he’s got going on, Gary is chipping away on a book about his life and about how green cleaning was a lifesaver for him. “Hopefully by this time next year it’ll be done, but every day includes an addition to the book.”
Juggling multiple jobs, speaking engagements, working on a book, and raising a family, I asked Gary where he found the time to get everything done. “We all have the same 24 hours, but you have to choose how you use them. My cheap thrill is working out. I get a rush from that. I get the same rush when I clean and make someone happy with the excellent job we did. When you do something you’re passionate about, you chase that feeling all day.”
For anyone who cares about high quality, non-toxic cleaning in the Philadelphia area, check out Happy Cleaning.
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