On a walk in the woods with my puppy Asha, a sentence I’d read recently popped into my head: A tidy house is a sign of a wasted life. I mulled this over as I walked, growing more irritated with each step. Says who? I asked the trees and Asha.
I wish I could remember where I read it, because perhaps some context would make me less annoyed. Housecleaning is too easily dismissed as unimportant. I know I would be unhappy if all I did was clean house and in truth, I’m not a great housekeeper. But I have come to know there is value in the tasks – not just the benefits of a clean house, but in the task itself, in the doing.
What if cleaning your house is a way to engage with life? What if it can be a ritual that brings you closer to yourself, so you don’t waste your life?
In an On Being podcast, Senator Cory Booker tells Krista Tippett that he started a new spiritual practice this year that has been such a gift to him – making his bed. He jokes that his mother couldn’t get him to mow the lawn or clean his room, and then continues:
But why is making your bed a spiritual practice? It’s because life is often about little bits of momentum. And so when I can get up in the morning, make my bed, sit in meditation, do a little bit of study, get an exercise in, and that’s when I open up the door to the world and go out — with certain pillars like that, I feel more momentum at my back, more energy, more sense of — it’s small, but we all need senses of self-worth, things that give our self-esteem more of a better foundation.
I love that this 6’3” former college wide receiver and current United States Senator makes his bed and calls it a spiritual practice. I love that this basic, earthy task is not too small for him. Instead it is part of a ritual that grounds him for his busy day, that helps him be present in his life.
Housework is one of those things that feels like it’s never done. I drain the kitchen sink and know that soon I’ll get more dishes dirty. I fold the laundry and moments later a shirt gets tossed in the hamper. I put the vacuum cleaner away and notice cobwebs in the corner and dog hair under the chair. This doesn’t mean I’ve wasted my time. Far from it.
Folding clothes, vacuuming the floor, washing dishes offer an invitation to come into the present. The hands-on-ness of these tasks brings me into my body. As I smooth out a t-shirt or scrub the frying pan, my breath slows and my mind wanders. This is fertile ground for listening to my soul.
I live in a body that needs food, sleep and exercise, a body that sweats, spills olive oil on my shirt and tracks dirt into the house. And so, clothes need to be folded, dishes washed and floors mopped. Why not transform my relationship with these and other house cleaning tasks so they become opportunities for meditation or mindfulness?
The other night some weavers offered to help me clean up after our meeting for the upcoming studio trail. No thanks, I said. I wasn’t being polite. Washing dishes after a gathering is a nourishing ritual for me, not a chore. I enjoy the warm, soapy water and gazing out the window. It’s a time to reflect on the conversation. A chance to restore order to the kitchen. A transition between the gathering and whatever’s next.
Moments like this remind that I have a choice to embrace the repetitive tasks of daily life and, instead of dreading them, turn them into rituals or spiritual practices, like Senator Booker does when he makes his bed.
When I do, I have a tidy house and I’ve fed my soul. This is not a waste of time.
thinking of you as you go about the tasks of daily life,
photo: Mira Ishii