Gardening helped me clean the house!

I hate housework.  I suspect I am not alone.

When I was a teenager I remember my mum suggesting that I might like to tidy up my bedroom.  I told her my mind was on higher things.

Now I have my own fourteen year old with her mind on higher things.

Somehow I have to model to the children how to manage the mind-numbing, soul-destroying, repetitive, never-ending torture that is housework.

Human beings create a lot of mess.  Just by existing.  This is a sad truth.  So we have to clean up after ourselves or we will drown in our own filth.

Tidying up is a form of self-care, I tell my fourteen year old.  By creating a space of calm order and harmony, we are showing ourselves that we are important.  We are then ready to create and learn, and to text our friends.

So how has gardening helped me to clean the house?

Some people regard gardening as outdoors housework.  Non-gardeners look at my garden and think ‘all that work!’

And yet I don’t think of gardening as a chore.  Why is this?

Because when I garden I get into the Flow.  I just notice what needs to be done and do it.

I often think I will be outside for five or ten minutes, just picking a bunch of flowers for the kitchen table.  An hour later I have dead-headed, weeded, watered the pots in the greenhouse and tidied up my tools.  All this is done with complete contentment.  Not a huff or a groan to be heard.

A lot of it has to do with the sensory pleasures of being outside.  It’s the natural light, the birdsong, the sounds of the leaves in the breeze, the play of the light through the trees, the satisfaction of pushing a barrow or snipping a stem clean off, the sudden joy of a bee in a flower.

A lot if it is just…noticing.  Noticing what needs to be done and getting on with it.

So, I wondered…

Could I bring this sense of wonder and joy to…cleaning?

Noticing what needs to be done in the house usually brings a feeling of guilt that I haven’t done it already.  Or resentment that someone else hasn’t done it.  There are a lot of feelings around housework.  Can I put all this emotional baggage aside?  Can I approach cleaning with the same mind-set as I have for gardening?

I had to learn how to garden.  I had to do a certain amount of reading, whether it was the back of a seed packet, or a book, or a website.  When it comes to gardening, I have a  growth mind-set.

There’s no way that I am buying a book about cleaning, but I did hear something on the radio about an Instagram feed on cleaning…  Tips on how to have a clean house with minimal effort… I do a quick search and I discover Clean Mama!

All of a sudden I feel more ready to do this thing.  I am inspired to get out a duster!

(Like gardening, I am not following the instructions to the letter.  I am not going to have a different job for each day of the week.  I will adapt it to my needs.  But now I have a little knowledge and am feeling optimistic!)

And once I start, it’s ok.  Just like pulling out weeds is quite satisfying, so is poking cobwebs out of corners!

When I am gardening I enjoy moving my body: pushing, pulling, stretching, crouching, balancing, leaping.  I try to apply this to housework.  I run up the stairs.  I move heavy furniture. I crawl under beds. I sing and dance a bit.  I think about my posture and I stretch mindfully.

When I am gardening, I am playful!  I try to apply this to cleaning.  I get out all the little attachment bits for the hoover and have a play with them.  What do you know?  This one fits behind the radiator!  This one brushes and sucks!

I gather the flotsam and jetsam of odd socks, Lego, beads, buttons, safety-pins, hair-bands and felt-tip pens.  They are reunited with their long-lost kin.

I try to employ my sense of wonder.  Wow!  A cheese triangle behind my daughter’s bedside table!  How did that get there?  I wonder how many species of mould and bacteria are nestled inside that foil package?

I must stress I don’t do this all at once.  Bite-size cleaning is the key.  But once I get going, I find it difficult to stop.

I clean my kitchen cupboards.

I [dramatic music] ask Stevie how the steam cleaner works.  The dogs hide.

I am not saying that I get quite the same joy from housework as garden work.  But I can see that both are about self-care and other-care.  I am doing something nice for myself and for those I love.

They even join in a bit.  As I write, my fourteen year old is clearing her desk!!  She has asked for a damp cloth!!!

Because I have moved all the chairs outside whilst I mop under the kitchen table, Stevie and I have no choice but to sit in the sunshine outside to drink our Saturday Cappuccino (satcap).

Now I can just sit in the sun.  The bonus of a sunny autumn day after all my hard work.

I can appreciate the little pops of wonder.  The beads and the buttons that are catching the light:

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Rosa ‘Boscobel’ and Penstemon ‘Raven’

The tools of my trade.  The funny hoover attachments:

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Rosa ‘Yung Lycidas’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’

The chamois leather:

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Rosa ‘Boscobel’

The feather duster:

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Alchemilla mollis

The scouring pad:

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Phlox paniculate ‘Purple Flame’ seedheads

The bottle-brush:

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Salvia x superba

The newly-cleaned sparkle:

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Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’

The shine and polish:

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Penstemon ‘Raven’

The refreshed colours:

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Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

The sense of looking at things anew:

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Wallflowers waiting for spring; Rosa ‘Roald Dahl’ behind (and peony foliage which needs tidying!)

Plumping up the cushions:

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Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’

Ordering ornaments just so:

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Fuchsia ‘Dollar Princess’

Appreciating their fine detail once more:

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Fuchsia ‘Dollar Princess’

Maybe there’s one little cobweb out of reach?

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Geranium psilostemon

Nobody’s perfect.

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Rosa ‘Boscobel’ with Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’ behind.

I am indebted to the wonderful Shelly Pruitt Johnson for this post.  Her website Love is Stronger is a treasure trove of thoughtful posts about life, thinking, philosophy, politics and joyful living.  She got me thinking about how I love to move in the garden, which made me wonder if I could bring this to cleaning.  It turns out I can!  Thanks Shelly!

(Here is one of her posts, on exercise and movement).

Friends, family.  Don’t expect my house to stay this clean.  For the next week, if you drop a chip on my kitchen floor you can probably pick it up and eat it.  Next week, maybe not so.  Let’s keep it real.  The garden comes first.

What jobs do you hate?  Can you employ a sense of joy and wonder?  Can you incorporate singing and dancing?  Can you persuade yourself through thoughts of self-care and other-care?  My nemesis is plug-hole cleaning.  No amount of self-love is going to get me down there this week.

The Mindful Gardener is starting to hibernate for winter, hence my need to make things cosy inside.  But I will be taking a walk now and then, and peering under stones for signs of life.  If you would like to join me, then click on the big ‘Follow’ button at the bottom of this post.  I aim to only bring pops of wonder to your inbox.  No spam, and definitely no cheese triangles.

35 Comments Add yours

  1. Cathy says:

    I enjoyed resding this post, Ali (as always!) and it made me realis jyst how right you are in terms of comparing jobs in the garden to housework. Now I could deadhead roses all day, but dust skirting boards – pah! no point!. I realise I get pleasure from all garden tasks, probably for all the reasons you mentioned, but especially because I get satisfaction from doing them and having them done, and there definitely seems a POINT in the end result. Inside the house is another matter though and there are some things I don’t mind doing because their seems an obvious point in the end result, but when I realised that some people ENJOY housework in the way I enjoy gardening I decided to pay someone to do the routine bits – after all, many people pay for things that we always DIY, so why not? 😁

    1. Ali says:

      Absolutely agree Cathy. There are different solutions at different stages of our life too, aren’t there? I really hate skirting boards too! It’s like they’ve been put there to collect dust.

      1. Cathy says:

        I just don’t look at them 😁

      2. Ali says:

        Selective attention is a very useful skill in life!

  2. Yay! I am so excited about this. Thank you so much for the shout out, Ali! It means a lot.

    1. Ali says:

      That blog post has really stayed with me, and I have applied it to so many areas of my life. Thank you!

      1. That is so cool! It is always really interesting the different posts that stick with different readers. That post was one of my favorite ones to write.

      2. Ali says:

        Your delight comes through, and is contagious.

      3. That’s so wonderful! 🙂

  3. Ali, this post helps me so much because I really dislike housecleaning, too. I had sort of been thinking here and there about how I could make housekeeping more like play, but your post really helpful! I am excited to read your links. Thank you, Dear!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you! My bathtub thanks you too!

      1. Ha! You’re welcome, Ali’s bathtub!

  4. sgeoil says:

    Ah, you are a kindred spirit, only I’m slightly behind you on the growth mindset on indoor cleaning, but now that the garden is blanketed in snow, I lack excuses at evasion.

    1. Ali says:

      I think it is that time of year that my eyes turn inwards. Indoors. Inwards would be disturbing! I’m trying to notice what needs doing without the self-judgement!

      1. sgeoil says:

        lol..Without the self-judgement is the important part!

      2. Ali says:

        Absolutely. There is a lot of baggage around housework that it would be helpful to ditch.

  5. bcparkison says:

    With our Thanksgiving just around the corner I NEED to do all of the cleaning that hasn’t been done in a while. Only you could make it a fun thing to do by compairing all of the cleaning supplies to the garden. Now that I have pulled most of the weeds in the flower bed i look around and see ‘weeds’ in the house that need to go. Thanks for the encouragement…hope it holds.

    1. Ali says:

      Having a party or gathering certainly galvanises us into action, doesn’t it? I’m hoping now I have had a blitz I will keep to more routine cleaning…

  6. Heyjude says:

    I’m another person who can’t see the point of housework. You dust and vacuum one day and the dust is back the next and I always seem to live in very dusty houses lately. I do insist on a clean kitchen and bathroom though, but dusty table tops or skirting boards and a few cobwebs in the corners don’t bother me in the least. Every now and then I do a complete deep house clean and many years ago when I was very poor and without a proper job I used to clean other people’s houses. Spotless. Shiny floors, sparkly windows, smells of beeswax and lavender polish. Piles of crisp ironing. And then I’d go home. To 4 children and all their mess although they were given responsibility for cleaning their own rooms from a very early age. I would pretend I was getting paid for cleaning my own house. Perhaps I need to pretend again!

    1. Ali says:

      I haven’t ironed in fourteen years. I know this because when we moved house and the children saw the iron, they said ‘what’s that?’ It is good to know how to clean, and that you could have your house all sparkly, but you just don’t have to, because life is too short!

      1. Heyjude says:

        Haha… you have girls too! I taught my boys how to iron from the age of 7, then when they were older they could iron their own school shirts. I rarely iron now, but can’t bear crumpled pillow cases!! My lads are very domesticated and their wives/partners love it!

      2. Ali says:

        That is very much to be commended. My motivation for ‘teaching’ housework is that I don’t want our children to ever be that annoying person in a shared house (or family) who can’t look after themselves!

  7. Another well-written, entertaining post!

  8. I’m not convinced on the housework front but will try your tips with my teenage and not so teenage people. 🙂 Lovely photos of housework tools though

  9. Difficult to get teenagers to see the value in clearing up but sounds like you made some headway. I think being out in the garden is much more preferable.

    1. Ali says:

      I still choose the garden any day.

  10. I hate weeding. I suspect I am not alone… (with “permission”) but I’ve changed my mindset to see it as “collecting compost fodder”, so instead of fretting about which area must be de-weeded, the focus is now on whether I can fill one or two carts full. I love how you channel those outside energies (very nice list there in the beginning) to housework as well.

    1. Ali says:

      That is a good weeding challenge! I’m going to use that!

  11. Jane Lurie says:

    You are funny, Ali. Great post. I would much rather be in a beautiful garden like yours! Love your Fuchsia close-up. A flower that reminds me of my mother, who loved them.

    1. Ali says:

      It’s always nice to have a personal association, isn’t it?

  12. I admire your ability to feel wonder at the sight of a moldy piece of cheese! I love cleaning in general, but things like this (carelessness with food and belongings) frustrate me to no end… now I’m inspired to grow out of this frustration 🙂

  13. Clare Pooley says:

    How wonderfully comforting this post is, Ali! I dislike housework very much and resent the constant guilt I feel about what I haven’t done. I follow a few bloggers who talk of the satisfaction of doing housework and the pleasure they get from keeping their homes clean and tidy. They recommend many ways of re-thinking these tasks and I am slowly starting to see things differently. However…. I think it will take me the rest of my life to get over the fact that the rest of my family are absolutely blind to any work I might have done and, for example, blithely sweep crumbs off a table onto a newly washed floor and put fingerprints on well polished glass!

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