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:
The tools of my trade. The funny hoover attachments:
The chamois leather:
The feather duster:
The scouring pad:
The newly-cleaned sparkle:
The shine and polish:
The refreshed colours:
The sense of looking at things anew:
Plumping up the cushions:
Ordering ornaments just so:
Appreciating their fine detail once more:
Maybe there’s one little cobweb out of reach?
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.