Zen and the Art of Housekeeping

A friend was cleaning out (cheers for irony) her library and had a whole big pile of books she was giving away. I can rarely resist free books so I picked out a pile including this one.

Zen and the Art of Housekeeping by Lauren Brownell

Zen and the Art of Housekeeping by Lauren Brownell

It’s a wicked good book. I admit I sort of rolled my eyes at the whole zen/enlightenment/writing haiku/koan concepts. I mean come on, haikus?! Those are WAY too easy to write.

Writing a haiku

About vacuuming your home

Is a bit absurd

BUT WAIT! Spy Garden loves all things absurd. And haikus aren’t so bad. Seventeen carefully chosen syllables are better than some free form bs poem with 117 words. Plus, seventeen is the Spy’s favorite number. Plus, I love the Japanese aesthetic (we do have our very own zen garden after all). I don’t mean to discount the zen stuff, I just prefer to interpret it as it relates to Christian practice. Indeed, I found many of the concepts of Zen to be strikingly similar to the Christian concepts I try to practice. For example, when I think of “meditation” I think of it as exemplifying the biblical concept of “don’t worry/be anxious about your life” and just focus on the immediate present and the blessings surrounding you at any particular moment.

As for the detailed descriptions of the physical acts of cleaning, at first I was thinking, “COME ON! Why is this lady giving directions on how to vacuum?” Then I realized that I loved Martha Stewart and one of the things about her is that she is pretty left-brain overcore and always describes everything step by step and while it usually seems superfluous to me, I truly appreciate that this is how the left-brainers function.

To illustrate, one day I was reading Martha’s blog: the post was about her pet doves, how she cleaned the cage, fed them, and cared from them. My husband looked over my shoulder:

Smoochie, “What are those?”

Me, “Those are Martha’s pair of white doves. They live in the servery off her kitchen.”

Smoochie: (eyerolling)

Me, “Don’t get it twisted. Martha Stewart is (there may have been a profane word here-ing) awesome.”

He laughed and I explained that she takes meticulous care of her home, her animals, her plants. How could there possibly be anything wrong with that? He concurred that ok, yes, she is awesome.

So am I jealous of Martha and her extremely clean doves (and grout)? No way, because I gather that Martha is 79% left brain, while I am 79% right brain. We may have very different methods but both share an appreciation for our home. I LIKE the fact that when I create I do so spontaneously, unsystematically and untidily. Ok, “untidily” would be a euphemism, let’s call it a Creative Tornado. I make up recipes without following any recipes or directions. I dug a giant garden without measuring one square foot of it. I get ideas and just run with them and don’t bother to try and follow someone else’s definition of the “proper” way to do it. But when it comes to cleaning, there is sort of a proper way to do it. Most acts of cleaning are fairly straightforward and usually brainless, therefore the perfect time to practice being “in the present”.

I enjoy cleaning up the aftermath of the creative tornado. I value aesthetics. I like the look of a clean surface, a neat closet and white door frame wiped free of tiny fingerprints. Plus, there’s the bonus of finding the masterpieces that were created in said creative tornado.

Exhibit A (watercolor by Baby)

Exhibit A (watercolor by Baby)

“As keepers of the home, we have an incredible opportunity to make an enormous impact on the quality of the lives we live and the lived of those we love.”  (from the Intro of the book)

If chores and housework must be done, and done over and over again, shouldn’t these jobs be moments we enjoy, rather than hastily finished so we can get on to something better (i.e. writing an essay about cleaning hAHAHa)? If not “enjoyed” at least moments to practice being in the moment and quieting your thoughts and sharpening your senses: Feeling the hot laundry as you fold, noticing the shiny clean sink and the sparkling dish sponge:

BEST DISH SPONGE EVER

BEST DISH SPONGE EVER

Seriously.

Seriously.

And that brings us to the dishes. One thing I learned in the book is that some great writers thought of ideas while doing dishes. HEY! I DO THAT ALL THE TIME! We don’t have a dishwasher, I cook A LOT, ergo, I do a lot of dishes. Hating to do dishes, would be hating a significant part of my life and that wouldn’t make much sense at all. Why deign to do something (laundry, dishes, whatever) that you must do (and do often) instead of finding meaning, purpose and (ideally) a bit of joy in these acts? The book talks a lot about dishes, dusting and other aspects of cleaning as opportunities to be in the moment but also to use the mindless chores as time for some double duty productivity (i.e. thinking of sentences for essays about housekeeping while you do the dishes haha).

Anyway, it’s a great little book, a perfect read for the new year. I read pretty fast but it has taken me weeks to read the thing, because every time I pick it up I read a few pages, then get inspired to clean out the junk drawer, read a few pages, organize my closet, etc. etc. (technically, I haven’t even finished the book yet haha). It’s winter, I won’t be starting the seeds for another month, so it is a perfect time to do (and share) a little indoor “gardening”. And hope my readers will enjoy a peek indoors (as the actual garden is mostly just melting snow and mud at the moment).

Baby’s Room

Baby’s Room

A closer look.

A closer look.

Hmmm “Nobody Does it Better.” So untrue, yet so true. I spy a koan?

The Spy’s Room

The Spy’s Room

A closer look.

A closer look.

Next I will tackle the topic of cleaning and organizing with your kids. But, first I need to go shampoo the rugs.

14 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Housekeeping

  1. Pingback: I Know Where the Scissors Are! | Spy Garden

  2. puppiesinparadise

    I had to laugh at your sense of humor. It is so easy to forget to be grateful for all the blessing we have in our lives. I try to look at house keeping like this. I am grateful that I have food to cook to nourish my family. I am greatful that I have pans to cook it in… I am grateful for that we have clothes to wash. I know there are many on this earth who do not have these things that I take for granted.

    I try and to remember that, when I was overwhelmed with housework and the drudery of life. Everything has to be done in moderation and never forget to be creative and have fun doing it. We woman need to rejoice that Superwoman is comic book character. Throw away your capes and realize that no one is perfect. Why would we ever think we ever could be? We need stop holding ourselves to unrealistic standard. When I finally learned that hard lesson, I found that I was much happier and healthier for it.
    It sounds like to me Spy garden has started to whisper those secret to you.

    Reply
  3. Eliza Waters

    Your post has certainly given me food for thought. I am a reluctant housekeeper. I like a clean house (is yours always so spotless?) but I don’t like to be the one to clean it! Eckhard Tolle says we should do things with acceptance, enthusiasm or joy. I still working on step 1, acceptance! Maybe I need to read this book, too!

    Reply
    1. Spy Garden Post author

      It is a good book for a new perspective on cleaning. and NO WAY: My house is NOT always spotless, or really EVER spotless. I do like to keep the kids’ toys picked up and we are pretty clutter-free and fairly minimalist. But my floors are rarely freshly swept, and most of the door frames have greasy little fingerprints.all over haha. The book mentions many times about accepting the state of your home and it will never be “perfect” and not to strive to some ideal other than what your home is at any given moment (including creative tornados!) It really is a great book: STILL haven’t finished though (but my house is getting cleaner/more organized with each page!! haha)

      Reply
  4. gardenengineer

    Washing the dishes may be the most under-rated and under-appreciated household chores. It can be especially nice in the winter when soaking in the hot dishwater can warm like sitting by the fire. I agree that we must find some joy in these routine tasks but I also treat them like any other endeavor and try to do them with skill and, if possible, elan. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. I suspect this is how you came to find your favorite dish sponge?

    Reply
  5. thesalemgarden

    I think I need to read that book ;) It is good to have this time to focus in on the house, I’ve kind of been doing that too, but I could use a little bit of spiritual inspiration.

    Reply
    1. Spy Garden Post author

      We gardeners can’t very well spring clean: too busy planting and digging! Winter is a much better time for it! It really is a great little book, one I wouldn’t normally choose but so glad I did.

      Reply

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