Category Archives: cleaning

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.