Cleaning with Meaning

In the April issue of Body + Soul there is a great article by Amy Maclin about the meaning of cleaning: the spiritual and meditative rewards of removing clutter, washing the floors, doing the laundry and scrubbing the toilet. If it sounds laughable, don't fret; the author thought so too until she really started to think about cleaning as a form of care and not a form of punishment.
The author once likened cleaning to killing a rattle snake (doing away with it before it bites back) but realized that in our haste to get the chores out of the way so that we can get back to our real lives we are missing an opportunity to find peace in our quest for order. Consider cleaning a journey that is part of our 'real lives' and not an obstacle keeping us away from more pleasurable pursuits. (Anyway, in the end, someone still has to clean the crisper so we may as well get something out of it.)
Maclin relays some mindful housekeeping tips from lifestyle author Elisha Goldstein in the article. As we grapple with our spring cleaning to-do list, and our ongoing daily chores, they may help take the edge out of it all:
1. Imagine that you're doing a particular chore for the first time. In your mind, it's just a sink full of dirty dishes to be cleaned. Think of it as a sink full of bubbles instead.
2. Use your senses, focusing on one at a time. Appreciate the warmth of the water on your hands, the gleam of the sparkle on the faucet, the scent of the lavender cleanser.
3. Consider cleaning a neutral workout. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into everyday life can make you calmer, more adaptive and patient, and your day more peaceful as a consequence.
4. Don't think of housework as punishment: Cleaning is cultivating kindness for yourself by imparting love to your surroundings.
Did you know that cleaning is revered in many religions around the world as a virtuous pursuit? There are twenty-four verses in the book of Leviticus alone that relate to cleaning. The Japanese religion, Ittoen, is centered around the selfless practice of scrubbing other people's toilets. Every week before the Sabbath, observant Jews are meant to clean their houses in preparation; Passover cannot be properly observed unless every single crumb of leavened bread is gone from the carpets, the cupboards and the car. Shaker and Amish communities revere cleaning as a means of self-discipline and an avenue towards enlightenment.
Some literature on cleaning, from the how-to to the philosophical:
  • The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris
  • The Mindful-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Elisha Goldstein
  • Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook by Martha Stewart
  • Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linen by Cheryl Mendelson
  • Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
  • How to Clean Everything by Alma Chestnut Moore
  • Next to Godliness: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping by Alice Peck


WizzyTheStick said...

What lovely ideas! Sometimes cleaning CAN be an escape. I'm off to find my cleaning zen

Anonymous said...

I am spiritual and love clean spaces. I do not want to make effort to achieve order and cleanliness enough to work at it. Any suggestions?


Well, there's always hired help!

Caitlin said...

Those are terrific ideas. There is a great book called Next to Godliness: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping. It's edited by Alice Peck and is a similar resource.


Thanks, Caitlin!