"A task without a vision is drudgery; a vision without a task is a dream; a task with a vision is victory." -Anonymous
So much goes on in and out of your house. You are constantly busy. And if you aren’t on the move, your brain is still working overtime. After working a job, feeding and clothing your kids, going all those places, doing all those things, how are you supposed to ALSO maintain a clean house? Isn’t keeping your family alive and together enough? Yes, if survival is the only goal.
It’s important to joyfully give the best of ourselves and efforts to the people (not things) around us. That’s our first priority.
There are seasons where your sink will be piled high, crumbs will be crusted on the kitchen floor, piles of shoes will block the doorway and cobwebs will line the corners of your house. Some seasons are excessively demanding; in such give yourself a break. This post is for those who are busy but ready for a change, who want the pleasure of a cleaner home without the stress of pressure.
If thriving is the goal and you are feeling overwhelmed by the environment you are in as if it's a burden instead of a blessing, I want to help you with a perspective and some simple practices.
Cleanliness is not a mark of your value, but it does impact your quality of life and mental health. Think about how your senses react to dirty or clean living spaces. How does your mind respond? Your emotions? Do you feel alert and energetic or anxious and depressed? Creating a resting place for our senses also creates a haven for peace. The purpose of cleanliness is not to impress people or compare virtues, but to create a space where your eyes enjoy clean, open spaces, your thoughts are freed from germs or filth, and you feel confident and prepared for anything.
Years ago we managed a bed and breakfast and I was plunged into the world of immaculate housekeeping, learning how to be thorough and efficient. Our B&B was gorgeous, ornately decorated, historic, and sparkling clean. Bathrooms had to be spotless: not a speck of dust or tiny hair could be found, so that guests would be set at ease. The stone walls of the basement had to be free of spiderwebs for the special events and meetings that took place there. The long and heavy drapes must not accumulate any dust, and the chandeliers kept sparkling. While it was time consuming to scrub, polish and dust the entire house, I realized that it was quite simple to do when maintained regularly with routines, schedules, and time limits. There was no build up to remove, and my efforts were rewarded by rave reviews from the guests and the confidence that people would enjoy their stay.
This is all well and good for the hospitality industry, but what about in the busy living space of your own ordinary home? Instead of overhauling your lifestyle with a completely new routine or hiring a housekeeper (I wish!), I suggest assigning an enjoyable purpose to your home, a pleasurable vision to aim for, and starting with one small thing to clean, and keep clean.
Just start with one thing.
Does the grime around your faucet always bug you? Scrub and polish it today. Then every day, wipe it clean to maintain its shine. You might not tackle anything else in a week, but you have a clean faucet to enjoy.
Is your living room always strewn with toys and the clutter stresses you out? Place a toy box by the wall and put the toys away once a day and feast your eyes on a tidy space.
Are crumbs always sticking to your bare feet when you walk around your kitchen? I know you are busy, but exchange one minute on your phone for one minute sweeping up the dirt. Now notice how pleasant it is to walk on a smooth floor.
You get the idea. Clean one thing. Do it again.
This is how habits are made.
The reason I recommend taking one manageable step, is that the first step, once mastered, inspires the next, and the next until everything in the space of that first thing you cleaned, is drawn into a harmony of cleanliness. It becomes a satisfying endeavor.
Take particular notice of the pleasure you receive from that thing being clean. How does it make you feel? If pleasure outweighs the pain, and the effort is small, you are well on your way to enjoying your very own clean house, and bestowing that gift of refreshment upon all who enter.
If you elevate the purpose of your home to one of ease, function, and refreshment, eliminating anything within your power that does not serve that purpose, you will clear a path to a simpler, happier way of life.
"What we must do, let us love to do. Never lose an opportunity to see anything beautiful. Beauty is God's handwriting." - Kingsley
A particularly influential story from my childhood was an old tale of a reclusive woman who was gifted a potted rose, which she set on a dirty old table in front of a filthy window in her shabby, neglected house. The scene of that lovely rose inspired her to clean the table which inspired her to wash her window and dress it with pretty curtains which compelled her to sweep her floor and paint her walls until everything around her came into harmony with that beautiful flower. As an eventual result, that sad and bitter woman blossomed into a warm, cheerful person who continued cultivating beauty all around her.
On your own pathway to harmony, find pleasure.
I think of this story when tired and disoriented from an intense day with the kids, I shuffle to my kitchen loaded with dirty dishes. One dish at I time I get to the bottom of a stainless steel sink which gets wiped sparkling clean. How nice that looks! Then I see crumbs on the counter. Oh, those don’t look good, so I wipe them off. The faucet should match the clean countertop, so I polish it to a shine. Then I straighten up the hand towel at the stove and put the salt and pepper shakers in their neat little corner. Anything that doesn’t look good on the counter or get used daily gets put away or thrown away. I clean, straighten, and eliminate one thing at a time until everything is in order, and I step back and smile at that beautiful, picture perfect sight.
It will get dirty again, but if I have to do it, I might as well enjoy the process as well as the result. If it must be done, I might as well fill my mind with pleasant thoughts and be present, mindful in my work. There is joy to be found even in menial tasks.
As a busy mother with little time to spare, a clouded and anxious mind begins to clear and focus when I take a moment to clean ONE thing, leading to the next, resulting in a peaceful, tranquil scene as the backdrop for caring for my family.
I was not by nature a meticulous person. As a child I didn’t like to clean and my bedroom was a mess, yet I adored pretty things and pretty places. A carefree creative, I struggled with consistency but appreciated structure and clear expectations on which I could focus.
Now I maintain a clean and tidy house with pleasure. My possessions are organized, my surfaces clean, and my pretty things and pretty spaces are allowed to shine. Order and structure in my home have actually cleared a path for me to live freely, and disciplined excellence has equipped me to live confidently.
What brought this transformation? Only one faithful step at a time, finding pleasure in daily disciplines.
My first chores as a small child were washing the dishes and dusting my mother’s shelf with all its pretty knick knacks once a week.
I didn’t enjoy the dishes, but I did enjoy the weekly opportunity to stand on a chair with a dampened dust cloth and carefully lift and inspect each precious ornament, polishing it till it shone. The dark oak shelf with its curves and corbels was build by my father, and the ornate wooden clock sitting proudly in its center was another of his craftsmanship, a gift he had made for my mother. On each side sitting pretty were little Russian dolls, intricately painted, and two lovely vases that were used on special occasions for the rare rose plucked from the garden or a bunch of peonies. In our modest house, that shelf displayed the few lovely possessions my mother had, and cleaning them was my small contribution to making our home beautiful.
As I grew up, my habits accumulated through layers of disciplines.
For example, my mother taught me to always leave a place neater than you left it for those that come after you, including public bathrooms. My father insisted that we push in the chairs after leaving the table, and wipe off the sink after washing our hands.
Once married, my husband exemplified the mindfulness of completing the dishes every night and making the bed every morning so that the day could start fresh and new. I learned the logic of taking a few seconds to put something away now instead of hours to put everything away later. We practice taking a moment to tuck in clothes from dresser drawers, discarding trash immediately, filing papers promptly, having an accessible storage spot for everything so that our possessions are organized and surfaces are clutter free, and cleaning the house before we leave home so we can always return to a welcoming resting place.
All these instructions and practices built into me a love of seeing things clean and tidy, as well as the confidence that it can be done with simple consistency.
Every household is different with varying needs, functions and personalities. However, I believe you also can enjoy the simple pleasures of a clean home, accompanied by the peace and confidence of simple cleanliness.
Here are some practical steps to make it work in your busy day:
Set a timer. Race against the clock and see how much you can clean or put away in 5 minutes. Stop when the time is up and move on to the next thing.
Clean as you go. As you walk through the house, pick things up and put them away on your way to the next thing. You will get things done without even realizing you are working.
Use a cleaning chart to check off weekly tasks, like vacuuming, washing windows, dusting, and daily tasks such as tidying spaces, cleaning the kitchen, etc.
Assign easy-to access storage spaces for all your non-decorative possessions: keeping a clean "face" to your home creates sensory refreshment, and knowing where to easily access things provides peace of mind.
Identify things that serve you well, and eliminate the rest. Your possessions should equip your lifestyle, not govern you or stress you out.
In all your housekeeping, remember to thrive in the sacred space of home. Make it a haven for beauty and refreshment. In all your doing, remember to love what you must do and take pleasure in the process.
Please let me know what you think about this process of housekeeping, and share your own tips and habits in the comments!