Thursday, January 30, 2020

Housework and Good Mental Health

"Some people vacation in Yellowstone, Aruba, or New Orleans. Others go to Bali to lie on white beaches, or to the Himalayas to climb steep mountains. I went to Japan to clean toilets." 

--from the book, 'Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures' by Louise Rafkin

America is a nation of fads. (The word fad, incidentally, is an anagram for the phrase "famous for a day." ) Maybe it's because of our affluence, but it seems to me that Americans are constantly chasing fulfillment in the next shopping spree, the next exercise program, the next self-help trend. Sometimes, I think that Americans are allergic to what is simple and authentic, the things that require just a wee bit of discipline, the things that are right in front of us, free for the taking.

Housework is a lot like that.  It's almost legendary how much it is derided, avoided, scorned, complained about and yes--whined--about. When hearing many people talk about housework, it would seem that they were talking about loading boulders uphill, or shoveling coal miles underground, their faces smeared with soot and sweat.

But did you know that in many cultures of the world, housecleaning is a sacred act? Monks around the world, and in both the Buddhist and Catholic faith get up each morning and faithfully do the most menial tasks. They scrub floors on their hands and knees, and sweep steps with willow brooms, all done with care and mindfulness. This is how they show the deepest respect to their monasteries; it is how they serve and affirm their place in existence. It is one way in which they meditate, communicating with God in the monotonous, rhythmic work before them. It is also how they nourish inner peace and inner respect.

 I fully, unequivocally believe that my discipline of homemaking has pulled me out of many a dark, deep valley. Doing this activity, day in and day out, whether I 'feel' like it or not, has helped me grow and helped me give.

Here are some of the ways doing housework has improved my life.
1.) It helps to organize my mind. 
There is a belief out there that a messy environment is a sign of a mind in chaos. I find this to be true. A straightened up room helps me to think more clearly, plain and simple. 

2.) It grounds me. I have heard many naturopathic physicians recommend soaking up the energy of the earth, by walking barefoot in the grass. I even remember a program where an outdoorman/survivalist type never wore shoes at all...even in the winter! (No, I don't recommend that.) But I do relish walking barefoot in my yard in the summer, and I would add that working with the hands can feel just as wholesome. So much of our time is spent living in a world of abstraction, pushing keyboard buttons that make symbolic marks on a screen. (As I am doing right now.) But sweeping a floor, or swishing a cloth in some delightful lemon scented suds brings my physical being to the fore in a way that can be deeply satisfying.

3.) It actually has helped me deal with my perfectionism.
The most common complaint I hear about housework is that it is never done, and yes that is a hard fact with which to come to terms. It is never done because it is intrinsically connected to life, and as such is vitally important. Housework is as essential--and as forgotten about--as your breathing or your beating heart. The advance of technology and even the most strident complaints from the feminists will not ever alter that fact, because people will always need to eat and sleep and hopefully live in a bit of order. Successful, happy homemakers learn that planning is their best friend and that time is precious. They schedule each day and focus on the relevant tasks before them, understanding that in any job tasks will repeat themselves over and over. They do their best, and respect the occupation enough to learn how to do better.They realize that 'perfection' is an impossible goal and instead work towards excellence--which means consistently doing one's best over time. 

"When it seems that you have been unjustly stuck with cleaning up behind someone or something, think past that dirty pad--launch pad, I mean. There's always cleanup after launching any worthwhile project. As a giant life-enhancing cargo is launched into space to impact the world with scientific excitement and information, we hear and read about this great accomplishment, yet it rarely occurs to us that it left a dirty launchpad behind. Yes, getting that payload raised and up and out left the place blackened, sooted, smoked, scratched and scummy, just like getting a family launched into life. Great meals, great buildings, great novels, bumper crops and crown jewels all create some dust and mess getting the job done. Cleaning it up is not only worthwhile, it's actually part and parcel of the end result. Cleaning affects the quality of life much more than parties, socials, entertainments, vacations, etc., and look at all the effort and money we pour into them. So, just think as you clean up, "This is not the aftermath, but the launch...I'm preparing for the lift-off of great things.

When you think of the impact, the accomplishment of the 'clean' you've created in your life, when you focus on the end result, cleaning feels good and necessary and even noble."
--Don Aslett, 'Is There Life After Housework?'

4.)It gives you time to think and process emotions, while still being productive. Need to figure out the best course of action on something? Ponder your options while doing the dishes. Want to give your husband a piece of your mind? Pray and sort it out while sorting the whites from the colors. If
I'm having a day of deep sorrow, a freshly made bed would be much more soothing for an afternoon nap than one that is tear-stained and rumpled. At least in making the bed, I can exercise appropriate control in my life, and maybe the scent of lavender on a pillowcase where I rest my aching head will lessen my problems just the tiniest bit. Psychologists are still studying the details of  brain chemistry, but one fact is undeniable. If a good brisk walk will cause your body to be flooded with endorphins, it stands to reason that moving constructively has the potential to alter your thoughts--and your mood. And as Julia Cameron observes in her book, 'The Artist's Way', dull boring housework has a way of bringing out our hidden creativity.

"Filling the well needn't be all novelty. Cooking can fill the well. When we chop and pare vegetables, we do with our thoughts as well. Remember art is an artist-brain pursuit. The brain is reached through rhythm--through rhyme, not reason. Scraping a carrot, peeling an apple--these actions are quite literally food for thought.

Any regular, repetitive action primes the well. Writers have heard many woeful tales of the Bronte sisters and poor Jane Austen, forced to hide their stories under their needlework. A little experiment with some mending can cast a whole new light on these activities. Needlework, by definition regular and repetitive, both soothes and stimulates the artist within. Whole plots can be stitched up while we sew. As artists, we can very literally reap what we sew."

5.)It is an example of sacrifice and giving, and it keeps you humble. Housework is a beautiful form of social work. What better way to say 'I love you' than to put fresh linens on the bed, fluffy towels near the bathtub, serve a steaming cup of Earl Grey in a shining china cup? A gleaming toilet requires a bended knee, a strong arm, and an obedient spirit, which is cultivated more and more, every time it is scrubbed.

"When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. "You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
John 13:12
6.)It helps you to see how much you have been blessed with. Hallelujah!  Dirty dishes means that you have food to eat. A cluttered closet means you have clothes on your back. Even the roof over your head, the windows, the appliances, the heating and cooling system...all of these riches made for your comfort, boggle the mind.  The average American home is bulging at the seams, so much that that 'minimizing' and 'decluttering', or their opposite--storage units--have become a normal part of modern life. Look around you with fresh eyes, whisper a sincere thank you, and decide how best you will honor the riches you have received. (And yes, it's okay to let your gratitude spill into donations for the Goodwill.)

  7.)The home is like a mirror, and the more housework you do, the more the house 'smiles' back at you. I find people to be difficult and unreliable. (No offense, dear readers, but the world of relationships can be tough for us all.) However homemaking is a series of constant, reliable transactions. In other words, if I wash my windows, I will be immediately rewarded with shining clear views outside. Every morning, looking at my kitchen's shining sink and butter yellow walls is as delicious as that first cup of coffee. Something as simple as mopping is sure to make my floors gleam like they belong in a palace. Hubby and I have renovated two very run-down houses and it makes my heart sing to see what dignified charming places they are today. Sometimes our relationships fail, no matter how much we give; things get complicated or misconstrued. There is so much loss in life, it sometimes can take our breath away. But in homemaking we are constantly building back up and ordering what is out of order, creating nurture and loveliness over and over.

8.)It is physical and gets you moving. Our family room is downstairs, while everything else (kitchen, formal room, bathroom, bedroom) is upstairs. Going up and down the steps so many times in a day is my own kind of homemade exercise machine.

9.)It sends out a message, "I respect myself and I respect my environment." This is a tough one, because many people think they deserve a clean environment, but don't want to lift a finger to obtain it. They think that this kind of work is completely beneath them, when it is simply part of being a human being.  As a former professional house cleaner, I can tell you that this kind of thinking leads to nothing but misery. There is an old adage, 'Nothing is certain but death and taxes." Housework should really be added to that. Unless you're royalty with a full compliment of household staff, it is hardly likely that you will ever be entirely free of putting a plate in a dishwasher or throwing in a load of laundry. People with this sad perspective fail to grasp the concept of 'right action', where one orderly action leads to the next orderly action, a practice that can be put into countless areas of life. They miss out on the self-respect that naturally flows when one is achieving based on rightness of thought, rather than raw desire or self-centeredness.

You'll never hear me say that this is an easy journey, but it is most definitely worthwhile. If housework has been a battle for you, first of all, work on being teachable. Examine the values and opinions of others and ask yourself what really matters in your life.Just because something is mainstream and popular in the culture does not make it automatically right. I think a good starting place is discovering Marla Cilley ( Her testimony will make you want to hug her, and her methods of cleaning are simple, tried, and true. At one point, Marla's life was complete chaos and her house was no exception. After being hospitalized for such severe depression that she nearly killed herself, she resolved to start her life over, step by step. And a major part of that recovery was learning how to have a home that demonstrated her sense of newfound self-worth. Her video below really says it all (dig the pre-millenial computer technology.)

 Housework is never going to go away, my friends.

 And hopefully, we'll get to a point where we thank Heaven for that.

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