I just saw a 30 second ad for a vacuum cleaner that goes completely by itself. It quietly makes the rounds, miraculously locating crumbs and errant dust bunnies. (“Errant dust bunnies” may be redundant.) The phrase at the end of the ad reads, “Spend less time cleaning. And more time living.”
What is this obsession with getting out of work, as if it’s something to be avoided?
I’ve experienced an unexpected shift in my thinking. See, I’m a teeny bit prone to anxiety. I’m not just a worrier, I have issues. I’m also prone to overthinking and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. When the thoughts get a little out of hand and teeter close to the unmanageable phase, I’ve found that cleaning something is sometimes a most excellent way of making my way back to the light.
As a new mom and wife, the daily chores of cleaning, cooking, laundry, and general cleaning up after everybody was burdensome. When you look ahead to the rest of your life and see nothing but everybody else’s mess, and then realize that you may be the only person in the whole world that’s going to clean up after said people, it can be a little disheartening, a little deflating, and if not dealt with and viewed properly, even become a source of despair and resentment. But a funny thing’s happened with all these years of care taking. The cleaning has become a source of… dare I say it? Restoration. Yeah, I s’pose I could employ regular gym visits to burn off my excess energy, but scrubbing scum off the shower is a whole lot more satisfying. (This may or may not belie my feelings about exercise for the sake of it.) There’s something therapeutic – even humanizing, I think – about cleaning up and restoring order. Frankly, sometimes I’m not overly efficient in doing away with the dirt and cobwebs in my own soul. Sometimes it seems a little beyond me in knowing best how to beautify it. But the tangible spaces I inhabit and the way of decay and dirt as an endless cycle on this big earth of ours may benefit a little from my care taking. Come to think of it, care taking may be a misspeak. It implies that we’re sapping something rather than adding something. Care giving is better. And it so is. When we give care we improve upon what’s in front of us.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a neat or clean freak. That tendency’s an altogether different thing than what I’m talking about. I like a clean house, but it’s not my first priority. (No need to snicker, those of you who’ve visited.) And thankfully, I no longer obsess (as much) as I once did if my house isn’t clean. The tasks are no longer for outward appearances (what will she think if she comes over and sees my dirty floor?), but opportunities to make my guests more comfortable, not to mention that order restoring makes me feel better. I’m not bound to my cleaning duties, I’m liberated by them. Not solely, not even consistently, but sometimes quite surprisingly. Sometimes, when I’m standing at the kitchen sink or carrying the day’s laundry, I’ll very simply remember that this is all I have to do in this moment. The blessed simplicity and order restoring power of household tasks become opportunities rather than dread-full requirements. The constant rotation of meals, laundry, etc., can be a centering force, rather than a depleting one.
And lastly and blessedly, I’m also far enough along in the process to recognize that most of the time, “it” – whatever household task “it” happens to be at that moment – will get done eventually. Because there are times when I most certainly DO NOT feel like doing what needs done. But I’ve learned that eventually, the mood’ll strike me, as in, I either can’t stand it anymore, or I desperately need to clean something outside to help restore a sense of order to my inside. And honestly, save structural maladies (which aren’t in my line of caregiving capabilities anyway), if it doesn’t get done, it’s not that important anyway. I may have quoted it before, and I’m sure to quote it again, but as my favorite pastor is fond of saying, “you can’t do everything, but you can do something.” Vacuuming those crumbs out of the snack drawer is something.
And it just occurred to me, a something that a self-propelled vacuum couldn’t do.