It seems like most of my days are spent doing housework. With four people, it’s incredible how many dishes and loads of laundry pile up, not to mention cooking, sweeping, cleaning up toys, vacuuming, making beds…the list goes on.
It’s a challenge not to be overwhelmed and uninspired by the endless nature of housework. But I’ve got a few resources to help me practically and spiritually.
The title of this post comes from a wonderful article by Linda Thomas written for Kindling, an early childhood journal from the UK, available online through the Online Waldorf Library. Linda is the manager for cleaning services at the Goetheanum, the headquarters of the General Anthroposophical Society, in Dornach, Switzerland. This is a huge building, which includes a 1000-seat auditorium. So, this woman knows about cleaning on a large scale.
“Order seems to have this special quality of merging into disorder without much effort, yet the opposite never occurs. I have to consciously intervene in order to re-establish the lost order.”
Oh yes. It’s as if she’s in my house, after a few hours of the Huntlings playing and scattering toys about. The thing that strikes me is that creating order needs to be a conscious activity, whereas chaos can be created without much thought at all.
“When I clean, I do not simply want to remove dirt. I consciously try to create space for something new.”
I’ve noticed that when their room is very messy, the kids have a hard time playing. It’s too distracting and chaotic for them. But if we spend some time tidying up then they can begin playing again.
“If we are unable to lead the meditative, spiritual life we wish to lead, we can try to find a spiritual attitude towards everything we do in our daily lives….Often it is not the work we have done which tires us. It is the mere thought of all the things that still need to be done that really exhausts us.”
This rings true for me. I’ve been a big-league procrastinator all my life (still haven’t sent out 2006 Christmas cards, oh well) and have always felt overwhelmed and depressed by big cleaning tasks. Of course this leads to a downward spiral of bigger, more intimidating messes. I’ve learned to break things down into manageable bits, and usually find that I can finish the big tasks even if they looked insurmountable before I started. So I’ve discovered it’s all in the attitude. And if I can remember that caring for my home is a loving act toward my family, then it’s all the easier.
Another inspiring book is The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant. He looks at homemaking on an esoteric level. Just as many people believe we have guardian angels, Schmidt-Brabant talks about the elemental beings that surround us. Some of these beings are represented in the old stories of house brownies or gnomes, or in fairy tales like the Elves and the Shoemaker. While we won’t actually see brownies in our homes, Schmidt-Brabant says “…the elemental world is everywhere where there are processes going on within matter.” When we fail to clean a forgotten corner of the house, movement stops in that place, and the life seems drained out of it. We joke around our house that sometimes a certain shelf or corner becomes “invisible”, because we’ve stopped paying attention to it and it’s cluttered or dirty.
Schmidt-Brabant looks at the homemaker as the center of the home, the creator of the family unit. Through the work of the homemaker, the material world of the home is humanized, and therefore spiritualized. He also describes the home as the carrier of modern culture. Previously culture was shared and strengthened through geographical proximity. Now with our pluralistic societies (I’m assuming he’s speaking of Western culture primarily) we no longer have this community support, and must develop our family’s cultural life ourselves.
And then, there’s the scarily practical, big yellow book: Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson. Scary because, while a very helpful reference book, it also includes such minutiae as three ways to fold socks; a chapter titled “Peaceful Coexistence with Microbes”; and schedules for daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual and annual housekeeping. Oh my.