Cleaning is not usually one of those activities that people describe as enjoyable. Rather, it is usually enjoyed after it’s done. Because of this, cleaning tends to be something you rush through. (I know I can be like a speed racer while cleaning.)
How fast can you sweep that floor? How quickly can you get those dishes done? You end up frazzled, sweaty, out of breath, but with a mostly clean house. And as soon as you’re done, you’ll be diving into the next task on your to-do list with a force.
Introducing a new perspective on cleaning: Mindful cleaning. What if you were to look at the task as a way to practice mindfulness? Instead of racing through the chores, carve out ample time, turn off your phone and other distractions, and find your focus on cleaning—and nothing else—during the time you’ve allotted to clean.
When you apply mindfulness principles to cleaning and organizing your home, you not only end up doing a better job (unarguably, a clean and organized home feels good), but you learn how to find meaning in mundane chores and ordinary moments. You have to clean anyway, so instead of rushing through the task, use it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
This Spring, as you’re de-cluttering, de-wintering, and making your countertops shine, try these mindful approaches to cleaning your home.
Slow down and tune into the entire experience of being with those dishes and helping them transform from dirty to clean.
- Your breath as you wash the dishes
- The temperature of the water on your hands
- The sensations and smell of the of soap and bubbles
- The repetitive movements and motions involved with washing the dishes
- The wonder of having clean dishes ready to use at your next meal.
Basically, focus on nothing except the act of washing the dishes.
Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully described his perspective on doing the dishes in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, “While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly. Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I am completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly …”‘
The repetitive nature of this common household chore may offer you some relaxation, if you can bring your attention to just the recurring actions you’re engaging in. You can also try incorporating a mantra while you sweep—any mantra would work, for example silently saying “May I be happy” as you take one sweeping step, and “May I feel at peace,” as you sweep again. You can get tips on creating a unique mantra in this post I recently wrote.
You can also borrow this mantra, specific to sweeping, from a podcast I heard a while back.
“I sweep the floor with attentiveness, and I sweep my mind.”
Michael Stone, a Buddhist teacher and social activist, told a story on his podcast once where he referenced advice he gave to a student of his who was a high school teacher. To connect with the high school students more, and start class with a relaxed feeling, Michael suggested that she sweep the floor before class, as her students were walking into the classroom. It didn’t matter that the floor did not need to be swept, he told her to think as she swept, “I sweep the floor with attentiveness, and I sweep my mind.” This indeed helped her to settle and connect before she taught her class.
As you sweep the floor, you can also discover the different spaces and spots to clear, embodying a sense of curiosity as you mindfully complete the task at hand.
Practicing mindfulness and gratitude while doing laundry will alleviate some of the mundane qualities of the chore.
Have you ever tried people watching? It’s one of my favorite activities. Apply the people-watching concept when you’re doing your laundry (or any old chore). Observe everything you possibly can as you move through the motions of washing and folding your laundry.
- Notice the texture of the fabrics
- Notice the patterns on each item of clothing
- Notice the way the towels feel when they are fresh out of the dryer
- Notice the colors of the clothing, and perhaps create new matches as you see how the articles may be able to work together.
- As you hang clothes to dry, notice how wet they are and get curious about how the color or weight will change once they are dry.
- If it’s fresh out of the dryer, pay extra attention to the heat coming from the clothes, and the fresh smell
- Notice each and every detail as you fold shirt after shirt and sock after sock.
- Take a cleansing breath after you finish folding each article of clothing, offering gratitude that you have clean clothes to fold and wear, and sheets to sleep on.
Practicing gratitude for the everyday things in life that we often take for granted can offer a whole new perspective and sense of joy in life.
It should come as no surprise that clutter can cause stress. It also makes it more difficult to focus and relax, can inhibit creativity and productivity, and may increase feelings of guilt and frustration. Is it worth it to keep junk around in case you need it later, if it’s getting in the way of your mental and emotional well-being?
In the book, We Plan, God Laughs, author and Rabbi Sherre Hirsch said, “That massive cleaning effort is a metaphor. When your physical surroundings are cluttered, your emotional and spiritual self is cluttered. If your space is clean, then your mind is open and you can let God in.”
I’m not in any way a religious person, but I have felt this to be true for me. If I organize my desk before a working session, I feel like I’m in a much more productive place to accomplish the tasks at hand, especially those that require brainpower and focus.
Marie Kondo, in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing said, “The objective of cleaning is not just to clean, but to feel happiness living within that environment.”
Kondo recommends, “To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.” She suggests de-cluttering your home in one fell swoop, instead of spreading it out over a longer period of time. And as you comb through your possessions, ask yourself of each item, “Does this item spark joy?” If the answer is yes, you should put it away in a place where you can easily find it. If the answer is no, give it away, donate it, or throw it away—to make space for those cherished items.
Whether cleaning or de-cluttering, the main message here is to look for the beauty and wonder—in each and every step, each and every item, and each and every moment. Instead of focusing on the leftover Thai food that you’re having trouble scraping off of your plate or the lack of time you have to tackle the task of sweeping, focus on the pleasant scent of the lavender dish soap or the warm temperature of the water. Appreciate the fact that you have fresh clothes to wear. Focus on invoking joy in each motion and keeping items that bring joy to your life.