The Art of Cleaning–with some zen help

We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.   Lao Tzu

I’d rather clean than grocery shop.  Here’s why.

Cleaning your rooms is an art.  It can satisfy your creative urges and appeal to the senses, all five of them.  It has a longer staying power, most times, than cooking, for the labors of the kitchen are often consumed within minutes of the completion of the task.  Cleaning can last—at least a little longer.

Cleaning is good for the soul.  It reflects organization and conviction on the part of the person in control of it.

Cleaning can be so zen, so in the moment.   Cleaning allows you to immerse yourself in a task (if you don’t have interruptions) because it is you deeply involved in something physical, but most times its simplicity allows your actions to run on automatic pilot while you dream, plan, sing or organize your next move. (This is a great choice. You can plan the rest of your day, or the next cleaning task.)

You are the boss, the ruler of all you survey, the decision maker, until maybe you come upon your spouse’s desk or your children’s clutter.  Then you might have to step back and allow them that involvement later on.

But as you proceed moment to moment YOU are increasing the pleasantness of your surroundings.

The obstacle is the path.  ~Zen Proverb

But in order to go there (that dream, focus) you have to meet the organizational challenge of cleaning.

You need:

1. A mental map and time.  Know where you will begin and end in the amount of time you have; know how detailed you plan to be.  Changing and washing linens and towels and decluttering while cleaning??  Block out more time.  What if you are vacuuming and dusting six rooms and cleaning a bath and a powder room and kitchen?  That’s a lot.  You will probably need at least three hours of uninterrupted time.

2. Love for your rooms.  Whether you live in an apartment, house, mansion, cottage, for this to work you have to invest uninterrupted care and pleasure into your cleaning time.  No phone calls, emails.  Your children are at school or with a sitter or your spouse.

3. Supplies. Choose from: bucket, mop or floor sponge mop, dust rags or cloths, vacuum, broom and dustpan, garbage bags, possibly Swiffer for wood floors, paper towel, water and cleaning fluids like window cleaner, wax or cleaners for wood surfaces and scouring products for toilets and sinks.  Want to be green?

Gorgeously Green All-Purpose Spray

32-ounce plastic spray bottle

2 cups water

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon pure castile soap (peppermint is a favorite)

3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide

20 drops tea tree oil

20 drops of lavender or lemongrass essential oil

Simply fill a large 32-ounce plastic spray bottle with the water. Add the vinegar, castile soap, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and lavender or lemongrass essential oil. Lavender is lovely for the bathroom spray and lemongrass for the kitchen, so make two separate bottles at the same time. In the hot summer months, add about 10 drops of citronella essential oil to the spray, as it is an excellent insect repellent.

This spray is suitable for acrylic, ceramic tile, wood, marble and granite. Sophie Uliano .

4. Something creative/fun or new: scented candle, garden flowers, pillow, new pillow cases, decorative tissue box, storage container—let your needs and your mind flow.  Determine how much time you want for this part—thirty minutes to make a flower arrangement from your garden or yard, or one minute to place a pillow. Twenty minutes to rearrange a bedroom or one minute to place a candle on the kitchen table.  Your choice, your needs.

5.Your Five Senses: enjoy the scents of flax soap, polishes and the candle you light when you are finished.  Play music, dance and sing if you want to.  Or just enjoy the whirling of the washing machine drum, the click of the dryer, or the whoosh of the dishwasher.  Immerse your hands in the warm water and suds of your bucket or feel the cold air on your face when you open a window to wash it.  Taste a protein snack as you move through your tasks and finally enjoy the sights of completion when you stand back and see what you have accomplished.

The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.  ~Robert M. Pirsig

Cleaning is not a repetitive act when you are constantly creating new visions (how your rooms look) or thinking of ways to keep order.  Yes, it might be a constant struggle, but it can be fun meeting the challenge and you might just conquer it at some point and feel tremendous pride.  (From experience—I finally bought the right toy collectors—not one big toy box whose lid could thump my child on the head, but a series of smaller boxes that are easy to load when toy time is done.)

  • Final notes: it’s fascinating to see your life from a different angle—try looking at the reflection of your room from a mirror, or stand on a ladder and look down into your rooms.  I do this when I am outside, looking in while washing windows.
  • Change is good—moving a chair or a table keeps life more interesting.
  • And finally, partnership in other rooms of your home, not just the bedroom, is good for your sex life.  Yes, research shows that men who do housework have more sex.  Psychologist John Gottman discovered that men who help out doing housework frequently, have more and better sex with their spouses because they are showing their partners that they care and understand all these responsibilities and how they must be met.  If your spouse is doing the work, you have more time and space for sexual desires and feelings.

“I have done my best”, that is about all the philosophy of living that one needs.  





10 thoughts on “The Art of Cleaning–with some zen help

  1. Beth: This is the first time I have thought of cleaning as being spiritual! You have opened my eyes! I’ll have a new attitude the next time I grab my mop!

  2. A whole new way to look at what I usually try to avoid. Really helpful.

    • Thanks, John. It was fun to write I am here at the University of Iowa for five days taking Advanced Novel with my old friend Susan Taylor Chehak. She has become an incredible teacher at this point and so well read when it comes to structuring fiction. She plans to start her own digital press and that would allow folks like me to publish my novels and avoid the agent thing in New York. We will see. Things are so digitized now, that we all gave her our novels for her to skim on flash drives. When I had my private meeting with her yesterday she said right away how my work had improved and how good the writing was and that I followed this invisable structure so well–Part 1 ended when Sarah was kidnapped. What!! I said. You are reading the wrong novel! I had two of my three on this flash drive and had told her what file to open. So now she has to go back and look at FORGIVING but she didn’t mind. Anyway, I am learning a lot, despite the 103 temps we are having in Iowa City. Have seen Andrew too, as he is living here. Hope you are doing well. love you much, Beth


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  3. This article is awesome! I am ready to clean my house, one more time!! love your article Beth.

  4. Ana–
    So glad you liked it. I had a lot of fun writing it. So good to see you here, Beth

  5. Beth, you are the goddess of cleaning! I love this blog, and it gives me new energy and perspective to clean and ENJOY it! I love all of the research you put into this blog entry. Fantastic! You are wonderful! Love, Lyn

  6. Hi Lyn-

    Thanks for your support and for reading. We have all been there–trying to make it something more pleasurable. Now I just have to decide who is going to get all the pretties I have purchased throughout the years to make cleaning fun!!! Beth

  7. Really enjoyed this, Beth!

    That tip about looking at a room through a mirror to get a different view is good. Similar to that, I find TAKING A PHOTO also helps, revealing little things I miss when looking directly at the room. Strange, I know, but often when I snap a photo with my camera/phone and email it to myself, I later see it on my computer screen and can clearly pick out what’s missing or off-kilter or what’s good about it. So interesting how that happens.

    And the requirement about LOVING the room….I think it took me a long time to get there

  8. Hi Marilyn

    So glad you liked it. I had so much fun writing it. A favorite topic that I tried at REAL SIMPLE and other magazines. There are a lot of cleaning lovers out there. The photo idea is great. And just getting a mental image and translating it helps too. Beth

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