Saturday, June 2, 2007

zen cleaning moments

Do you want to clean green?
I love to clean. Not everyone does.

(Believe me, I realize that. People's distaste for cleaning afforded me a rewarding career for several years, after all.)

Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason people dislike cleaning so much is because they rush through it without really enjoying it.

(And yes, there ARE things to enjoy about cleaning. Trust me.)

Before I started my cleaning business, I worked for five years as a live-in domestic. I was responsible for the household's cooking and cleaning, as well as childcare. The house we lived in was enormous, and I spent several hours on housekeeping each week. By Friday afternoon, when I had to finish all my tasks before the weekend, I would find myself rushing through the rooms, frantically pushing the vacuum back and forth, frenetically wiping surfaces, and whipping through everything as fast as I could go.

Needless to say, I hated the work. Cleaning was a job to finish as quickly as possible so I could move on to other things. My back and knees ached when I was done. My eyes and nose were scratchy from the chemical fumes. My hands were dry and cracked from working without gloves. And it seemed that no sooner had I cleaned everything but that it got dirty all over again.

Eventually a personal crisis forced me to slow down. When I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, I started to notice how much I had hated all the rushing. I paid attention to what I was doing. I gave myself permission to take a long time cleaning - and enjoy myself while I was at it. I switched to eco-friendlier cleaning products that didn't leave me feeling so sick.

It wasn't until I left that job and started my own business that I truly enjoyed cleaning for others, though.

The secret? Find as many ways as possible to make cleaning something really enjoyable. Reward yourself when you're done, if you have to. (Just don't rush through the cleaning to get to the reward.)

Don't let things get too dirty before you finally "break down" and clean. Set aside frequent, regular periods in your schedule to keep your home tidy, and use small pockets of time throughout the week to do small, easily-managed tasks. (Delegate to others the things you positively hate, if you can.)

Many people aim to get their house cleaned all at once. Yes, it's lovely to be in a home that you know is spotless from top to bottom. But if it takes hours to get it that way, and you're the one doing the cleaning, then cleaning can't help but become a chore that you despise - just because it tires you out so much.

Entertain the thought that maybe it's okay to have everything more-or-less tidy, and only thoroughly clean one room at a time. Cleaning for half an hour every day rather than four hours every Saturday morning will seem like a lot less work, believe me.

Use products, supplies and tools that you absolutely love. Keep them clean and well-maintained, and store them in a space that's organized and easily accessible.

Play music that soothes you or energizes you. Try using essential oils in your cleaning products, and enjoy the sensory experience. Clean with a partner, and make a game of it. Keep each other company. (I still have the fondest memories of washing dishes with all the "womenfolk" at family holidays when I was a child.)

What do I love most about cleaning? Making something clean. I love seeing the dirt washed, swept, or vacuumed away. I love passing my hands over objects - wiping them, smoothing them. I love the way glass sparkles when it the dust is gone. I love the way laundry smells when it comes down off the line. I love the way porcelain feels when the grime is washed away.

Every moment when you are present (that's the "zen") is a moment when pleasure is possible. If you're not really "there" - no matter what you're doing - you're cut off from the possibility.

Don't throw away even one second of the pleasure that's your birthright. Enjoy it all.

"Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success." (Swami Sivananda)

"There is a Zen saying, 'Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.' What’s the difference? The tasks are the same. The need is the same. What about the frame of mind? Who is chopping? Who is carrying water?

"When you labor, stay awake. Notice the frame of mind you bring to your work. Do you approach your work as if it were a nuisance? Do you remove your consciousness from work so that you are filled with resentment or worry? What would you need to do to be more fully present in your work?"
(Tom Barrett, Interlude: An Internet Retreat)

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