It’s not even Spring, but I’m cleaning. Of course, this has been one of the roughest Chicago winters in modern memory, so maybe part of me is just performing whatever domestic ritual I can to usher in a new season. But as I shred my piles of unopened junk mail and sweep under the couch, I’m struck anew with how cathartic cleaning can be. Although half of me fantasizes about having a maid when I’m hanging up my fourth basket of laundry, the other half is saddened a little bit by the idea of ‘outsourcing’ a task so integral and indicative of my interior state. Much as Michael Pollan’s books have reminded us why eating whole food and home cooking are good for the soul, the process of cleaning is also transformative; we are literally creating space for ourselves to breathe.
To be honest, I am not a person naturally disposed to cleaning. For most of my childhood my mother perpetually complained that my room was – using her exact description – “a Fire Hazard.” Every night I would clear a little path through the various paper and clothing detritus to the door, in case of a fire. But after many years of meditating and walking my spiritual path, I’ve found that the state of my outer environment says a lot about the state of my inner environment.
I’m recently coming out of a rather grueling, several years long, spiritual testing period. (How’d I do? Eh… I’d give myself a “C” – that’s still passing, right? 🙂 ) As I am now able to lift my head up and look around a bit, I’ve started clearing out the clutter that has accumulated in the meantime. It started with my desk at work, which I’m a bit embarrassed to say was an unfortunate collection of empty Starbucks cups (intended to be recycled), spare sweaters, and other random paraphernalia. While clearing out the dross, I came across a little fortune (the kind that once resided in a cookie) that said “You are about to pass a difficult test.” Taking that as a tiny sign (literally) that I was moving in the right direction, I pinned it on my cubicle wall where I can see it every day.
As my ritualistic cleaning spread from my desk at work to our home, I took note of a few things. One, for the first time in a long time, cleaning felt natural. It felt like something I wanted to do, rather than something I had to do because we had guests coming over, etc. It’s not that I think that the soul in distress wants to live in a dirty and cluttered environment. Instead, I would say that my previous inner confusion and lack of direction on a soul level was reflected in my outer inability to keep things neat and orderly. I’m not sure whether it starts with the outer desire for cleaning or the inner desire for clearing out – I suspect the inner, but perhaps they initiate simultaneously. I am interested in whether others have noticed this about themselves – do you find it difficult to maintain a structured environment when you are distressed? Do you find a sudden, natural enthusiasm for cleaning when your soul confusion starts to clear?
The other interesting thing I’ve noted; unlike my cubicle environment which is entirely under my control – I share my home living space with my husband and daughter. Although my husband naturally trends on the ‘neater’ side where I trend on the ‘messier’ side – suddenly I was noticing that he was exhibiting many of the same ‘environment’ symptoms I noticed in myself when I was under duress. He would start cleaning projects (like purging the closet) but not finish them – resulting in clothes heaped up everywhere in half-organized piles. We’d get the kitchen counter all nice and sparkly-clean and he would immediately put new things on it. He is not what I would call an ‘active path walker’ and that’s fine – we are different people with different interests and that is part of both the fun and the challenge of our marriage. However, I find myself wondering what the right course of action is here – it seems wrong to sign myself up for double the cleaning, but neither do I want to become a ‘nag’ on the subject; especially given my own messy history 🙂 . For now – recognizing how stressed he is with work and other responsibilities, I’ve started by just asking him to do a little bit of meditating each day to see if that helps bring more balance to his life. I’m hopeful that, with more balance, his own desire to create a clear space for living will emerge.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has run into this – so I’m definitely interested in any ideas readers have to offer in this regard.