Encouragement in the Face of Monotony
I’ve had this kind of ‘blah’ feeling about all the repetitious tasks required to maintain basic order in our home. Much like a 14-year-old, I’ve both been doing the bare minimum required to keep things from being totally chaotic and been irritated by every minute that gets “wasted” along the way. I blame my liberal arts education for filling me with pretentious thoughts like: Ugh! I spend all my time doing practical stuff. I’m wasting my mind! I should be out in the world brainstorming!
A couple of weeks ago, I read Edith Schaeffer’s unusual and wonderful book The Hidden Art of Homemaking. The title may conjure images of Stepford Wives vacuuming in high heels, but that’s not at all what she’s about- Schaeffer reveals beauty in the mundane tasks most of us face on a daily basis.
One of her concepts has been rolling around in my head for the last few days, and I think it might be helping me overcome some of my malaise - especially when it comes to cleaning. She writes:
“We are an environment, each one of us. We are an environment for the other people with whom we live, the people with whom we work, the people with whom we communicate.
Whether we choose to be an environment or not, we are. We produce an environment other people have to live in. We should be conscious of the fact that this environment which we produce by our very ‘being’ can affect the people who we live with us or work with us.
We should have thoughtfulness concerning our responsibility in this area.”
Being an environment isn't just about you.
When she talks about the personal environment each of us produce she refers to character traits or mood, personal presentation and general care and attention to your physical surroundings.
Reading this chapter felt like an encouraging sort of slap in the face. You see, most days I roll out of bed and grunt at everyone with my eyes half-open for the first hour or so. I’ve never stopped to think about how this cro-magnon version of myself is impacting everyone else, that I am negatively affecting the overall pleasantness of the environment for the rest of my family. In the same way I never stopped to think about how my general tendency towards frumpiness isn’t just about me ; taking a few extra minutes to actually get ready (and maybe even shower!) could make me a more energizing presence for everyone else to be around.
This has been a paradigm shifting concept for me, something I always knew on some level but had never really heard articulated. My personal ‘environment’ – my attitude, my habits, my home – affect the people I see every day. I have the potential to make people who spend time in my home and presence feel refreshed, like a breath of fresh air- the way I feel when I spend time at my friend Bethany’s home. And the amazing thing about it is it isn’t about having the best stuff (like I always thought), but rather is about care and attention. Seen this way, cleaning transforms from just being a chore to becoming an opportunity to bring joy to other people.
Connecting cleaning to a ‘why’ that matters to me, makes it easier to do it without (as much) struggle or inward complaining. I’m hoping that I’ll be able more and more to ground mundane tasks like these in bigger, more beautiful realities, and that I’ll be able to take more of them with joy.