The holiness in housekeeping

I love empty, unprogrammed weekend days.  Sometimes we have adventures and fly through the air.  Sometimes we simply hang out at playgrounds.  But most often, a wide-open Sunday contains some mix of errands, laundry, walks around the neighborhood, skating, work email, bill-paying, packing of lunches, and cooking for the week ahead.

And you know what I’m realizing, lately?  Very often, the days full of these chores, of life’s most prosaic tasks, are my very favorites.  Grace and I were walking to the drycleaner and bank last Sunday morning, holding hands as we admired the cloudless blue sky when she sighed and said, “Mummy, I love just hanging out with you.”

“I do too,” I said, squeezing her peace sign patterned fleece glove.

We walked on in amiable silence.  Often, on the weekends, we fall into pairs, with Matt and Whit playing hockey or starting a big Lego project and Grace and I being the errand brigade.

“You know, Grace,” I said as we waited for the light.  “I think it’s great if you can really enjoy these little things.”

“Why?  You mean because if we can think something as regular as a chore is fun, then something big like” she hesitated.  “Like … Legoland, well, something big like that is even better?”

I thought about this for a minute as we crossed the street.  What did I really mean?  I guess it’s that the ability to find authentic joy in the grout I keep writing about seems like a very strong predictor of a life filled with contentment and cheer.  When I see my daughter evincing pleasure in such basic, quotidian tasks I feel immense pride and also a flicker of hope that she will have a happy life despite being freighted by having a mother who’s more shadow than sun.

I suspect this is also about my growing conviction that there is a deep holiness in this housekeeping, this elemental life-keeping.  It doesn’t seem like an accident that in recent years some of the basic burdens of keeping a family going – packing lunches, folding laundry – have become things I do, often, with reverence.  I can’t explain what’s changed, but there’s no question that the most ordinary details of my life seem shot through with meaning, charged with a shimmer of the spirit.

And, finally, just as I exhort my children to simply notice things, I’m grateful for any signs of their sinking into their lives, of their learning to lean into the truth of whatever is, at any moment.  Even when it’s boring, even when it means standing in line at the post office or scrubbing dishes.  There is divinity in that drudgery.  I know there is, and it is a source of grand, enormous pride that my daughter may as well.


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  1. Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Have you read Thomas Moore’s “Care of the Soul?” I may have asked you that before. In any event, he has a whole chapter on how the “drudgery” of housework can be profound soul-work if approached in the proper spirit. I think that’s what you’re getting at here. Also, I totally agree with Grace that we don’t take those big things for granted if we can learn to appreciate those really small things!

  2. Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Yes! And, I also think that the more we write about our lives, the more attuned we become to everything going on beneath the surface. Writing enhances our experience because it challenges us to find deep meaning in the simplest things. Thank you, as always, for reminding me of what I keep forgetting.

  3. Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I read something this morning that said something like….As soon as you learn to embrace contentment, then you can be truly happy.

  4. Hilary Levey Friedman
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    When I was little I used to say all the time, “Mommy, can we just yay around today?” I couldn’t say my “L”s, so instead of “lay” said “yay.” I still love to “yay” around and read books all day… 🙂

  5. Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I so appreciate your posts on deliberate living: we have but the moment, and I’m always wishing/planning/daydreaming mine away. Thank you for the reminder. We have a three day weekend coming up, and amazingly, I have nothing planned. I think I’ll keep it that way.

  6. Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    This is so true and lovely. Reminds me of Kathleen Norris’ words on laundry – she, too, celebrates the divinity in the quotidian details of housework. It is there – thanks for pointing us to it.

  7. Posted March 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Hilary: I love to yay around and read all day!

    Just last night I finished reading Donald Hall’s memoir, Life Work. In it he writes about the sanctity of daily work. I think it would resonate with you and your idea of the holiness of housekeeping.


  8. Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    This is so true. I love how you describe sinking into our lives. I still don’t like cleaning, etc. but I like that I do it. I like it when it’s done … hmm, kind of like writing.

  9. Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Yes, I need this reminder frequently. “divinity in the drudgery”—love it! When I find myself getting down about housework (the mounds of laundry! The never-stay-clean floors!) I remind myself that the mounds of laundry to wash, the fridge full of food to be prepped & cooked, and the floors full of crumbs and toys from tiny creatures speaks to the abundance in my life.
    When that doesn’t work, I think about all the women across the globe (and since the dawn of humanity, really) that are doing the same thing—working to provide clean clothes, wholesome meals, and a clean floor–be it mud or marble–for their families. Its humbling and gratifying to think about being part of this human ritual.

  10. Posted March 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I feel the same way about Sundays, and we do a lot of the same things, minus the errands. Sundays are for homemade waffles, pjs and folding fresh laundry. You are right — there is holiness there. Love this post so much.

  11. Jan
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed your post, forwarded to me by a friend. You might look at a couple of books by Sue Bender, “Plain and Simple,” and “Everyday Sacred.” I think you’re saying the same things. And you’re right: enjoy your time with the children now. My girls are 32 and 34, and I probably didn’t fully appreciate those other days when I had them.

    admin Reply:

    Plain and Simple is one of my favorite books – and I loved Everyday Sacred too, though I think I ought to revisit it. Great suggestions! xo