Spring is here—at least for those of us living in the northern hemisphere. And when I think of spring, I think of that old venerable tradition called “spring cleaning.” And spring cleaning makes me think about housework. I wonder: can housework play a role in our spiritual life?
First, here’s my favorite definition of housework: “Housework is what you do that nobody notices unless you don’t do it.” (Evan Esar) And here are a few reasons I think housework can play an important role in our spiritual life.
Housework puts us in touch with the passage of time. Over time surfaces collect dust. Tubs, sinks, and toilets get dirty. Food in the refrigerator spoils. Items get misplaced. Housework attempts to put cleanliness and order back into our homes that time has altered. It’s good for us to be reminded regularly of the passage of time. Housework subtly whispers to us, “Look around. Everything is changing. You too are changing and being altered by time. And so are your loved ones. Remember, you don’t have all the time in the world. Live your allotted time well.”
Housework can be a penance. It can be strenuous and boring and messy. It can seem futile too. I spend all this time cleaning and the place is a mess again in no time. As someone has said, “Housekeeping is like being caught in a revolving door.” Housework tells us that we don’t have to go looking for penances to perform. They’re as near as a vacuum cleaner and a dust cloth.
Housework can be rewarding. One thing I like about doing housework is that I can see the results of my work–even if the results are temporary. The sink sparkles, the mirror shines, and the garbage sits out in the garage. We can see more closure with housework than we can with many other “tasks” we may be involved in—like raising a family, getting a college education, working at the office or plant, teaching school, running a business, caring for an elderly parent.
Housework is essentially an act or charity. We clean the house so our family, our housemates, or our guests have a pleasant place to live or visit. Even if we were a hermit living in a small shack, we would still do housework—to make our shack pleasant for another important person: ourselves! Housework reminds us: charity begins at home.
Housework can lead to gratitude. We may not live in a palace, but most of us really have it good—especially compared to millions of other people living in this world. We have a roof over our head and a floor at our feet. We have running water, furniture, appliances, and windows to look out of. We have heat in the cold months and some of us even have air conditioning in the hot months. With every item we dust or clean or wash, we can say a little thank you to God for our bounty. And if we begin to realize we have too much “stuff,” we can find ways to share our bounty with others. After all, the less we have, the less we have to clean, take care of, and worry about!
Housework helps us keep our priorities straight. Housework is a relative value. Having a spotless house is not life’s chief goal. There’s some truth to that old proverb: “A spotless house is a sign of a misspent life.” A certain amount of dust and disorder in our home may be a sign that we are tending to values far more important than housework—like family, friendship, compassion, generosity, integrity, and faith. After all, cleanliness is not heaven’s first law: love is!