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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

The Spirituality of Housework

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.

Some of the means of penance and charity!

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!

25 Responses

  1. Melannie,
    I can add to your list:
    Doing Housework calls us to LOOK at spaces we’ve been in and take a new look. What needs more attention? What needs to go that I don’t need anymore? What’s been used up and no longer works?

    Doing housework gives me a feeling of solidarity with those whose whole life is doing manual labor. Mine is so slight but it unites me – if I do it intentionally.

    Just thought I’d share these thoughts.

  2. Thank you for these thoughts. I will be looking at housework in a more positive way from now on. God bless!

  3. Beautiful way to look upon housework. I wish I had read something like this when I was much younger and rearing my 5 children. I wasn’t mature enough in my spiritual life to see it as an expression of gratitude for my blessings. I still struggle with keeping certain areas orderly and this is such a positive way to approach it. Thank you for you continued wisdom in your blog. I very much enjoyed your talks at the retreat in Dallas.

  4. When I clean house I try to see it as an act that aligns my actions with Creator God. Thus I fulfill my spiritual destiny to become more God-like. I am creating a space for myself and others that is clean, decorated, and inviting in which I find refuge to grow closer to God. Although it is a chore, and I am often sore afterwards, I have co-created and experienced gratitude for all the gifts that I have been given, including my role as creator with a little “c.” I have the same attitude towards gardening. Let’s face it, cleaning is work, but it can be spiritual work. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with your readers. Isn’t writing a co-creation, too?

  5. Melanie,

    From my youngest days, my grandmother always taught us that cleanliness and godliness go together. And here you have explained why.
    Thank you.

    Spring house cleaning keeps me in touch with the Easter Season. It brings new life to my personal space, engenders simplicity and a sense of order. And so it is also a reminder of my need for spiritual cleansing.

  6. I do housework to music. I’ve done this since I was about 10 and my mom used to say “You’ll scratch that record!” as I would dance to the music and leap about. 🙂 Now I’m not leaping as I do it, but I have a “housework playlist” of songs of praise to God. That makes housework less of a chore, and it feels like I get done faster. (It doesn’t work for cleaning out things when discernment about what to do with them is needed, but it does work for ordinary cleaning.) Thanks for your reflection! That will add to mine!

    1. A great idea, Annie! I often turn on the classical station when I clean my bedroom and bathroom…I like your idea of a “housework playlist” of songs of praise to God. Thanks again! Melannie

  7. Happy anniversary. Today is the feast day of St. Julie Billiart, the founder of Sisters of Notre Dame. I was educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame for 12 years in Fostoria, Ohio at St. Wendelin school. I am very appreciative for the outstanding education I received. Sr. Mary Lewellin gave me the technical foundation for a successful career in telecommunications as an electrical engineer. I will always be thankful for her. Did you know her.

    1. Dear Larry, Yes, April 8 is the feast of St. Julie–a special day for all Notre Dames…No, I didn’t know Sr. Mary Lewellin. She was in the Toledo province and I am in the Chardon province. But it’s always good to hear some good news about a former teacher. I had some great teachers along the way too–both lay and religious. Thanks for writing, Larry!

  8. Dear Sister,
    I look forward to your posts each Monday. You certainly open one’s eyes to the true beauty and opportunities that surround our lives.
    Today’s comments were also so thoughtful.
    Fran Rizzo
    Clearwater ,FL

  9. I have never minded doing housework. When I was quite young, I never thought to “offer it up”. I do remember (not fondly) putting curtains on the curtain stretchers to go out into the sun drying. I had sore fingertips for a few days.

  10. This is another Great one. I have come to the conclusion that I will never have a “clean” home, we have a lived in home, BUT the memories will never change the stuck on tape with all our names on the drawers that our son put there when he was six. Mostly when I do clean I remember this was my Mom’s or this was a gift from a family member that really means so much, the thought is the appreciation.
    Now outside in Nature is where I live the Best, this is where I am most comfortable and do most my deep thinking, with the help of a shovel, a pile of dirt and I am happy, I even went to the store the other day just to smell the Fertilizer! I love the Beauty of Creation. Conclusion inside or outside we get the same feeling.

  11. A Prayer for Housekeeping
    Healing Heart of Love,
    Open my mind and
    Unite me to my Source.
    Sustain me.
    Enlighten me.
    King of Love,
    Embrace me.
    Protect me.
    Invite me.
    Nudge me.
    Glorious God… meet me in all things. Amen.

  12. I haven’t really been myself nor have i kept up with my housework. And I’m fasting today 1-12-23 and I’m also trying to connect with my guides. So my question is.
    Does my house have to be clean clean for it to work

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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