I believe in housework, but I do not enjoy an excess of it.
From my teens onward, monastic thought influenced and shaped my life — also buddhist and taoist thought.
There's a wonderful story (buddhist? taoist?) of two monks walking along a mountain path that goes past a humble stone dwelling alongside a clear stream.
As they approach the little house, the first monk says to the second, "A sage lives there, a holy man."
Then they notice a lettuce leaf bobbing on the water of the stream.
The second monk remarks: "He can't be either holy or wise, or he wouldn't be polluting the stream and wasting that lettuce leaf."
The words are scarcely out of his mouth when a skinny old man with a long beard, dressed in an ancient and tatty (but clean) robe, comes tearing out of the door, and runs at top speed to the stream to retrieve his lettuce leaf.
In monastic thought of every religion, cleanliness and frugality are prized.
"Cleanliness is next to godliness," as John Wesley said.
The monks I lived with in my teens had a little booklet setting out their rule of life: it included the observation, "The priory should reflect the peace and order of heaven."
Cleanliness and order belong to the kingdom of God, because they promote God's shalom. Where there is clutter, dirt, bacteria and mould proliferate, and insects and rodents take refuge. In their wake comes disease — respiratory tract problems (asthma and infections), gut infections, skin infections, all sorts. Our discipleship requires us to extend the reach of Christ — the kingdom of God, the spread of God's shalom; and cleanliness and order are part of this.
It is important that we undertake it ourselves, not personally be the source of dirt and clutter while passing onto others (paid or unpaid) the responsibility for clearing it all up.
As a teenager, I remember reading about the spiritual formation of Carmelite nuns. They are contemplatives, their work is prayer and art and writing. They don't teach or do social work. They are enclosed. So you might expect that their formation focused on spiritual and intellectual exercises. It made a strong impression on me that for their first year (postulancy and novitiate) they are required to do no intellectual labour but housework and gardening and cooking — manual work, which is an essential component of our spiritual formation. Scrubbing floors develops the soul.
This ongoing responsibility is an exacting requirement, but the task is made immensely more daunting if we have many possessions.
You don't have to be a minimalist to live simply, but it is much easier to live simply if you are a minimalist. The practice of simplicity requires you to be mindful about all the threads and connections of your life. The garments you wear, the groceries you buy, the fuel that lights and heats your home, all the myriad daily choices — the simplicity of faithfulness lays upon you the discipline and responsibility of becoming aware of the sources of these connections with the wider world, ensuring that so far as it is possible your end of the engagement promotes compassion, honesty, social justice and the wellbeing of creation. It is an enormous task. The less we have to think about, the easier it is to carry it out faithfully.
When it comes to housework, up to a point I enjoy it. There is an interest and pleasure in, for example, hand washing pyjamas and hanging them on the line to dry (as I did this morning), or carefully cleaning the accumulated grime from the touch of many fingers from the edge of a door or drawer or from a banister rail. It's pleasing. But if there is clutter everywhere, more than you can possibly deal with, it becomes merely overwhelming and one is discouraged from even making a start.
So keeping ones possessions strictly limited to a small number promotes the likelihood of keeping one's home tidy and clean. When I say it, that sounds like stating the obvious, doesn't it? But it's surprising how many people don't get it. I've had people say to me that they don't want to tackle their accumulation of possessions and dirt because they don't like housework; I say it's essential to keep it all under control for the very same reason. A minimalist lifestyle is brilliant for a lazy person.
Friday is meant to be cleaning day in our house, but the time got filled up with other duties, so we set about it today — Saturday — instead. We three women who live here full-time each give an hour to cleaning on the same day at the same time, and three hours is all that's needed to keep things in good shape. There's also a man who lives here and he also cleans, but on his own schedule because his patterns of responsibility are different.
So today, my job was vacuuming and dusting through the common ways, and cleaning my room. I want to show you what I had to clean.
The lower stairs to the attic (above that is the responsibility of the person who lives up there, and she isn't here at the moment) —
The landing (upstairs hall) —
The main stairs —
The downstairs passage (hall) and the front sitting room —
I swept the kitchen too, but the one of us who had the task of cleaning the kitchen pulled out the cooker and freezer to clean behind them —
The back sitting room —
— including the hearth —
— and all surfaces —
— and then the floor and surfaces —
— in my own room —
What I want you to see is how phenomenally easy it is. There is one hurdle to overcome — only one; getting rid of possessions, bringing the number of items one owns down to a minimal level. After that it's a breeze forever — and the older I get, the less energy I have and the more I appreciate it. In the years left to me on this earth I want to enjoy being by the sea and in the garden, to look at sunsets and smell roses and sit by the fire — not sift through mountains of clutter trying to find my tweezers!