Mind Over Clutter

June 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

Buddhist Monk Sweeping

Buddhist principles have their place in everyday household routines -- and even help alleviate some of the stress associated with doing them!

Housework — it’s that thing in our lives most of us dread doing. I used to get very frustrated that my house didn’t look like it belonged in a magazine even after hours of cleaning. That frustration would grow when, just moments after I polished off a surface, food would get eaten, crumbs would fall onto the counter, dishes would begin to make their grubby presence known in a once sparkling, pristine sink, and a bread bag would get left open on the kitchen table, hanging open and growing more stale — and ugly — by the passing moment.

Feelings of resentment toward those with whom I co-habitate would grow: Why can’t they just pick up after themselves? Why am I the only one who seems to know how to replace the roll of toilet paper in this house??? Does no one else know how to wash a dish? Turn on the washing machine? Make the bed? Put dishes away???? Good lord!

I’d love to be able to say that Buddhism helped me see through the fog of all this resentment which, by the way, usually results in complete avoidance of the tasks that need to be done to remedy the situation (“Why should I do the dishes again, I just did them! It’s ‘someone else’s turn now.”) To be honest, there is another source that helped me work through all of this. This other source, though, I’ve grown to find shares common threads with Buddhism. That’s my topic for today — That, and how the Other Source AND the Buddhist point of view have helped me with the issue of resenting housework.

Perhaps some of you already know about FlyLady .  Despite this strange name (which she explains on her web site, along with what FLYing is), she offers words of wisdom that really snapped me into reality when it comes to everyday living. Her mantra, “Jump in where you are,” urges those who feel that they are drowning in the “should do’s” around their house to just start — anywhere. Because if we wait for that perfect moment before we start cleaning, we’ll never get started. Nothing will change unless we just start SOMEWHERE.

Through a routine which she helps individuals establish through her Baby Steps, she instills in those who subscribe to her e-mail service (and Web site) this idea of cleaning, and shedding what we in Buddhism would call dukka. She refers to what we would consider ‘labeling’ and ‘judging’ as ‘negative talk’ and gives examples through testimonials sent in by subscribers of how these things causes our own suffering. After a while, we see her message is one of letting go of expectations and accepting impermanence.

Another common theme in her daily messages is the letting go of the idea of ‘Perfect’ (a big part of expectations). She tells us to clean, dust, put things away, and “put out hotspots” (clear surface area clutter) for anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes, whatever fits into our schedules. The important thing being, to just do it. Whatever it is, just do it for a few minutes, and STOP. Look. Admire what you’ve done. Slow down. Appreciate … starting to sound familiar? Yeah, once I started looking at Buddhism, it did to me too.

Mindfulness 101, here you go. Another good one in the mindfulness category is “Do one job, and finish it. Don’t start another one until you’re done.” It’s the anti-multitasking message which is also part of what being mindful has taught me to do. Concentrate on what you’re doing. Give it your full attention — doing that will allow you to be mindful of your actions, ‘being in the present’ helps us approach aspects of our lives with less anxiety, stress (aka “suffering), and from the FlyLady’s perspective, it allows us to get things out, sort, purge, put away, and actually see the job through to the end.

My absolute favorite message of all that belongs to not just Buddhism, but also to the FlyLady, is the Anti-Perfectionism message. If you wait for perfect, you will never start cleaning. If you wait for perfect, you will never be satisfied with what you have. If you strive for perfect, you will hurt yourself, resent those you live with. If you strive for perfect, you will start to perceive your co-habitants as keeping you away from achieving perfect. “Perfect” is an illusion, it’s expectation, it’s dukka! FlyLady nails that idea right on the head, and it’s central to her message of Finally Loving Yourself.

My favorite chore of hers she gives us to do once a week? “Vacuum each room, JUST THE MIDDLES (no going along the corners or edges, and NO moving furniture allowed). Set your timer for 10 minutes and STOP!” No matter what. If we think it’s not perfect, she urges us to put the vacuum cleaner down, and take a REAL look at what we’ve done. Notice everything, including the fact that post-“imperfect” vacuuming, the room is already much better than it was. Be happy in that.

LOVE that message.

So, here’s a side-by-side of what Buddhism teaches, and the messages I’ve received from the FlyLady over the last few months. What I’ve learned from FlyLady is in parentheses, what I’ve learned from Buddhism are not … if this isn’t practice applied to every day life, I’m not sure what is:

Impermanence (accept the breadcrumbs on the kitchen table, it wasn’t going to stay clean for long anyway)

Letting go of expectations (accepting the fact that after 10 minutes of dusting, my house was still going to be a 150-year-old farm house in serious need of updating — it was NOT going to turn into a quaint New England farm house ready for one of those magazines)

Mindfulness (the ‘stop and look,’ ‘pay attention to one job at a time’)

Right Intention (am I cleaning the house to make a point to those who co-habitate, or am I cleaning it so I can feel good about where I live? Am I cleaning with the intent to be perfect, or am I cleaning with the intent to provide comfortable living space?)

It’s been about a year now, since my more serious study of Buddhism, FlyLady and I have crossed paths. It’s taken a lot of practice and training of both Buddhism AND FLYing to get myself there, but I can now happily say that I hang the laundry on the line and feel thankful for the few minutes to do what I call a “standing meditation” — that is, notice the hanging laundry, the motions, the breath, the thoughts, label my past, future and thoughts of fantasy, set them aside, and bring my mind back onto my task with equanimity — no resentment, no grumbling, no expectations. Dishes get the same treatment, as does any other chore.

The result? Not a perfect house, but people can walk in any time, and we’re not mortified any more (FLY Lady calles that “C.H.A.O.S. [Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome]”), and best of all, I’m not angry any more — no mess to make me stressed, no resentment while cleaning, which means happier me, happier kids, happier everyone all around.

Thanks Sid. Thanks FlyLady 🙂

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