Mindful House Cleaning

Photo from Wildmind.org

Mindful Housecleaning

“Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment chop wood, carry water”.

–Zen proverb

Are you kidding?  I hate to clean.  Especially the bathrooms.  I mean, who enjoys cleaning the toilet?  I never could get ahead of the dust and dirt in my home before I retired.  When Jim and I moved to our cottage by the ocean, I thought, “Well, now I’m retired and I’ll be able to keep an immaculate home.”  It hasn’t quite turned out that way.  First of all, our two Welsh Terriers, Chuck, and Hunter, who we affectionately call “Bad Dog 1” and “Bad Dog 2”,  have determined that being house trained means “marking” all the chair legs and pooing whenever we’re not looking at them.  Obviously, this isn’t really a laughing matter.  I’ve tried everything to get them to save themselves for the beautiful outdoors with little success.  My next step is to hire a personal trainer who will live with us at least 12 hours a day.  I’m only halfway kidding!  But I digress!

The other reason my house doesn’t look like a commercial for Mr. Clean is that house cleaning just isn’t very high on my priority list.  I’d much rather read books for my three book clubs, or meditate, or write, or take the pups for a walk.  Let’s be honest, I’d rather do almost anything other than clean the house.  Why is cleaning so distasteful to me?  Because it’s dirty! I never enjoyed camping because of the bugs and dirt.  I won’t swim in the ocean channel behind my house because – it’s dirty!  Okay, I admit it, I’m not a dirty girl!  However, much to my chagrin, the more I’ve learned about mindfulness, the more I’ve learned that house cleaning can be done in such a way that brings about relaxation, satisfaction, an even, dare I say it – comfort around dirt!  Is camping next?  Well, let’s not get carried away.

Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully described his perspective on doing the dishes in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, “While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly. Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I am completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly …”

According to Lori Deschene, author of the blog, tinybuddha.com, cleaning can be an exercise in acceptance.  Consider the dirty toilet.  It is dirty, just like the dirt of the earth outside my house and interconnected with everything around it.  I’d like to procrastinate and I’ll certainly complain.  I’ll consider hiring a housekeeper.  But I like the idea that we can benefit from accepting that we have to do things we don’t like occasionally.  In fact doing undesirable cleaning tasks uses less energy than avoiding them.  As I clean the toilet, I stop judging the task as good or bad.  I bring my focus back whenever those nagging thoughts show up about how disgusting the task is. I focus instead on how I use the brush, how the appearance of the surface changes, how I am pleased by the outcome.

I’ve gathered some tips to help me learn a more mindful way of doing house chores.  See what you think.  In the meantime, there is a new poo pile that is waiting for me to clean up.

Tips for Mindful Housework

  1. Make the bed to set the tone for the day. Feel the sheets smooth out.  Notice the air as you shake the sheets.  Feel the fluff in the pillows.  Notice the way the bed looks when made.
  2. Mop the floor with deliberate motions. Take your time.  Notice the movements you use.  Watch the water swirl.  Feel the rhythm of movement.  Notice the change in the floor surface.
  3. Do the dishes. ”From the moment you start to stack the dishes to the moment you hang up the towel, notice every sensation. The sound of the water running, the sight of the bubbles, the smell of the dishwashing liquid, the sounds of the silverware hitting each other in the drainer, the feel of the dishes in your hands, the warmth of the water. Move slowly. Concentrate on the task, instead of your to do list.” (Laurie Erdman, Huffpost blog)

Finally, do housework with gratitude and compassion. Before you start, remember to be grateful for what you have, for being able to clean or declutter. Be grateful for the people you have in your life, and remember why you’re grateful for them. Then remember you’re cleaning out of compassion: for the people in your life, so that their day might be a bit better for having a clean counter or sink, for yourself, so that you might have a nice uncluttered space in which to read a good book. This is your intention, and it will help you remember to be mindful.


By Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says everyone of us is a child,
everyone of us is ancient,
everyone of us has a body.
He says everyone of us is frightened.
He says everyone of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive–
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.


  1. I really enjoyed this and am glad to see that I’m not the only one who would rather read than clean. Also, my Yorkie has the same bad habits as your dogs. For years, however, I have been putting a belly wrap on him which spares our chair legs and carpeting from #1!


  2. I loved this post. It was serendipitous that I read it on the very day that I had a lady in to clean my house. Someone else cleaning my house for the first time in months and months was such a treat. Since we have cancelled our cable tv, I can justify paying someone else to do this once a month. It changes my pattern from “I’ll get to that clutter, dishes, laundry tomorrow” to “I had better get that stuff taken care of before Tina gets here to clean” .
    My relationship to cleaning goes back many years. Even as a child I liked to clean my room. As an adult I hired myself out as a housecleaner for a couple of years. There is a zen to taking a dirty or messy room and putting it right. Such a feeling of accomplishment! And my efforts were always appreciated with praise and money. But for now I prefer to let someone else do the scrubbing. I will do the decluttering and organizing. Also very satisfying.


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