Cleaning House

I have a good friend who becomes Midge, an alter ego, when she cleans. Midge is a coffee-swilling, gum chewing, wise cracking, no nonsense Italian with a razor-sharp focus for cleaning down to the cracks and crevices.

I’m no Midge. I like an organized home and a clean home, which, having a dog means vacuuming every few days. I don’t want to admit this but I probably would not have made a good mom. Okay maybe one kid but not more. Too much mess. I wouldn’t want to curb a child’s creativity but honestly, I would not have dealt well with the chaos. Even living with another adult has its challenges. Dishes in the sink, food left out, clothes on the floor… these things make me crazy. I’m not proud of this but there it is. I make my bed every morning. I have very low tolerance for living with others who don’t. Which means dogs are about the only level of chaos and dirt I can deal with on a daily basis

Being allergic to dogs means my house has to be clean, even beyond my own compulsion. Or maybe my dog is a good reason to mask my compulsion.

I tend to clean at the oddest times. Like first thing in the morning, before I even have a cup of tea or change out of my PJs. That’s typically when I tackle something big – before I have a chance to settle into the day, get distracted, and change my mind.

Which is what I did last week when I cleaned out the fireplace nook and had to dry all my DVDs. And this week when I decided it was time to get rid of more books. I was lying in bed scrolling through emails as I typically do while my little Mazie continues to snooze under the covers until the sun comes up.

Then a prayer by Rob Brezney caught my eye. A powerful radical juicy prayer. A prayer that may shock some of you but I’m going to share a part of it anyway because it has everything to do with my current headspace.

DEAR GODDESS, you who always answer our very best questions, even if we ignore you: Please be here with us right now. Come inside us with your sly slippery slaphappy mojo.

DEAR GODDESS, you who never kill but only change: I pray that my exuberant, suave, and accidental words will move you to shower ferocious blessings down on everyone who reads or hears this benediction.

I pray that you will give us what we don’t even know we need—not just the boons we think we want, but everything we’ve always been afraid to even imagine or ask for.

Many of us don’t even know who we really are. We’ve forgotten that our souls live forever. We’re blind to the fact that every little move we make sends ripples through eternity. Some of us are even ignorant of how extravagant, relentless, and practical your love for us is.

Please wake us up to the shocking truths. Use your brash magic to help us see that we are completely different from we’ve been led to believe, and more exciting than we can possibly imagine.

Provoke us to throw away or give away everything we own that encourages us to believe we’re better than anyone else.

There I stopped. I caught my breath. I read that again.

Provoke us to throw away or give away everything we own that encourages us to believe we’re better than anyone else.

As if I needed another sign or more encouragement, here it was. First there was the mold and I cleaned my house. I let go of some things. A lot of things, I thought. Things that had once defined me, like my camera. And then, so quickly, I became complacent again. Now there is this. There is still more to clean, more to release.

And that’s what got me out of bed and into the living room to start clearing off my bookshelves at 7 am.

My library has always been a point of pride for me. As it was for my father too. And I inherited a lot of his books, particularly his leather-bound classics. They look good on my shelves, mixed in with all the old and antique books I’ve collected over the years. Granted, the old books are fun. I love reading the language of 100 years ago. But the leather-bound, if I’m being truthful, are pure ego. Those books are for show. Those books are meant to impress, to say a smart person lives here. Those books have been my shield and a façade. It’s time to let those books go.

So I filled my trunk with books. Some I sold, others I gave to a church, and others I slipped into a few little free libraries around town. And I still have more to go, more to give away. But for the first time ever, I have blank spaces on my shelves. I am decluttering my life (again). Releasing what I no longer need, what only makes me heavy, and which deceives me into believing I’m something other than what I am.

Cleaning house is more than vacuuming and tidying up. More than putting things neatly in places so they can’t be seen.

I’m no Midge. But I am definitely getting better at cleaning.


Meanwhile, I’m still tackling the piles of paper on my writing table and a few other surfaces. I’m saving more things digitally these days but the truth is, I always forget the things I’ve saved on my computer. When they are printed, I find them again. And finding them again is priceless.

Here is something I rediscovered this week, another perfect reminder for me and quite timely as we remember Thich Nhat Hanh, the wonderful Buddhist teacher who transcended his mortal body a few days ago:

When Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to the San Francisco Zen Center years ago, the students asked him what they could do to improve their practice. He had entered a monastery at age sixteen, was an ordained monk, and had endured the horrors of the war in Vietnam. The expectation was that he would offer them some rigorous prescription for deepening their spiritual life.

Here’s what he said: ‘You guys get up too early for one thing; you should get up a little later. And your practice is too grim. I have just two instructions for you. One is to breathe, and one is to smile.'”

Sometimes it really isn’t complicated. Breath is cleansing. Inhale the good stuff, exhale the old and unneeded.

Breathe. And smile. This is how we clean house.

These are just some of the books I gave away this week

This photo was taken by Bill Lemke, who studied under Ansel Adams in 1982. My photo of the piece doesn’t do it justice. I purchased this decades ago and continue to find comfort in the serene smile of this unnamed woman. A modern monk, perhaps? Or the Goddess in human form. Breathe, she says, and smile.

One Comment on “Cleaning House

  1. Pingback: When Home is a Vocation – Jan Peppler HOME

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