A few days of neglect and the soul goes out of the house. May Sarton
If you sweep a house, and tend its fires and fill its stove, and there is love in you all the years you are doing this, then you and that house are married, that house is yours. Truman Capote
Spring is nearby and I am getting spring fever. Eager energies to deep clean and update Simplicity are itching to get out. Painted interior walls, refreshed porches, washed windows, and sanded floors find their way to this year’s to-do list. For us, this house maintenance process is a bit like boot camp. Don and I will jump into old clothes and special tools will come out of hiding. In the middle of any one of the projects, we will wane in enthusiasm, ask ourselves why we thought we needed to do this now, and then realize that it is easier to finish than to put everything away and live with the failed attempt. In the end, we will be exhausted, every ounce of mental and physical energy expended, but smiles will be on our faces. We will say to each other, ‘We did it’ and exchange a high five. There will be no regrets only sore muscles. And Simplicity will look divine with her teeth whitened and skin exfoliated.
That is the intense, once a year, both of us on deck kind of attention we give to this old house. The rest of the days are ordinary and uneventful in the upkeep department, yet requiring a certain faithfulness. Having lived in older houses most of my adult life, I can attest that they need lots of care. While dusting and vacuuming are a given to any house or home, with older homes it takes on an additional effort. It seems they have extra ridges, angles, and crannies that gather the unwanted. Simplicity has 1954 square feet on the main and upper floors. Added to that is a full basement, half of which is finished, used for television viewing, larger gatherings of people, and a second guest sleeping quarter. The other half is that chaotic storage space that also houses our studios and work area. We use every inch of this house which involves keeping it clean and maintained.
Over the years, I have developed a perspective around this house-keeping requirement. When I clean just to get it done, I resent the time spent. I have noticed that this attitude is often accompanied by a rather bad job of cleaning. I admit to taking shortcuts. While it may not be obvious to anyone else, I know that dust and clutter lurk where they should not. Rather than feeling put out and irritated with floors and sinks and tops of tables needing regular attention, I have leaned into a philosophy called mindfulness. Not wanting to waste time and energy, I use this frequent and repetitive act of home maintenance as my time to give gratitude for this old house that provides for us.
The reward is knowing the house is clean. I love living in a clean house. Perhaps it is somewhat like driving a washed car that seems to suddenly drive better. Living in a refreshed house makes what happens here run more smoothly. I know that many people do not share this kind of due diligence to house-keeping practices. Working out of our home as both Don and I do, the environment around us needs to be supportive. For me, dust and dirt easily distract and make living here less enjoyable.
To assist me in this endeavor, I favor task specific tools of the trade. Endust, Murphy’s Oil Soap, ammonia, vinegar and water, Orange Glo, and a wool floor dust mop from the Vermont Country Store are my companions. Don and I divide the chores. He takes charge of the bathrooms and kitchen. I am assigned the hardwood floors and rug shaking, as well as dusting.
We have come a long way in our relationship around house chores. Don would be the first to admit that cleaning to him was an irritation, an imposition, a job to simply be done. Watching him clean was like observing a mad man with many places untouched by his quick ‘get it finished’ approach. While appreciative of his willingness and sense of mutual responsibility in house chores, his way of cleaning put me on edge. Tense conversations and frustrated silences were frequent between us around this seemingly simple act of house-keeping. Both of us agreed, the issue had to be addressed.
I shared my mindfulness attitude which I had never taken time to do before. I spoke of this house as a home to our hopes and dreams as well as supportive of our everyday rhythms. House care is about respecting Simplicity. In addition, I admitted that clutter and discontent in any way in the house, distracts me. We talked openly about the mundane, but ever so important task of house cleaning, which led to a new understanding and appreciation for this old house in our care. Tasks are ways we love this house and honor each other’s needs in living together. In the end, Don jumped up his cleaning game and I relaxed my immaculate regulations.
House-keeping has long been regarded as the woman’s job. As women expanded their lives outside the home, house chores were suddenly viewed as menial tasks. One of the earliest books I remember reading on house-keeping was Sarah Ban Breathnach’s, Simple Abundance. Her words resonated with me and invited me into a different understanding around creating home and its responsibilities. She speaks of it as homecaring. I like that term. In one of her essays is a poem by Gunilla Norris. Time to dust again. Time to caress my house, to stroke all its surfaces. I want to think of it as a kind of lovemaking . . . the chance to appreciate by touch what I live with and cherish. For some of us, that is exactly the way it is.