The Spirituality of Housework

by Melannie Svoboda SND on April 8, 2013

Spring is here—at least for those of us living in the northern hemisphere. And when I think of spring, I think of that old venerable tradition called “spring cleaning.” And spring cleaning makes me think about housework.  I wonder: can housework play a role in our spiritual life?

First, here’s my favorite definition of housework: “Housework is what you do that nobody notices unless you don’t do it.” (Evan Esar) And here are a few reasons I think housework can play an important role in our spiritual life.

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Some of the means of penance and charity!

Housework puts us in touch with the passage of time. Over time surfaces collect dust. Tubs, sinks, and toilets get dirty. Food in the refrigerator spoils. Items get misplaced. Housework attempts to put cleanliness and order back into our homes that time has altered. It’s good for us to be reminded regularly of the passage of time. Housework subtly whispers to us, “Look around. Everything is changing. You too are changing and being altered by time. And so are your loved ones. Remember, you don’t have all the time in the world. Live your allotted time well.”

Housework can be a penance. It can be strenuous and boring and messy. It can seem futile too. I spend all this time cleaning and the place is a mess again in no time. As someone has said, “Housekeeping is like being caught in a revolving door.” Housework tells us that we don’t have to go looking for penances to perform. They’re as near as a vacuum cleaner and a dust cloth.

Housework can be rewarding. One thing I like about doing housework is that I can see the results of my work–even if the results are temporary. The sink sparkles, the mirror shines, and the garbage sits out in the garage. We can see more closure with housework than we can with many other “tasks” we may be involved in—like raising a family, getting a college education, working at the office or plant, teaching school, running a business, caring for an elderly parent.

Housework is essentially an act or charity. We clean the house so our family, our housemates, or our guests have a pleasant place to live or visit.  Even if we were a hermit living in a small shack, we would still do housework—to make our shack pleasant for another important person: ourselves! Housework reminds us: charity begins at home.

Housework can lead to gratitude. We may not live in a palace, but most of us really have it good—especially compared to millions of other people living in this world. We have a roof over our head and a floor at our feet. We have running water, furniture, appliances, and windows to look out of. We have heat in the cold months and some of us even have air conditioning in the hot months. With every item we dust or clean or wash, we can say a little thank you to God for our bounty. And if we begin to realize we have too much “stuff,” we can find ways to share our bounty with others.  After all, the less we have, the less we have to clean, take care of, and worry about!

Housework helps us keep our priorities straight. Housework is a relative value.  Having a spotless house is not life’s chief goal. There’s some truth to that old proverb: “A spotless house is a sign of a misspent life.” A certain amount of dust and disorder in our home may be a sign that we are tending to values far more important than housework—like family, friendship, compassion, generosity, integrity, and faith. After all, cleanliness is not heaven’s first law: love is!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Dion April 8, 2013 at 8:45 am

Melannie,
I can add to your list:
Doing Housework calls us to LOOK at spaces we’ve been in and take a new look. What needs more attention? What needs to go that I don’t need anymore? What’s been used up and no longer works?

Doing housework gives me a feeling of solidarity with those whose whole life is doing manual labor. Mine is so slight but it unites me – if I do it intentionally.

Just thought I’d share these thoughts.
Dion

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Dear Dion, Thanks you for your additional insights–especially of our solidarity with all who do manual labor of any kind! Melannie

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Suzanne Sayer April 8, 2013 at 9:10 am

Thank you for these thoughts. I will be looking at housework in a more positive way from now on. God bless!

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm

That’s great, Suzanne! God bless you! Sr. Melannie

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Kathleen Magiera April 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

Wonderful definition of housework Sr. Melannie. We can think of it inside and out.

Kathleen

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm

That’s right, Kathleen! We clean our yards too! Sr. Melannie

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Linda April 8, 2013 at 10:06 am

Beautiful way to look upon housework. I wish I had read something like this when I was much younger and rearing my 5 children. I wasn’t mature enough in my spiritual life to see it as an expression of gratitude for my blessings. I still struggle with keeping certain areas orderly and this is such a positive way to approach it. Thank you for you continued wisdom in your blog. I very much enjoyed your talks at the retreat in Dallas.
Linda

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Dear Linda, Thank you for your wise words! And the memories from the retreat in Dallas still linger on and bring me joy! Gratefully, Sr. Melannie

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Marjorie April 8, 2013 at 10:19 am

When I clean house I try to see it as an act that aligns my actions with Creator God. Thus I fulfill my spiritual destiny to become more God-like. I am creating a space for myself and others that is clean, decorated, and inviting in which I find refuge to grow closer to God. Although it is a chore, and I am often sore afterwards, I have co-created and experienced gratitude for all the gifts that I have been given, including my role as creator with a little “c.” I have the same attitude towards gardening. Let’s face it, cleaning is work, but it can be spiritual work. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with your readers. Isn’t writing a co-creation, too?

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Dear Marjorie, I like how you connected cleaning house to the activity of our Creator God. And yes, housework is close to gardening in a way! Sr. Melannie

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Larry April 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

Melanie,

From my youngest days, my grandmother always taught us that cleanliness and godliness go together. And here you have explained why.
Thank you.

Spring house cleaning keeps me in touch with the Easter Season. It brings new life to my personal space, engenders simplicity and a sense of order. And so it is also a reminder of my need for spiritual cleansing.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Thank you, Larry, for connecting housework and Easter! And for reminding us of our need for “spiritual cleansing” too! Sr. Melannie

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Annie April 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

I do housework to music. I’ve done this since I was about 10 and my mom used to say “You’ll scratch that record!” as I would dance to the music and leap about. 🙂 Now I’m not leaping as I do it, but I have a “housework playlist” of songs of praise to God. That makes housework less of a chore, and it feels like I get done faster. (It doesn’t work for cleaning out things when discernment about what to do with them is needed, but it does work for ordinary cleaning.) Thanks for your reflection! That will add to mine!

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

A great idea, Annie! I often turn on the classical station when I clean my bedroom and bathroom…I like your idea of a “housework playlist” of songs of praise to God. Thanks again! Melannie

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Larry Schalk April 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Happy anniversary. Today is the feast day of St. Julie Billiart, the founder of Sisters of Notre Dame. I was educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame for 12 years in Fostoria, Ohio at St. Wendelin school. I am very appreciative for the outstanding education I received. Sr. Mary Lewellin gave me the technical foundation for a successful career in telecommunications as an electrical engineer. I will always be thankful for her. Did you know her.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Dear Larry, Yes, April 8 is the feast of St. Julie–a special day for all Notre Dames…No, I didn’t know Sr. Mary Lewellin. She was in the Toledo province and I am in the Chardon province. But it’s always good to hear some good news about a former teacher. I had some great teachers along the way too–both lay and religious. Thanks for writing, Larry!

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Fran Rizzo April 8, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Dear Sister,
I look forward to your posts each Monday. You certainly open one’s eyes to the true beauty and opportunities that surround our lives.
Today’s comments were also so thoughtful.
Fran Rizzo
Clearwater ,FL

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Dear Fran,
Thank you for writing all the way from Florida. I appreciate your words! Sr. Melannie

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Mary Schneider April 8, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I have never minded doing housework. When I was quite young, I never thought to “offer it up”. I do remember (not fondly) putting curtains on the curtain stretchers to go out into the sun drying. I had sore fingertips for a few days.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 8, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Thank you, Mary, for sharing this specific housework memory! Sr. Melannie

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Bridget Holy April 9, 2013 at 9:18 pm

This is another Great one. I have come to the conclusion that I will never have a “clean” home, we have a lived in home, BUT the memories will never change the stuck on tape with all our names on the drawers that our son put there when he was six. Mostly when I do clean I remember this was my Mom’s or this was a gift from a family member that really means so much, the thought is the appreciation.
Now outside in Nature is where I live the Best, this is where I am most comfortable and do most my deep thinking, with the help of a shovel, a pile of dirt and I am happy, I even went to the store the other day just to smell the Fertilizer! I love the Beauty of Creation. Conclusion inside or outside we get the same feeling.
B

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 10, 2013 at 6:41 am

Dear Bridget, I can just see you in the store smelling the fertilizer! Only another gardener would understand! Thanks again for writing! Sr. Melannie

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marian April 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm

A Prayer for Housekeeping
Healing Heart of Love,
Open my mind and
Unite me to my Source.
Sustain me.
Enlighten me.
King of Love,
Embrace me.
Protect me.
Invite me.
Nudge me.
Glorious God… meet me in all things. Amen.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 12, 2013 at 6:49 am

Dear Marian, Thank you for your prayer. It’s beautiful! Melannie

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