Do you ever spend hours on a household task, and wonder if it really makes a difference?
Your toil simply brings the room back to zero, or returns the space to how it was before.
Last weekend I cleaned the upper walls in the kitchen. Dust had gathered, so first I got up on a ladder and brushed the dust from the walls with a broom.
Then I washed the walls by hand with a sponge and soapy water, to remove the thin veneer of grease that seems to gather in a kitchen.
Next, I had to clean all the kitchen surfaces below to remove the particles of dust that had floated down. After several hours of work, the only thing I had to show for my efforts were walls that look normal-ish and un-dirty.
Perhaps you, too, have spent an hour on your knees pulling weeds from a flower bed in the heat. Later you gaze at the garden and it hardly looks any different at all. Will anyone even notice?
The Absence Of…
As regularly as the sun rises and sets, it seems that we humans are called to perform many repetitive, humble tasks.
And what do we have to show for our actions?
Many times, only The Absence Of.
Often, the space we have painstakingly made tidy quickly becomes untidy.
We clean the kitchen, and the sink quickly refills with dirty dishes. We prune the bushes, and soon they are wild and unwieldy again. We rake up all the leaves, and a wind storm fills the yard again.
Sometimes we might wonder about the worth of our faithful actions, too.
You refrain from joining in when everyone else is badmouthing the boss. You quietly check in on an elderly friend. You return your shopping cart and straighten out the other haphazardly placed carts while you’re there. You make dozens of decisions every week to try and be a good steward.
Do our small acts matter? I think they do. Here are some techniques and thoughts that have helped me when I’m doing unseen, repetitive chores.
I’ve noticed that multitasking isn’t a very satisfying way to get things done. I’m so much happier when I don’t try to, say, combine a phone conversation with housecleaning. Studies show that the quality of our work suffers when we try to do two things at once, while focusing on one thing is actually more efficient.
2. Practice mindfulness
You might pause for a moment to notice the fragrance of the fallen leaves while you’re raking. Listen for the sound of the birds. Take time to deep clean the kitchen counters, and appreciate the way they shine when you’re done.
3. Give thanks
I try to remember to be grateful for the privilege of having a home and a patch of earth to care for. I want to be thankful for the ability to perform many tasks, knowing that there are countless people who would love to be able to, say, crouch down and pull weeds.
4. Let go of perfection
I often repeat the FlyLady’s mantra: “Housework, done imperfectly, still blesses my family.” I love this so much!
5. Take heart
When it feels like my efforts are in vain, it helps me to remember that God sees my small acts even when nobody else notices. We can trust that there are unseen rewards when we do our best to be diligent and thoughtful, and care for what we have.
How About You?
Have you ever experienced the feelings I described? Do you have other suggestions to add to my list? I always love to hear your thoughts and comments.
May you experience many blessings and joy as you perform your chores and daily tasks.
P.S. You might also enjoy “The You’re Not Doing Enough Club.“
About Eliza Cross
Eliza Cross is the author of 17 books, including Small Bites, 101 Things To Do With Bacon, and BERRIES. She enjoys sharing ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, and home projects. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.
5 thoughts on “I Wish You Could See What Was Here Before”
I love clean and clear surfaces. I guess I also love a clear and clean mind and conscious 😉
Tony, you make a very good point! Thanks for sharing that reminder.
LOVE this post! You know, back before I pulled up my hideous avocado green shag carpeting, vacuuming was one of my most hated chores. I think part of the reason was that even if I spent 3 hours on the horrible task, you couldn’t tell that I’d done anything at all! After I ripped it up, I needed some area rugs to compliment the oak floors, and I had a real challenge deciding on colors and patterns. I ended up with one rug that’s neutral stripes, and the smaller ones are all solid black. A good friend who used to be an interior decorator told me not to get black because it shows dirt, but honestly, this is one of the things I really love about those black area rugs. It’s easy to tell when they need to be vacuumed, and there’s a HUGE reward when you do it because you can clearly see that you’ve made a difference!
The only thing I’d add to your list is to try not to hurry when doing these sorts of chores. I suppose that’s sort of like mindfulness, but it’s slightly different. My tendency is always to try to push through something unpleasant as quickly as possible, but that tends to make me hate the whole process even more. It’s like I feel defeated before I even begin – like I should be finished already, even if I’ve just started. When I actually set aside time to do the thing without hurrying, I always end up feeling like it wasn’t really so bad after all.
Oh, and the gratitude thing is just huge. A few years back I was having a bad spate of flat tires on bike rides. Turned out there was a problem with my rims (long bike-geek story) but what it meant was that I was getting flats on almost every ride! So we were riding and I got another flat, and I started to complain vociferously about having to change it. CatMan, who has severe back problems and can’t physically bend over to change a flat, called me out on it. “You know” he said, “the time will come when you will long for the days of changing flat tires.” He was soooo right. Every day is a privilege.
Thanks for another wonderful post!
Cat, I love what you wrote about changing flat tires. Oh, that’s so good. Thank you for the reminder that gratitude can so easily change my perspective when I’m feeling grumpy.
I like your reminder to take our time, too. Hurrying through a task isn’t pleasant at all. (But given that it took you hours to vacuum your avocado green shag carpeting, I bet you don’t miss it at all!)
Your perspective is always fresh and insightful, and I appreciate your comments. xoxo
I SO feel this way, especially after a Sunday of cleaning, then cooking, which means my kitchen is back to needing cleaning! I disagree with the multitasking though. I know I shouldn’t multitask when I’m doing more important things, but if I couldn’t listen to a podcast or call my mom when cleaning, I would never do housework. The other suggestions are great though – I’ll be giving these a try when I clean back up my kitchen tonight.