What a pandemic has taught me – Lesson 4

I grew up on a small hobby farm in a rural community just north of Toronto.  My parents instilled in my sister and myself to take care of our stuff and to clean up after ourselves.  When we were finished with one toy, we cleaned it up and put it away before we could take out the next toy.  All of our toys and stuff were kept in the original boxes they came in.  I still have my Atari system which is in pristine condition.  Unfortunately, the box got ruined in one of my many moves over the years, but it’s still in mint condition, nonetheless.

And we had chores.  I had to clean my own bedroom and the entire basement because that’s where I spent most of my time.  I also had to cut the grass, pick up all the tree branches that fell on the property as well as feed and care for the animals (we had rabbits, goats, chickens, guinea pigs and cats).  Cutting the grass was awesome until I wasn’t allowed to listen to my Sony Walkman anymore because I didn’t hear the tractor making a wretched noise that indicated something was severely wrong with it.  But as I think back, it’s probably just as well since I attribute my hearing loss to loud music and concert going.  I also don’t want to sound like I hated having chores.  I really didn’t mind doing it (and also looking back glad I had to do them to become the responsible adult I am today) and we got a weekly allowance for doing them that allowed me to purchase said cassettes and concert tickets; my first concert ticket was $12.50 for a Motley Crue concert at Maple Leaf Gardens! Those were the days!

Alright, let’s get back on track! I moved out when I was 19.  I had an apartment on Manning Avenue in Toronto (near Bathurst and Bloor and Honest Ed’s!); the top floor of a house owned by my 90+ year old landlady (also named Angela).  It was the first place I could call “mine”, kind of, and when I wasn’t studying, I was cleaning.  I used to put on (loud) music and vacuum, wash the floors, dust, wipe down walls and counters.  It sparkled.  Anyone who came over was afraid to touch anything because they didn’t want to make it dirty.  I was proud.  

A few years later, I started working full time and moved to a farm just north of Pickering.  Now accounting is similar to law in that you have to do what is essentially “articling” and you are exempt from employment standards. So, now I was working 50-70 hours a week and in my “spare” time studying for my CA exams.  But I still took 4-5 hours on a Sunday to clean my entire house.  I also had two dogs and two cats at the time and wanted to ensure my house was not full of fur.  I was more exhausted than proud but my house was clean and I think that made me happy? 

Over the years, cleaning whatever house I was living in became my way of de-stressing. I would spend half of one of my days off listening to music and cleaning my house.  But at some point I lost that sense of how important it was and maybe even the pride I took in it.  I felt like I was missing out. I decided that there were better, funner ways of burning off steam and de-stressing.  I wanted to be outside, I wanted to find social connections and I wanted to have some fun.  Suddenly, my house work became a chore that had to be done (with no allowance to boot!), or so I thought because that’s what I’d been taught.  

So, slowly I eased up a bit.  I can attribute that to my late Aunt Rickie who always had a sign on her kitchen wall that said “Housework is a Bummer”.  She told me that no one was going to remember her for her clean (or dirty) house.  She wanted to be remembered as someone who had fun and lived life.  (And that is exactly how I will always remember her – I even told her that she taught me that housework was, in fact, a bummer right before she died).

I actually decreased my cleaning time from 4-5 hours down to 2-3 hours. Which was a good first step.  But then I suddenly had some other people living in my house, who didn’t clean up after themselves. (You can be rest assured that this was one of the many reasons these people are no longer in my house and my life). But at the time, I was working full time and teaching 8-12 classes a week. Then I took the job as the manager of the fitness classes, the schedule and the staff that came with it on top of all of this. (And yes, I was running away from what was happening at home).  But at that point I knew I couldn’t keep up with the clean house I needed/wanted/thought I should (to) have.  So, I hired a cleaning lady.  Now, I set that up so you would realize my reasons for hiring her because I felt like a cheat, pretentious and someone shirking their house owning duties.  I was actually embarrassed to tell people.  Yet, housework was still a bummer.

Hiring her was the best thing I could have done at the time.  I got over the embarrassment pretty quickly. And when those other people were gone from my house and my life, I lost the manager’s job due to a restructure and then I cut back on what I teach due to an injury, I decided to keep having someone else clean my house.  Because remember, housework is a bummer. I also decided that now more than ever, I had far better things to do with my time and that freed up a big chunk of my time to do those things.  So, for ten years, that’s the way it went until COVID happened and she couldn’t come anymore.  

My initial reaction was panic. OMG! Housework is a bummer and I’m going to have to do it again.    My husband and I spent a couple of weeks getting used to our new working from home schedule and the fact that we were home more which therefore, dirtied it more.  And together we did the best we could.  

But then a short while into our stay home work environment,  I listened to a podcast that discussed Buddhist monks.  I’ve listened to so many podcasts over the last 5 months that I completely forget which one and the subject matter, but it doesn’t matter because I heard what I needed to hear at that time.  Thank you Universe!.

Buddhist monks start their day with cleaning.  They believe that it is part of the path to well being.  Not only do you cleanse your space, but in doing so, you cleanse your mind.  Cleaning is also a meditative act so you get the benefits of moving meditation along with it.  That is “Win-Win”. But the key point, the take away here, and lesson number 4; they only clean for 20 minutes a day!  That’s it.  

So, I decided to implement this to see how it worked.  You’d be surprised how much you can get done in 20 minutes.  By cleaning for just 20 minutes each day, I was able to keep our house as clean as we liked it to be and felt a sense of accomplishment each day. And by cycling through just 20 minutes each day everything was getting done.  I even had time on some days to clean out a drawer or a shelf in a closet.  It is an absolutely brilliant way of cleaning your space.  I was cleansing my space, I was cleansing my mind (because I wasn’t worrying about a dirty house) and it is, in fact, a meditative act.  And it made housework not quite such a bummer!

Recently, my husband asked if I should contact my cleaning lady to get her to come back again.  My answer was a surprising “not right now”.  I want to ride this out.  I feel better knowing I’m taking care of my own space.  I’m saving the money I was spending.  It’s working for me. Housework is still a bummer (who wouldn’t rather read or watch Jeopardy for 20 minutes) but it’s less of a bummer when you break it down like that.