“Can you do two things for me?”
This is how I begin when I want Jeremy to do something for me around the house. And if I say “two things” he’s going to hold me to only those two things. I can’t try to sneak in an extra something.
So, the other day I asked him to do a few things for me. To me it was a few things—nothing major. To him it was a loooooong list of chores.
“I just did a bunch of stuff for you yesterday.” Actually, it was more like, “I just did a bunch of stuff for you yesterdAAAAaaaaAAAAy.” Moan, moan. Stomp, stomp.
(Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.)
That’s when I launched into a whole rant about how there are certain chores that need to be done everyday. We don’t say, Well, I brushed my teeth yesterday, so I’m going to pass today. Same goes with wiping our butts and bathing (… actually, scratch that last one).
Anyway, cleaning up needs to happen everyday. I mean, we can choose to ignore household chores for a day. But we do so, knowing that the next day we’ll have to make up for it, do double the work. If we wait too long, the job grows exponentially. Ever try scrubbing cheese off a stainless steel pot that’s been sitting on the stove for a week? No fun. No fun at all.
I went on jabbering about dishes and vacuuming and he agreed to help out, like he always does. But after all the cleaning up had been done, I didn’t feel better. I still felt cluttered, like I had done a really good sweep and then just pushed the pile of dirt under a rug.
And then I got it. I had been so focused on cleaning up the house everyday, that I had completely forgotten about cleaning up my internal mess. It’s been building up since the baby was born. From the day we brought him home from the hospital, I’ve been scrambling to keep up. I have convinced myself that if I shower, do the dishes, and a few other surface clean-ups then I am in good shape. But there is plenty of grime under the surface—frustration, fear, and doubt, a cocktail I sip from daily.
Even when my house looks clean, my internal state is a mess. My yoga practice is practically non-existent. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to mediate. And I seldom make time for girlfriends. And morning pages? What morning pages? The journaling ritual that I could hardly imagine starting a day without had been replaced by a quick morning nap on the nursery floor. The only “me time” I get is pushing my son in a jogging stroller around our neighborhood at 8am. But even then, I muddy my thoughts with old podcasts.
What I need is a good, old fashioned spring cleaning.
Oprah touched on this a few months ago in her column, What I Know For Sure. On the subject of daily clean-ups, she says, “This means constant cleaning. Sorting through the corners of the mind for any residue of doubt, resentment, guilt, shame, or other negative feelings—the feelings that represent choosing fear over love.”
And she’s spot on; our inner lives need daily clean-ups too. In order to keep our minds, hearts, and souls sparkling, we need to cleanse regularly through exercise, deep interpersonal connection, and reflection. Sure, we can ditch the self-care for a bit in honor of a birthday, a vacation, a trip to Disneyland, whatever, but without diligence a celebration can turn into weeks of self-neglect. Consider what happens in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s—it’s all fun and games until we have to do damage control in January.
It’s time for me to play damage control. I’ve been pretty good at keeping our home from turning into an episode of Hoarders (thanks in large part to my mom and mom-in-law, who help out a BUNCH). But I haven’t cleaned up internal crap in, like, months and I’m a hot mess.
The funny thing about self-care is that unlike household upkeep, the smallest action can create the biggest results. When your house is a wreck, you can wipe down the bathroom sink and feel like you’ve made progress … that is … until you walk into the kitchen and see the pile of dishes waiting to be washed, dried, and put away. Then suddenly, you’re back at square one, with a filthy house and you want to throw your hands up and say, fuck it.
In truth, self-care is way easier to fit into your day than housework. A walk around the block (with or without baby) can do so much to clear the mind. When there’s no time for a full yoga practice, a few simple stretches can bring you back from the edge of the cliff, and make room for happier thoughts.
So, why don’t we do it? Taking care of ourselves feels like such a HUGE task. And that’s because it is. It’s important. But “huge” need not mean “hard.” What we need to remember is that tackling our internal mess is 100x easier than mopping the floor or taking out the trash. One small step can shift our whole perspective.
A dear friend of mine suggested I try keeping a gratitude journal. This was perfect for me. I got a fresh, new journal (I love cracking into a spanking clean journal!) and gave it a go. I decided all I needed to do was write down one little sentence every night. Or almost every night. Just one little thought devoted to something I am grateful for would do the trick, I hoped. And I was right. Actually, Sam Bianchini was right. No matter how tired, sarcastic, or dismal I felt, I could at least find one thing to be grateful for. And after only a few days of tracking my gratitude, I felt a little sparkle coming back.
And unlike a sink full of dishes, we can’t turn to someone else to do this for us. There’s no maid service or mom-in-laws to hire for the job. Daily clean-ups of our inner selves is all on us. “To be fulfilled and happy on this planet of duality, of darkness and light,” says Oprah, “we must move toward the light of love. Daily.” Take a moment now to do one thing that will help clear away the fear and doubt. Let the dirty dishes be. You are far more important.
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