I cleaned the house yesterday morning. And I was not happy about it. At least, not at first. I was a grumbly grumps on hands and knees scrubbing the toilet. Frugal Hound was stealing my cleaning rags and Mr. Frugalwoods was out of town for the day on business. Blerg. Who wants to clean at 8am on a weekend? Why am I doing this? Why does dust get stuck between my toes when I clean? How did dog hair get inside the shower? A litany of other complaints. But, I kept scrubbing and grumping around.

Frugal Hound: cleaning rag thief at large
Frugal Hound: cleaning rag thief at large

As time went on and the house got ever cleaner (and I finally put socks on to avoid getting more dust stuck to my feet), I began to calm down. I relaxed into my work. I started singing along with my Feist Pandora station and I adopted a sense of gratitude (song rec for this post: Mushaboom by Feist. Listen to the lyrics. I swear I didn’t write this song). I was peacefully alone in a house we own, cleaning furniture I paid very little money for, with a healthy body, and a loving Frugal Hound trailing me around shedding fur on every surface I’d just cleaned. Basically living the dream.

But truly, I was freely directing my time and labor towards an end that will make my household happy. Mr. FW and I are certified neat freaks (me more than him, but he’s made quite the conversion in the last few years) and we like a simplified, tidy home. In effect, cleaning the house makes it a more peaceful place for us both. My motto is clean house = clean brain. Plus, I can’t write if I can see dust. It’s my kryptonite (well, that and candy corn).

I continued cleaning and once I progressed to vacuuming (the final stage in the Mrs. Frugalwoods home cleaning process), I realized that I was achieving a sense of zen through my repetitive manual labor. Honest physical exertion is singularly fulfilling and all-encompassing. The mind is free to wonder (not wander) and to focus on the highest ideals of life. By focusing the mind on repetitive tasks, you’re actually free to transcend petty thoughts. I’m no enlightenment-achiever, but there was nothing pointless or futile about cleaning the house yesterday. It was an activity I was able to perform and that I am thankful for. Yoga and hiking provide my mind with the same exercise.

This self-directed time of cleaning is precisely the type of work Mr. FW and I will be conducting all the time on our future homestead. There’s no stress or politics, no criticism or game-playing, and no pettiness associated with cleaning one’s own home and other forms of physical labor. There is merely you and your efforts. When I was finished cleaning, I took a shower, made lunch (“made” is a strong word, I grabbed a banana and a jar of peanut butter) and sat down at my freshly washed dining room table to write this post.

What a clear and precise way to move through a day. I worked hard and I liberated myself from complaints and dissatisfactions of my own making. I arrived at a point of clarity and purpose. I also did a job that yielded tangible results. I can look down at the floor (I just did, actually) and see that it’s free of dog and beard fur. We can put food on our countertop and table knowing that they’re washed. We can reap simple but meaningful rewards from my labors, in the same way that we reap the benefits of Mr. FW’s cooking every single day.

Frugalwoods feet on our clean floor
Frugalwoods feet on our clean floor

Here is where I could venture down a tangent about industrialization and the mechanization of our world, which has rendered meaningless the joys of literal “fruits of our labors,” but this post already looks pretty long and I think we’d all get bored. Suffice it to say that I like using my strength to build things, clean things, and repair things. I like to know that I can have an impact with just my labors (of course with the help of mechanized machines). Tangent within tangent: I’m a huge fan of vacuums. They are just fantastic. I could sweep, but it’s much more satisfying to suck everything up into the little vortex of the vacuum’s interior (wow, clearly I do not know much about how vacuums work). Tangent over.

Frugality provides me with this same clarity and purpose. Consider the alternative to my day: I could have paid someone to clean my home and instead gone out to brunch and then shopping (OK I would never do that because I hate shopping, but maybe to a place where you could get a massage, a gin & tonic, and a greyhound to cuddle. Oh wait, I can do all of that at home…). I would’ve been faced with making numerous decisions, parting with my hard-earned cash, and striving to achieve exactly what I’d just paid to escape: clarity and purpose.

In the same way that people fast from food to clear their minds and center their thoughts, I choose to fast from consumerism and the endless conveyor belt of material wants. Sure I still buy things and want stuff on occasion, but I see it for exactly what it is: stuff that’s likely to bring more strife into my life than happiness.

Me gazing out the window at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art (the public library has free tix you can borrow)
Me gazing out the window of the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art (the public library has free tickets you can borrow)

I certainly don’t have the key to happiness or the 1 quick trick to a perfect life (if you know, please share in the comments), but I do know that I’m a happier, more balanced person in the absence of the material rat race. When you know you’re not going to buy anything, life is pretty simple and straightforward.

Case in point: Mr. FW and I walked a few miles to a street festival with Frugal Hound on Saturday and roamed about people watching. I noticed other couples/families crowded around the booths selling wares engaged in heated debate over what to buy. Huh, I thought to myself, it’s just so easy for Mr. FW and I because we both know we’re not going to buy anything and so we feel no compulsion to paw over products and debate the merits of this necklace or that lawn chair. By eliminating consumption, it’s much easier to make it through a day–we have so few points of contention. I’m deeply serious–if you haven’t done a “no spend” day before, try it out.

I hope that I can maintain and expand this attitude of reaping personal rewards from physical labor with tangible results. It boils down to contentedness and simplicity. It encapsulates the life Mr. Frugalwoods and I aspire to achieve.

Where do you find your zen?

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  1. I’m not a neat freak, but I oddly really like cleaning when Mr PoP is out of town. There’s something weirdly satisfying about making the house lovely for him to come home to that makes cleaning way more enjoyable than it usually is – like I’m making a weird “welcome home” present even though he could care less.

    1. I actually feel the same way when Mr. FW is out of town–I think it helped with my motivation to clean yesterday. He is always super appreciative of my cleaning efforts (or maybe he’s just thrilled he didn’t have to do it!).

  2. Who wants to be cleaning at 8am on a weekend?! Me!! Haha
    We didn’t have a dishwasher at our last house and I used to dread the dishes. Then, I’d get in to a rhythm and before I knew it I was done.

    1. Glad to hear I’m not the only one! It really is so satisfying once I get over myself and enjoy the process 🙂

  3. I also spent the day cleaning! Although for a rental unit, but it was somewhat therapeutic and rewarding when all was said and done. It was great seeing the unit all clean and tidy, and there was a sense of zen knowing that I saved a few bucks doing it myself. 🙂

    1. Saving money by doing it yourself is probably the ultimate zen! I imagine I might feel a bit less excited if it wasn’t my house I was cleaning, but glad to hear you got into the groove of it.

  4. I love cleaning and having a clean house. My husband actually referenced some friends’ posts on Facebook, saying they are stay at home moms and talking about how they love making their homes clean for their families. He said “how suppressed are they?” I’m thinking they sound completely normal, although I clean for me. But it’s become a big source of stress because my husband’s things overtake the house and he clearly doesn’t share my need for simplification, order, and tidiness. Hard to keep from having arguments.

    1. It’s tough when you’re not on the same cleaning page. We certainly weren’t in the past–I was more neurotic and Mr. FW was much less concerned. We’ve kind of balanced each other out and met in the middle, I think. Although I still can’t handle any clutter! Sometimes I am accused of “hiding” things when I was just trying to tidy them 🙂

  5. I used to be a neat freak but I’ve moved a bit away from that with the introduction of cats. I stay on top of things as much as possible, but honestly, having extra little creatures running around and getting into trouble while shedding makes it difficult. It requires more wipe downs than I want to do. I still do it, but I grumble around, and right before I clean I get a bit annoyed.

    My biggest annoyance is that my fiance is not a neat freak, and so we’re constantly “battling” over it. If I start doing stuff he’ll tell me to do it later, and since I’d rather relax I accept. Only then I get stressed out if I know I have to do the dishes, etc.

    I love that picture of your at the Contemporary Art Museum! Mr. FW can take a good picture 🙂 Also, have you seen Feist live? I did back in the day at Osheago in 2007 or 2008 (don’t remember). I’ll have to go through my pictures for you 🙂

    1. Oh OH! I’m so excited you know Feist! I thought you might! I’ve never seen her live (alas, I’d never pay for a concert ticket ;)!). Would love to see photos–I think she’s so pretty! I tried to get bangs like hers once and, uh, didn’t really work out…

      Thanks for the photo compliment! Mr. FW is an amazing photographer–he has actually worked as one before. Hence, any really good photos on here were definitely taken by him. I just chase animals around with my iPhone camera and snap wildly.

  6. What a lovely post! I’m OK with cleaning – but terrible at maintaining! I can happily spend a morning making the kitchen look beautiful, but loathe dealing with daily dish washing-up. If only I could adopt your zen-like attitude towards putting things in the dishwasher.

    1. Oh the dishwasher–it always needs something! Loaded, unloaded, fed soap–needy little thing! I do love ours though. We were without one in our underground basement apartment and we’d share a glass and a knife to cut down on washing dishes (pathetic, I know!).

      1. If that’s pathetic, I don’t even know what to call my #1 strategy during the five years I lived sans dishwasher: eat things straight out of the sauce pan/soup pot/tupperware container. . . usually with no utensils.

  7. I hired a house cleaner for about 6 months… Now that she’s gone, I honestly don’t miss it, and I love having that 80 bucks back in my pocket….80 bucks!! Still can’t believe I did that.

    1. Nice to have that $80 back! Way to go! And, it’s awesome that you don’t miss it. l’ve always thought that I’d probably micro-manage a house cleaner so much that it wouldn’t end up even being worth it :)!

  8. First of all, love the boots you are wearing in the picture at the BICA! Second, my mother in law told me one time that Tommy Shaw from the band STYX loved to clean his dishes by hand because he found the experience very zen. I never thought about dishes like that, but it always stuck with me. Then a few years ago, we moved into an apartment without a dishwasher. Let the zen begin!!! Seriously, though, I began to really appreciate the zen of doing dishes. I play music, let my mind wander, and enjoy the journey to cleanliness. We now own a dishwasher; however, I am still my most zenful self when I am doing the dishes at night.

    1. Thanks! Those are my trusty thrift store cowboy boots–so comfortable and they go with everything (or at least that’s what I tell myself :)). I’ll admit that I was never able to get to a place of zen with daily dishes back when we didn’t have a dishwasher. I feel like I could name our dishwasher “the marriage saver.” Ok maybe not quite, but neither of us enjoys dishes!

  9. hello Mrs FW! Have been reading your blog from the beginning up to here ever since I found your blog! I find cleaning quite therapeutic too – there’s a saying in Buddhism that the “cleaning of the floor is like the cleaning of your soul”, and i can’t agree more. Sure there will be sweat and dust when I do the cleaning but at the end of the day there will be a clean room, yay!!

    1. Hi PJ! Thank you so much for commenting. I’m excited to hear you’ve been reading Frugalwoods all this time! I love that Buddhist saying–perfect.

  10. I find cleaning to be a very zen like activity, and then you get to enjoy the results after. I think the word is flow…any time you are in the flow doing something you forget about everything else. I get that from working out as well.

    1. Flow–yes! That’s it, thank you! I was in the flow. I love that my yoga practice is called a flow, because it’s the same idea of being completely in the zone.

  11. I really enjoy a clean home and having everything put in it’s own little place. Whenever I travel, I tend to clean before I leave because I love coming home to a energy positive environment! DH is a little more of a slacker in that department but he works with me on it because he knows it makes me happier. I think the only household chore that I haven’t found to be totally zen for me is doing laundry since we have to bring our clothes to the building laundry room on the ground floor so DH will usually take care of that.

    1. I like “energy positive environment”! That’s exactly how I feel. And, sounds like you’ve got a good laundry deal going on :)!

  12. It’s really inspiring how happy you are sans consumerism. I think as I get older, consumerism has less of an effect on me. I still enjoy getting my hair done, as that would be a place of zen for me. But I find peace and calm in cleaning my house and having a productive weekend at home more than anything. I think the main point is to find that happiness within yourself and without relying on external sources for it.

    1. Thanks! I’m a work in progress :). Being at peace and happy on my own is so much more satisfying (but more difficult to attain) than deriving joy from stuff I have to pay for.

  13. Great post. Cleaning does have the Zen effect. Ironing has the same effect for me, too. And I agree that it is much easier to clean if you have simplified or minimalized your possessions. I do have one question though: How come the only time people notice your cleaning habits is when it’s NOT done?!

    1. Hahah! It was clean yesterday, I swear! I can’t say I’m much of an ironer–I’m sort of at peace with wrinkles 🙂

    1. I know! The older I get, the more I realize just how much work my parents did to keep the house clean, all of us fed, etc!

  14. I find zen at the end of my to do list. Unfortunately, that means I don’t get to experience it as often as I’d like. I usually add to the list quicker than I can remove items, but I’ve been thinking about doing my lists differently. I already keep multiple lists to break things up, but I’m thinking about breaking them up further into more manageable chunks. This way I’ll get to cross off the last item more often and feel accomplished and relaxed.

    1. I’m all about the lists too! Sometimes I actually write things down that I’ve already completed just so I can cross them off…

  15. I like living in a clean home but I don’t find the task of cleaning particularly enjoyable! I know it has to be done though so I don’t mind 🙂 I like baking, especially bread as I find the kneading of the dough relaxing 🙂

  16. It’s true how repetitive tasks like cleaning can clear out the cobwebs and put us in that zen state. My husband likes things in their place and is a bit of a minimalist, so he’s definitely rubbed off on me. What brings out my zen is working out. A good workout is such a stress reliever to me and gets my blood flowing and energy up. Meditation has also really helped me focus. I try to take a few minutes at lunch to meditate and get re-centered. And gratitude plays an important role in my daily life, especially when I find myself grumbling or comparing myself to others. I step back and remind myself how blessed I truly am. Great post!

    1. Totally agree on the meditation and exercise–I get the same catharsis through yoga. Gratitude is a mindset that I’m always working to keep at the forefront. I too have to pause and remind myself to be grateful!

  17. Hmm. I don’t generally enjoy the act of cleaning, just the result. Nice work on getting to that point. I DO, however, enjoy being able to pick what I do with my time, and sometime that is urban homesteading type stuff 🙂

    1. Yes! The self-directed aspect is important to me. I just don’t like being told what to do (ask my parents & Mr. FW about that… they’ll tell you that I don’t respond well 🙂 ).

  18. well said! i agree 110%.
    cleaning is pretty therapeutic for me, too. i also really relate to your clean house = clean brain saying. i get so anxious and worked up when there’s *stuff* everywhere. all the more reason to live simply.
    write on, Mrs. FW 🙂

      1. Thank you!! It took me awhile to figure out how to get our photos on here without our faces, so I hope I’ve struck a balance that’s personal but not creepy 🙂

  19. I loved this post! There´s so much to be said about the mental health benefits of having a routine, having a clean space to be in, and working on small projects that reap tangible results. You encompassed all this in one day and did so beautifully! This is great. I think it´s so important for us to take time to take measure of the success we´re achieving. Sometimes big goals can seem so lofty and progress can be hard to measure. Having small goals with visible results can be the best motivators!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! I agree with the benefits of a routine–Mr. FW, Frugal Hound and I are all quite routine oriented and it honestly makes us happier and less stressed. Appreciate you stopping by!

  20. I love vacuums more than sweeping but I hate vacuuming the stairs. My favourite cleaning ritual is bleaching my kitchen sinks and counters. I just love the smell of bleach. I think I picked up that habit from my Mum.

    1. Stairs-vacuuming is a giant hassle. One of the things I love most about our refinished staircase is that there’s no more carpet! Vastly easier to sweep the hardwood.

  21. I’m a neat freak too. I hate clutters so I always want to “clean” up at our place. Having said that my work cubical is a mess lol.

    My zen would be making food at meal time. I can have a super busy day and making a home-made meal would calm me down.

    1. Mr. FW would agree with you on the cooking–it’s his favorite relaxing chore. Good thing too, because I think it’s arduous!

  22. I have never really liked vacuuming, but once I get on a roll with cleaning or organizing, I’m really appreciative of it afterwards. It’s nice to have that feeling of accomplishment, along with the fact that everything is clean and tidy. I never go to festivals with buying in mind, either. I like to people watch and walk around. That mindset really does help as you’re automatically making less decisions. You’re choosing to just be.

    1. Agreed! Once I get into the groove of cleaning, I’m a happy camper. Festivals are the best for people watching! I get a kick out of just hanging out and observing fellow humans 🙂

  23. Wow I was so jealous of you cleaning your house alone! We’re usually pretty tidy, but we don’t do a deep clean very often. I agree with you though that it’s so satisfying once you get into a groove and they payoff of a clean house is amazing.

  24. Totally cliche response but…do you want to come clean my house? Haha just kidding, but seriously I do not find zen from cleaning. I already am crunched for time so when I have to clean (which is often with 2 cats) it’s a frustrating and annoying activity. I don’t really know what I find zen from, as sad as that sounds.

  25. I don’t know about feeling zen after cleaning, but I totally agree that I feel completely disorganized if my house is disorganized! I just feel that I get a lot more done when my house is clean because I am less distracted by the mess!

    1. That’s a pretty sweet perk! But, you could be missing the key to the meaning of life by not vacuuming, Jay. Just sayin’.

  26. I actually really enjoy cleaning for the reasons you’ve mentioned. There’s something relaxing about it! I also LOVE when I’m all done and the house is spotless. Unfortunately, it typically doesn’t stay that well for too long since we have two kids and a dog!

  27. I love it when our house is clean – it lifts my mood and carries positively over to my job performance, especially when I work from home. But I am horrible at cleaning, except maybe for washing dishes and laundry. We have a housekeeper come in once a week and she does a fantastic job but it is pretty expensive. 🙁 I envy your cleaning skills!

    1. You can totally do it yourself if you want to save the money! I’ve figured out a routine that works well over the years, but there’s no one right way. I’m certainly no expert!

  28. I actually find cleaning to be very therapeutic. It is nice to see something clean after it is dirty. I know people may think I am a little weird for that but I like it. Now, I don’t like cleaning every day because that does get tiring. That is a little too much for me!

    1. I definitely don’t clean every day! We do tidy and clean the kitchen daily, but it’s quick work. I don’t think you’re weird at all! 🙂

  29. Couldn’t agree more about the zen of vacuuming and house cleaning in general!!!! There is something about wandering through a clean, net house that makes the senses at peace. 🙂 And I have a banana and peanut butter for breakfast on a regular basis – yum!!!

    1. Yes! Banana + PB is an ideal meal, in my opinion. I just have to remind myself not to keep spooning out heaps of peanut butter after I’ve finished the banana!

  30. I’m envious of your commitment to tidiness. Much to my boyfriend’s dismay I am the opposite – clothes all over the bed, dirty dishes in the sink, and I hardly notice the balls of cat fur everywhere. Eeeek! I swear I’m trying to improve. I find my Zen place in a few other activities – writing, singing, gardening, and exercising.

    1. I’m right there with you on those sources of zen too! Singing while cleaning is definitely my modus operandi. I also like to sing while I walk, which is only awkward when a bunch of other people are nearby (I try to restrain myself ) 🙂

  31. I usually find my zen by walking my dog, it’s right after work so to see my dog run and jump and chase everything that appears to living makes me smile, even when she attempts to rip of my arm. Zen is walking my dog in the park and of course the occasional talk that we have about what she is smelling and good natured you almost got that squirrel, maybe next time.

    1. Hahahah! That’s exactly what we tell Frugal Hound: “good girl, you’ll get that squirrel next time” 🙂 And, wow, I never knew there were so many things to sniff in the big wide world!

  32. Love Frugal Hounds kerchief! (The yellow side table is pretty cool too). I love vacuuming – trying to resist the urge to go and buy a $$$ model with all the gadgets. So far my 8 year old dirt devil is hanging in there. Vacuuming is a form of meditation I think.

    1. If only Frugal Hound actually knew how to use that little vacuum… :). Vacuuming is definitely meditative. I have a $49 Bissell PowerEdge Pet vacuum and it works just dandy, I must say. That’s awesome that your dirt devil is still going strong at the ripe old age of 8!!

  33. I love, love, LOVE the feeling of a clean house! I wish I got started as early in the day as you, though. I’ll have to give it a whirl! Do you read Rhonda’s blog, Down to Earth, at http://down—to—earth.blogspot.com/ ? She’s such an inspiration when it comes to simplifying and homemaking – your post today really reminded me of her writing 🙂

    1. I have not read Down to Earth before–thank you for the recommendation! Looks like it’s right up my alley! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing 🙂

  34. 1) I LOVE YOUR DOG. I want a greyhound. My friends mom was the head of the local rescue mission here.
    2) Mushaboom is a real place, not far from where I live (45 mins?) and we drive through it on the way to the cottage. Blink an you’re through it.
    3) I also find solace in the strangest of activities, like vacuuming. I won’t lie, I really want a REALLY good vacuum cleaner, like a $500 dyson…not so frugal.

    1. 1) Get a greyhound! They are THE sweetest, gentlest, calmest dogs on earth! Plus, you can dress them up and take their photos 🙂
      2) I know! I want to go there! That’s awesome you live so close!
      3) I hear ya. I’d be happy going to a vacuum store and testing out all the models just for fun 🙂

  35. I totally get like this about repetitive physical tasks: cooking (chopping), dishes, sewing, laundry. I loooooooooove doing laundry, and in fact did it professionally for a few years. It was really physically challenging to do laundry 40-50 hours a week — neck and back stuff — but I loved the process anyway. Not intellectually satisfying enough to do forever but it was a great side job in grad school.

    1. What an interesting side job! I enjoy doing our laundry too–it’s very satisfying to me to take something that was stinky and make it fresh again 🙂

  36. Awesome post!

    I find my “zen” in hand-washing my car. I strive to drive less with my newfound focus on simiple living and financial independence but I do take pride in showcasing a clean car when I do drive. It’s all mental, but I tend to accelerate more slowly, coast more often, and break more smoothly when my car is squeaky clean. AND, I know I certanly do a better job cleaning my car than some touch-free car wash machine at the gas station! Plus, I get the added bonus of being outside in the nice breeze and shining sun while I’m doing my ‘chore.’

    1. Interesting reflection, ThriftyD. I am actually guilty of not washing the Frugalwoods-mobile very often, but I can definitely see how the experience could yield zen. Thank you for sharing this. Maybe you’ll motivate me to get our there and scrub… (or better yet, maybe Mr. FW will feel motivated 🙂 ).

      1. Ha. Just entice him with some nice cold craft brews while he’s out there cleaning it. I’ve been known to sip on one or two while cleaning the car (not driving, of course!)

  37. I don’t *like* cleaning, but I do love having a clean house. There’s something so satisfying about crawling into a bed with freshly washed sheets. I spent all last weekend organizing so that I can spend all this weekend cleaning. I did our master bedroom closet and the underbed storage. Now bf can’t find anything (because it’s put away where it actually belongs-go figure), but I’m still pleased with myself.

    1. I would totally come to your house, but I’d probably just want to hold your adorable babies the entire time. Clean or cuddle a baby? I’d take the baby 🙂

  38. I hate cleaning the house with a passion, but I do like the result. I think I get my zen from exercising or hiking. I wish it came from vacuuming, but I just don’t think it’s gonna happen!

  39. I had this “Aha!” zen moment while mowing the grass last fall. It was really nice outside and I was getting into the pride of doing the job well myself and relying on just me. Not needing to hire a landscaping crew is great, and great exercise, too!

    1. See, OK, someone else agrees with me that mowing the lawn can be fun! I never outgrew the kid stage of being fascinated by incrementally completed, ordered tasks. Mowing, vacuuming, squeegeeing windows, pressure washing sidewalks… there must be a generic name for these awesomely fun types of work.

  40. Hey, Mrs. FW! I’m a fairly new reader, but an avid one. I may have spent an hour or two the other night reading your entire archives 🙂 Funny, and informative – I’m hooked!

    I am totally with you on the vacuuming zen. I attacked our basement last night – baseboards, light fixtures, above the curtains – anywhere that doesn’t get hit on the regular clean – and boy oh boy, was it satisfying! Dust & spideys – be gone!!

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate your kind words! Oh the basement–I do love vacuuming out all the webs down there–definitely satisfying. I’m so glad you found us :)!

  41. Thank you for the inspiring post. I do the majority of cleaning in our house.. but I never seem to get it to the perfect clean state that some of my friends or neighbors (who have cleaning people) do. It would be wonderful if you can give an article on cleaning. The actual “self directed” process with pictures. I know its not complicated, but by the time I am done with bathrooms, the house needs vacuuming and a kitchen is a disaster area.. etc. etc.
    I love your blog overall.

  42. Check out Flylady.net for housekeeping and life ideas. As with all reads….use what appeals to you and ignore the rest. Useful for overwhelmed folks who just need a no brainers routine …

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