The Zen of Vacuuming
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.
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.
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.
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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