The Zen of Cleaning House


I don’t have any rugs or carpets in my house…

With two dogs and several cats, it just makes life easier! To be clear, I do not like to clean! I doubt that there are many people who actually like having to clean house, and this includes facing a sink full of dirty dishes, armed with only a sponge and a container of Dawn (and no dishwasher)!

This is why, when I heard a piece on NPR a few years ago, about “The Zen of Washing Dishes” I was more than a little skeptical; however, the author made a good point: that doing something mindless and repetitive can help us to turn our thinking around and get out of our own heads when we find ourselves caught up in the stress of facing life on life’s terms!

In the years since I first heard this piece, I have found that there is indeed a Zen to washing dishes, as well as cleaning house and yard work. Of course, exercise can help as well…I found bicycle riding to be a great way of blowing off stress…but let’s not get too crazy here!

When my child was in active Addiction, my house was usually kept relatively clean (for me), I vacuumed up the dog and cat hair almost every day, wiped down the counter-tops, painted the interior of the house, fixed the back porch, cleaned out the basement, and kept the dishes washed! These were all ways of turning off the worry and escaping the overwhelming stress of having an active Addict in my life, and being powerless to help her…even if just for a little while!

In a practical sense, having active Addiction in our homes can be messy! People who are abusing drugs and/or alcohol seldom take the time to clean up after themselves. They also tend to break things, cause nasty spills and stains, and will often just leave trash (i.e. food wrappers, bottles, and other items) laying around the house! Facing this mess and damage in our homes can add to our feelings of frustration, as no matter how many times we talk to the Addict, nothing seems to get any better!

Sound familiar?

This is why, just completing these simple “mindless” tasks, like cleaning house, can be a good way for us to feel like we have some control a time when we can feel so powerless over so many of the things that are going on in our homes and our lives!

Of course, sometimes the mess is so big, we need people to come with rags, buckets, brooms, mops and experience, to help us, as any task is easier when we do not have to face it alone.

Just as we can clean up the actual mess in our homes despite what the Addict is doing, we can also take care of ourselves, by seeking the help we need to address the ‘mess’ that Addiction has made in our lives.

When we reach out to others, we gain new resources for finding health and hope for ourselves, support for making the often-difficult decisions that are needed to take care of ourselves…regardless of the choices the Addict may make. For the truth is that we cannot control or cure another person’s Addiction, and cleaning house, may mean making some very difficult choices about the Addict in our lives (letting them stay or asking them to leave both carry their own weight). This is a way of taking care of ourselves even as our hearts are breaking because we cannot fix the struggling person in our lives.

There is indeed a Zen to cleaning house, literally or figuratively, as it can take the focus off of the worry caused by the active Addiction, and onto the only one we can ‘fix’, which is ourselves! This is not an easy task, as it may go against all our instincts to do all we can to save those we love…but Addiction is not an illness that makes sense, as we have to surrender in order to survive and move forward! This is why we cannot face these challenges on our own, but need the help of those who have faced the heartache of Addiction in their lives, who can show us the way through, and who can let us know that we are not alone…and this can give us the hope we need to light our way healing!


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