One of my blog commenters recently mentioned Gary Thorp’s terrific book, “Sweeping changes.” It’s a Zen guide to housework, basically - how to be mindful and experience housework as an aspect of practice.
I’ve always liked housekeeping. I like washing my dishes by hand, feeling the soapy warm water; I like sweeping, which despite great frequency usually produces a ball of cat hair resembling a new small animal; I like dusting.
Among other things, Thorp reminds readers that all of these tasks are an opportunity to really connect with and enjoy your possessions:
“Use the time you dust to enhance your sense of touch. You can experience a feeling of intimacy with the things in your environment by caressing the objects before you, becoming familiar with their shapes once again, and remembering how they came into your life. As with sweeping, make sure that you give your full attention to those areas that would be easy for you to hurry over or abandon entirely. The idea is not to go over or around things, but to go into them.”
I thought of this passage this morning, actually, as I was making coffee. I thought briefly about my coffee maker. It was a gift from this person, in 1994, and it’s been incredibly reliable. When I think about how much coffee it’s made - nearly every morning for 14 years - it blows my mind! And it’s still going strong! (It’s a Braun.)
My toaster is another wonder. When I was in college, I bought an old ‘50s toaster at a thrift store in Tampa. It weighed about five pounds, a heavy metal thing with deco styling. I think it cost $2.50. Anyway, it’s still plugging away, and I make toast just about every day (toast greatly elevates the value of peanut butter). That toaster is probably the best investment I ever made.
I think this is part of what Thorp meant about possessions - thinking about them, experiencing their connections, enriches everyday life immeasurably. Everything in our houses tells a story.
(Photo: Red Hook, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)