Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Common objects

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)


Anonymous said...

We would probably like the Thorp book. On a road trip we listened to a book on tape called "Other People's Dirt." about an upper middle class girl who spends a few years being a maid in various places. She interviews the maid she grew up with, and eventually goes to Japan to join a cleaning group that is very spiritual. I don't remember the author, but the book made us want to get back home and clean.

Anonymous said...

p.s. we feel the same way about our appliances and utensils. When our old tea kettle (circa 1980) rusted out, we thought a long time before buying a new kettle-- found one hand made in England & rustproof. (It was hard to find a kettle that was not made in China) The new kettle is guaranteed for 30 years.

Anonymous said...

I used to hate housekeeping back in the days when I tried to rush through it as fast as possible. It was so stressful and the results were not that spectacular. As soon as I began to understand that I didn't have to rush, I started to enjoy it. It's just instant gratification.

Like you, I enjoy cleaning. I like to dust, vacuum and mop, I like to straighten all my millions of books and pieces of paper into neat stacks.

Cleaning my room cleans my mind, it really does! jake does not understand my love affair with the process though. He's always unnerved until I'm finished.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of very few possessions and actually using the ones you have!

We've never had an automatic dishwasher and we enjoy washing dishes by hand too-- we recently acquired a pre-owned microwave but I could live without it.

Anonymous said...

I like housework too - especially if I'm not rushed to do it. I also like gardeing and outdoor projects for the same reasons...

Anonymous said...

the truth? I'm not very big on housework. Except that with the arrival of our dog, I must sweep every day or we would be walking on a felt carpet (anyone interested in pale beige dog hair as soft as mohair? available for the cost of shipping - yes, I am joking, of course.)

Anonymous said...

I feel the exact same way about certain things. I've always loved doing the dishes by hand (it's therapeutic!) and I chose to live without a vacuum so I could sweep (and wow, do I get some carpet hairballs from my two cats). I guess the one difference is that I feel more intimately connected to living things...except maybe my book collection. It's the first thing I unpack after I move!

I'm glad to be back in the blog world, even though I don't think I've found my voice yet. Thanks for the supportive comments!