Design for Life: Clean and Serene

Make cleaning house a spiritual cleansing act.


Carol Venolia

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“If I can control the mess around me, I can find serenity within.” —Paula Jhung, Cleaning and the Meaning of Life

Aside from its  admittedly desirable results, housecleaning always felt like wasted time for me—a necessary evil, drudgery, chore.

So there I was one day, feeling scattered and behind on everything. I’d postponed housecleaning long enough that the dust bunnies were holding conventions in the hallway corners, and I had guests coming the next day. Grumbling, I hauled out the vacuum cleaner and planned to spend the next couple of hours doing one of my least- favorite activities.

I plugged in the vacuum, attached the long wand and began making those familiar long, sweeping motions across the floor. And then it happened. A deep and wonderful peace came over my whole being. Suddenly I was fully present, experiencing my actions as an act of uplifting myself and my home. Cleaning had shifted from mere grunt work to an act of caring for myself, my home and everyone who enters it.

The power of conscious cleaning

I reflected on something my friend Ann Marie Holmes, author of Earth Spirit Living: Bringing Heaven and Nature Into Your Home (Atria Books, 2007), once told me.

When she had a cleaning business many years ago, Holmes noticed that rooms became different in metaphysical ways after they were cleaned. She and her staff found that bringing order and balance into the environment actually brought a new level of order and balance into their own lives, as well as the lives of their clients. Holmes has a collection of letters from customers who believe her positive-intention cleaning brought refuge and healing to their homes. One man even claimed it had saved his marriage.

Later, Holmes became the “Focalizer of Cleaning” at Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community in Scotland dedicated to co-creation with nature. Again, she taught her cleaning team to maintain a positive attitude, seeing the building as a living part of nature. Within a year, cleaning went from being the community’s least favorite work assignment to sporting a waiting list. 

Clean without, clean within

In Spiritual Housecleaning: Healing the Space Within by Beautifying the Space Around You (New Harbinger Publications, 2001), professional cleaner Kathryn Robyn suggests that inner peace comes through daily maintenance. “When done mindfully,” she says, “the exercises of dusting and vacuuming accomplish the creation of sacred space more completely than any other thing you can do.”

Robyn describes the paradoxical manner in which creative people often put off cleaning—until they use it to procrastinate in the face of a project. “The interesting thing,” she points out, “is that once they have done all this cleaning, their heads are free and clear to face the blank page or canvas.”

I can see clearly now

As I reflected on Holmes’ and Robyn’s experiences, I had a flash of insight: If I care for my body by bathing, eating well and exercising, why wouldn’t I feel the same sense of importance about caring for my home?

Every time I wipe the kitchen counter, vacuum the floor or dust, I’m caring for myself. Whenever I neaten up, clear out and organize, I’m clearing my mind. In fact, when things start to pile up around me—magazines on the dining table, unopened mail on my desk, books on the floor by my reading chair—I start to feel a little crazy and overwhelmed. I’ve learned that the fastest path back to calm breathing is to clear all that clutter and restore functional and visual simplicity.  

CAROL VENOLIA is an eco-architect and the co-author of Natural Remodeling for the Not-So-Green House (Lark Books, 2006). She teaches in the Sustainable Communities program at  Dominican University of California . Share your experiences with her at .