On Wabi-Sabi Wednesdays, I feature excerpts from my upcoming book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, which will be released in April. Today’s passage looks at how to keep your home naturally clean, which just might help with cabin fever as this brutal winter forces us to be stuck indoors.
An ancient Tea master described wabisuki (a taste for all things wabi) as “putting one’s whole heart to cleaning and repeating it several times.” The Dalai Lama says that cleansing your environment is a ritual means of cleansing your mind. Cleaning is a wabi practice; every time we sweep, dust or wash sheets, we’re creating clean, sacred space. Moving a broom across the floor and wiping dishes are little opportunities for meditation. So, why don’t we ever want to do these chores?
Maybe it’s the way we do them—and what we do them with. It’s tough to be mindful when you just want to stop using the Pledge so you can breathe again. There’s nothing spiritual about fumes that make you swoon when you squeegee the shower. The first step to “whole heart” wabi cleaning is to trash the chemicals and use softer, gentler (and cheaper) cleaning agents. Baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice clean and shine; vinegar cuts grease and deodorizes; baking soda scours and removes smudges; and club soda works for windows. (I learned my favorite wabi-sabi cleaning trick from my ex-husband’s aunt, Cha Cha Paulette, who learned it from her Polish mother. Using newspaper to clean the windows stops them from streaking.)
Just as the Japanese finish off their dishes with three perfect strings of inky black seaweed, you can complete your housecleaning with little garnishes: Soak a cotton ball in vanilla and place it in your closet to freshen up your clothes; pour vinegar into a small bowl and place it on a high shelf to absorb kitchen odors. Add some lavender essential oil when you throw clothes into the washing machine. Iron the sheets with a little starch. (If you iron your sheets, this really does make the difference. Who gets to sleep on starched sheets anymore?)
The Wabi-Sabi Cleaning Cupboard
Hydrogen peroxide to remove mold and disinfect
Club soda to clean and shine fixtures and windows
Vinegar to cut grease and lime deposits and soap buildup, deodorize toilet, remove film on floors
Baking soda to scour and remove smudges or scuffs
Borax to deodorize, disinfect and inhibit mold growth
Lemon juice to remove grease and tarnish
Salt mixed with water to destroy bacteria
Baking soda with vinegar rinse for stainless steel
Olive oil to polish furniture (mix 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar for a cleaner shine)