a day without laundry

May 26th, 2010

“A day without work is a day without eating.”
– Zen saying

This expression might strike you as a grim resignation. You might even call it depressing. Perhaps you think of work as drudgery. But when you realize the dependency between work and life, it can turn your notion of work upside down. Work does not detract from life, interrupt life or hinder life. Work sustains life. All work sustains life, whether we think of it as important or unimportant. It is vital and enhancing. It keeps us alive.

This brings me to the laundry. (Everything brings me to the laundry.)

The other day I put something up at the Huffington Post that I’ve published elsewhere: 10 Tips for a Mindful Home. It is a simple list to help us see how life is enriched by doing the little things we might disdain as insignificant, like laundry, dishes and bedmaking. It’s amusing to see the unrest that is stirred by the modest suggestion that we make our own beds!

One comment on the post was a variation of the kind of objection I encounter from time to time, a slow boil of outrage over gender inequality, a denigration of what is sometimes called “women’s work.”

“Women wind up doing a lot of the things that ‘never get totally done,’ that must be redone again in a short time, over and over again – while the man gets more time to build and repair things the result of which can be appreciated and used for years.”

Really? The things men build and repair last for years? Tell that to the man in my house who fixes the sprinklers and the leaky toilets, who changes the light bulbs and the oil in the cars, who clears out the cardboard shipping boxes that multiply mountainously in the garage. Tell it to the man in my house who builds spacecraft that break down dozens of times before they ever launch, might disappear before they ever arrive, and whose instruments routinely malfunction (if they work at all) over and over. Tell that to the boys who drill deepwater wells, and to the ones who keep trying to fill them. Tell that to the Wall Streeters who ride the stock exchange up and back down again. Tell that, but don’t ever for one second believe it.

Nothing that anyone does is ever done for good. Everything is undone and redone. That’s how life is. Why value big work over small, a monstrosity over the miniscule? I’ll do the laundry any day, and I’ll happily eat too.

But there is such a thing as a day without laundry! That would be called a Mother’s Plunge, my signature one-day retreat for mothers and all others coming up real soon in Seattle on Sat., June 12 and here in Sierra Madre (Los Angeles) on Sat. June 26. You must register now. But even before that, check out the post at Shutter Sisters today and see how you can win free admission to a Mother’s Plunge by merely lifting a finger!

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  1. but how sweet is the sight of a child in a freshly made bed… I think I can safely say most mothers love the saying … ‘why do we love them most when they are sleeping’…if making the bed each day is what I have to do to savor that moment each night it is the one job I love the most…
    thanks for your inspiration 🙂

    Comment by diane — May 26, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  2. I never thought of laundry in this way…. ponder…


    Comment by trina — May 26, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  3. This is a whole new way of thinking for me, one I’m just exploring and considering as I read your book. But my husband, he ACTUALLY gets this. I’m amazed how simple and enriching it can be and I’m amazed by how spot one he is with it. And I’m with you…tell that to my husband who doesn’t stop from morning till dusk, who works much harder than me.

    Comment by Christine LaRocque — May 26, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  4. I sit hear drinking my morning coffee, looking around at the chores that need to be done today…this is exactly what I needed to read this morning to stay positive and centered. thank you.

    Comment by dana — May 26, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

  5. “Nothing that anyone does is ever done for good.” I think that statement is the key, and I actually remind myself of that very fact when I’m creating. Otherwise, I risk making it all too precious and become fearful of “messing it up”. In this world, certain things need to be done, plain and simple, and you remind us that this time isn’t separate from our “real lives” – they are threads in a larger swatch of fabric.

    Comment by Swirly — May 26, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

  6. My work IS the small things, the laundry, the dishes, the sense of achievement you get from arranging a small group of treasures on a shelf, adding a vase of flowers, ironing a linen blouse you made yourself, listening when your children just talk about their day. This is my life’s work, the other stuff is just what society sometimes requires of me.

    Comment by Jacqui — May 26, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

  7. I’m having a really interesting (and revealing) time reading Hand Wash Cold and I realise some of what is being revealed are my own feminist ‘reactions’, and what is interesting is the process of noticing those reactions and seeing what they are really about.

    My life is so very different, superficially, to the life you describe in the book that I initially had a lot of trouble connecting to the metaphors (and even though I know you say that the laundry and the kitchen are not metaphors, you also agree that they are metaphors as well, if I understand you?).

    I love laundry because the very little of it that I do as an eco-conscious single woman offers me a delightful change from the work that makes up most of my day. Most of my days are taken up with solving problems like “how can trade policies in the Pacific be designed to have less impact on food security in small island nations?” – so an hour or two of washing, hanging, bringing in and then sorting, folding and putting away laundry is a gift, a pleasure, a delicious moment of brain-rest in my day.

    So in a sense the book only makes sense for me if I see laundry as a metaphor. I love doing laundry but some days the pile of papers on my desk that needs reading and synthesizing feel like the mess that will never be clean. Papers about human rights and trade might be my laundry today.

    Like you, the life I am living looks entirely unlike the life I came home from Afghanistan to live (I wanted the babies, the husband, the laundry and cooking) but life has a way of not falling in with our expectations. I think that my laundry is not quite the same as your laundry – and yet all laundry is the same.

    Does that make any sense at all?

    Comment by Marianne — May 27, 2010 @ 1:22 am

  8. My son Henry came home from college last night, his bag bursting at the seams. The laundry I will do today means that he is here with us for a little while, our lives and dirty clothes once again entangled. Nothing could make me happier. In three weeks he’ll pack and head off for his summer job as a camp counselor in Maine. The laundry pile will shrink again, and I will miss him.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — May 27, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  9. Your words always seem to arrive just when I need them most. I lashed out at my husband over the phone this morning because I found drops of paint on the spare bed from the touch-ups he had done . . The sloppiness! The lack of consideration! The added work he gives me at every turn!

    At preschool the other mommies looked like they had stepped out of Lilly Pulitzer ads while I went home to vacuum, to scrub toilets and sinks, to take out trash, to launder sheets and diapers,to clean litterboxes . . on and on it goes.

    With 5 minutes to spare I check e-mail and there you are, waiting to douse the flames and set my spirit straight. My day is reborn.

    Comment by Laura — May 27, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

  10. What came undone for me at the Mother’s Plunge in SF was the tightness in my shoulders. It literally melted away while on my zafu. Yet, I somehow redo those knots again and again. So, I revisit my zafu each night to undo those knots. It is practice for me to see it – in the undoing and in the non-doing.

    Comment by Lisa — May 27, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

  11. I have to chime in here to say how much I appreciated Laura’s comment. There are those moments online when I truly look in the mirror, and reading her words was one of them.

    Gratitude to you both.

    Comment by Jena — May 29, 2010 @ 2:29 am

  12. I feel honored and lucky to do work that connects me to my home. Sure, it needs redoing tomorrow, but it is the work that literally feeds the household and keeps this sacred place of home, running.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — June 1, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  13. Aiy! I just read the comments on Huff Post. I think people like to get angry behind the safety of their online personalities.
    I am grateful for your influence in my new daily, bed-making practice. Rather than a begrudging, thankless task, it ‘s a gift to myself. And goodness, it only takes one minute.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — June 1, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

  14. “A day without work is a day with eating.”
    – Zen saying

    You’ve made a slight mistake.

    Comment by Chugai — June 2, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

  15. In gassho to you Chugai, for the slightness of your profound correction!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 2, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

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