The Zen of doing chores

Yesterday was chore day for me. Sundays are usually a combination of chores and “me” time, while The Hubby spends time with his second love, football.

But yesterday was a particularly yucky chore day, because we’ve been really busy the past couple weeks (niece’s birthday, weddings, family dinners) and I haven’t been as good about keeping on top of things as I normally am.

I don’t like doing chores (does anybody, really?), but I’m usually pretty good about sucking it up and putting in an hour or so to get the house clean on Sundays. (It’s a small, small house, so cleaning it does not take very long. Plus I try to keep on top of things throughout the week so that nothing really builds up.) But yesterday was a different story.

There was a week of laundry to do…which doesn’t sound like much for a two-person household, but The Hubby is a secret clothes horse and changes outfits like three times a day. I had a week of dishes (small, small, starter house did not come with a dishwasher, and we haven’t yet been able to justify the extra plumbing, electrical, and appliance costs of getting one). Plus I had all the usual house cleaning, times two weeks of neglect…which meant extra furballs from my big and little Furballs, extra soap goop stuck to the shower, etc.

Yuck, yuck, yuck.

(The Hubby’s defense)

The Hubby has asked me to insert here that (although he is a lazy schmoe on Sundays (and I will say that whether he likes it or not!)), he did not leave me to tackle two weeks of chores totally by myself. He had already put in his fair share of lawn mowing, handy-manning, grocery shopping, and his various other allotted chores. We divide up our chores pretty evenly, and he is very helpful around the house and a fair and generous husband to have. There.)  🙂

Mindful chores

So, with two weeks of chores to tackle and no desire at all to do any of them (I actually felt a perverse urge to curl up with The Hubby and watch the games, which never happens to me), I decided to try an experiment.

I’m very interested in Zen philosophy, and especially the idea of mindfulness…of being really present in whatever you’re doing. I’ve been trying to apply it more often to enjoyable things like walking the pups (feeling the breeze, noticing the fall smells, etc.)…but what if I tried applying it even to the ick things, like chores?

Surprisingly, it kind of worked.

I won’t say that doing the laundry was particularly fun (I don’t think it ever will be for me), but I did feel a new satisfaction in turning a hamper of jumbled, dirty clothes into neatly folded stacks. It was nice to see my efforts turn chaos into order. I especially enjoyed ironing, much to my surprise because it’s always been something that bores me silly.

When I really stopped to think about it, I kind of liked turning wrinkled messes into smart, professional-looking shirts and pants. I also liked knowing that I was prepping for the week ahead, setting myself up for less stressful mornings by getting my clothes all taken care of ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to be scrambling for outfits like I had been the past couple weeks. Watching the wrinkles melt away under the steam felt like a little personal win over the mess that had taken over my house over the past couple weeks, and it was almost…therapeutic. Who knew?

Dishes were much less awful, too. Things have just started to turn chilly here, to the point where we’ve turned on the thermostat and are just waiting for the day when the outside temps get low enough for the furnace to kick in for the first time. And I’m one of those girls who is always cold. So I let myself really enjoy the feeling of the warm water on my hands and the steam rising up from the sink. I looked at the yard outside the window and noticed how pretty the changing leaves were in the flickering sun. I made a point of stacking all the dishes to dry first, then all the cups, instead of randomly picking whatever I grabbed first from the water and piling things up in a topsy-turvy tower in the dish rack.

The more I tried to be present in the chores I was doing, and the more I tried to find ways to enjoy the process and to find satisfaction in just doing my work, the more calm I felt. I’d gone into the day feeling super-stressed (and a little resentful) of all the work I had to do, and I ended the day feeling like I’d gotten a lot done, but not in a burnt-out, exhausted way. In a satisfied, productive, relaxed way.

Again, I should stress that chores still are not particularly “fun.” (Maybe if I ever become a Zen guru, they will be.) But, I was able to get the unpleasant tasks off my to do list and find a little enjoyment in doing it. Which was a pretty cool discovery for me.

I think I may be on to something here…  🙂

How can you be more “mindful” about your unpleasant chores? What good aspects can you find in them to make them a little more enjoyable (and maybe even relaxing)?





photo credit:  Nachett


  • I am giving mindfulness a try too! Driving in traffic is one of the area that I am pretty good at mindfulness, chores not so much. And when it’s too tedious, I just plug the headphones to some happy music!

    • Driving is a great place to practice mindfulness…I should give that a try myself. It usually stresses me out so much. How do you practice mindful driving? What things do you try to focus on?

  • I think I first heard the phrase “outer order contributes to inner calm” from Gretchen Rubin and I find it to be very true. There are plenty of other activities I’d rather do than chores, for sure, but I really enjoy having a clean, relatively neat home. I can feel myself getting stressed if my house is too dirty or cluttered.

    I do find some amount of satisfaction in taking something dirty and making it clean, though I mostly enjoy the results of the work. 🙂

    • Ah, Gretchen Rubin. (Have I mentioned that I love her?) 🙂

      I’m the same way in a nice, neat environment. I’m not a neat freak necessarily, but I just feel so much calmer when things are in order and there aren’t piles of clutter everywhere.

  • Em, this was a wonderful post to read…im glad to know that im not the only person that gets stressed/resentful over cleaning & chores!! Laundry is also my most-hated chore…i hate folding but i try to make it fun by playing loud music or watching smthg on my laptop as i do it. I also dont enjoy cleaning but seeing everything sparkle after its all done makes it so worth it! Its always so hard to start…i guess its kinda like exercising where getting on ur runners is the hardest part and you feel nothing but great after ur done 🙂

    • Thank you, Sue! You are definitely not the only person. I think we all secretly (or not so secretly) hate chores…it’s just that some of us are better at hiding it than others. (Or some of us are OCD neat freaks who really do enjoy cleaning, but I think that’s definitely the minority.) 🙂

      Whenever I’m faced with a task I’m dreading doing, I try to JUST START. I tell myself I’ll do it for 5, 10, 15 minutes. Sometimes I can only stand it for that long, so I get it done in increments. Sometimes once I get started, I figure oh well, I’ll just finish the whole thing. You’re so right about the exercise analogy. As much as I LOVE doing my Zumba, it’s still a struggle to get myself moving at the end of a long day. But once I do it…I feel awesome!

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