Dust if you Must, Because you Must

In the craziness of last Thursday, and my fatigue of the first trimester, I neglected to link to my newest article for Truth and Charity. I think it fits well with my house cleaning checklist, that Nell linked last week in her quick takes. I suppose the article is a spiritual defense of what motivates my cleaning…


I recently came across this poem:

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
Music to hear, and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come round again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go – and go you must –
You, yourself, will make more dust.

by Rose Milligan (The Lady, 1998)

While I appreciate the sentiment of realizing there are more important things than housework, and I even realize the futility of it (since things always get dirty again), I also think that there is something wrong about this attitude. I was affirmed in this by a homily at Mass the Sunday after I came across the poem, when Father talked about examining our consciences, and specifically mentioned not being thorough in the housework.

As Christians, we are called to become virtuous, and part of becoming virtuous is becoming moderate. We are to be moderate in our recreation, and moderate in our housework. Both are important to live a fully human life. To prove my point, one only has to look at monasteries of sisters or monks. I doubt that there has ever been an unkempt monastery. The manual labor of tending the garden, sweeping the hallway, straightening one’s cell, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, scrubbing the floor, is all part of the vocation. It is part of human existence, and it is dull and tedious. However, for the contemplative, it is meant to be a place of prayer. And for us lay people, the tedious housework, when done with the right heart, can also be as fruitful in giving us a full human existence as swimming in rivers and climbing mountains. The tedium of scrubbing a floor and be united with a prayer for someone in need. The twenty minutes it takes me to dust my house, I can spend uniting my heart to God and His presence.

The fact is that by taking care of one’s home, one is following God’s commands. We are called to be good stewards of the Earth and of our possessions. Taking care of the regular maintenance of a home is simply being a good steward. When we first bought our house with its lovely wood floors, I did some research in how to best care for them. I discovered that the best thing for finished wood floors in good condition is to keep them free of dust and grime. The gathering of dust and dirt wears away at the finish. By cleaning my floors regularly, I am being a good steward of my house, for myself, my children, and for whoever owns this house after us.

When we maintain our possessions well, then fewer things are wasted. So, really, by cleaning my floors, I am saving the world’s resources by not needed to refinish them as often or replace them with other new materials. Taking care of our things keeps trash out of landfills.

And by cleaning my floors I am teaching my children to be good stewards of their possessions.
I have read another poem about how “babies do not keep” and heard things that proclaim that my children will not notice if the house is clean or not. But the truth is that they will. If my house is always in disarray, my children will notice and not learn to be good stewards of their own things. And taking time to do chores does not necessarily exclude the possibility of me being with my children. My children do many chores along side me, and when they are older I trust that we will get them done faster and have more time for painting pictures and writing letters. By each having our own duties we are closer to living a life of a family monastery, and hopefully learning to pray in our work.

I am not saying that we should be continually cleaning our homes so that they are spotless, but I am saying that we need to find a balance between being good stewards of our homes, having our leisure time, and having our work time. Doing these things will help us to live more fully human lives. So, dust because you must, and don’t forget to rest on the Sabbath.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity…


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