this weekend and possibly thru next week, i am moving to live downstairs in my house. it’s a good thing! i am excited about the extra space and the huge stone fireplace hearth in the den that i’ll have access to and a bedroom with a lot more sunlight available for myself and my houseplants.
but it’s a very big project. it’s honestly overwhelming to think about, so i’m breaking it down into smaller, more manageable tasks that give me happy rewards as i complete them, rather than slogging thru one giant task until the end where the results may very well be anticlimactic and depressing because then i’ll have to begin the even harder task of putting everything away.
so instead, i’m planning small things. there is no denouement in this method, but in exchange i get a constant stream of self confident rewards that continue past my goal of moving all of my furniture and goods downstairs, into putting them away and picking up where i left off and adapting my routines to my new situation. it makes a much better transition.
honestly, 15 years ago, this would have been an alien concept for me. my motivations were fear and self made crisis and impending burn-out. it’s taken me a lot of therapy and self care and self knowledge to reach this point where i can motivate myself thru tiny delights and routines and play rather than browbeating myself into complying with my goals. it’s taken a lot of time to learn to love myself and care for myself as much as i care for other people, my house and my family.
as an eldest daughter with 5 siblings and parents who had mental health issues, i have an overactive sense of responsibility and learning to allow play and fun and soft deadlines and non-judgemental mindfulness in my day has been a long and arduous journey. but once i realized that i can love myself *and* love my house and everything in it that cares for me, housekeeping became an act of love rather than a chore.
granted, this was a years long process and i am still learning and solving problems every day, but i think this week i’m going to talk about how big things are just colonies of small things and how the mundane is magickal.
we as pagans (at least in my tiny corner of the internet) talk alot about being in right relationship and community with the Land and with our house spirits and i’ve talked a lot about my personal spirit ecosystems and how my mundane and everyday interactions are vital parts of a healthy practice. how giving back to the Land every day and expressing gratitude in actions as well as in speech is important to me.
i think that looking at that as a monolith of expectations and responsibility is overwhelming and insurmountable, tho. the amount of work to daily and constantly being aware of your surroundings and of the ways that you are impacting the seldom seen denizens of your house and community is a lot and seeing how everything touches everything else in a web of community that you are not the lord of, you are a member within that web, is very off putting to a lot of people.
and this is even before we add in the other humans and pets and plants and critters and mites and molds and other physical bits that live in our houses. it’s really overwhelming to think about holding responsibility for *everything* that goes on. how do we control such chaos?
the answer is we don’t. we can’t control others, we can only be responsible for ourselves.
one of the biggest issues i’ve had in therapy over the years is my need to control my environment to feel safe. but what if i changed my view of the world and saw myself as one of the many inhabitants of my house rather than the boss? what if i found my own space and gave myself my own appropriate responsibilities that gave me a place in this tiny ecosystem and broke down all of those tasks into things that gave me joy?
like i said earlier, i am the eldest of 6. and i grew up in many places. my family was always on the move and i gained my sense of safety by trying to control my environment. i chose to wash the dishes 3 times a day because i was the “only one who actually got them clean” this also applied to laundry and babysitting and vacuuming and packing when it came time to move house yet again. it got extremely overwhelming and i frequently would burn out and blame myself for the resulting mess.
so i came into this worldview with a lot of baggage. when i moved away from my family for the first time, i was so accustomed to doing other people’s work, that i was unable to care for myself. i could *not* figure out how to care for myself, my house and my girlfriend without burning out. it took years of struggle to realize that my house will take care of itself if i take care of me. and taking care of me and learning to love me was the hardest thing i’ve ever learned.
my house was built in 1900. it was literally a little house on the prairie. the original part of the house is now my kitchen and the two bathrooms that open off of it. i’m told originally there was an outhouse and the rooms that are now largish bathrooms were bedrooms and later on down the line what is now the parlor was built and a big ancient woodstove installed to keep the house warm in the windy winters. there is no central heating, this house is heated with wood and a few strategic space heaters. 3 additions and 122 years later, this is an 1000 square foot house with 4 small bedrooms, 2 of which are in the finished basement with huge bright egress windows.
all of the plumbing is located in the original part of the house and this past spring the 70+ year old sewer pipes had to be dug up and replaced. it was a huge and dirty job and was disruptive to my routine and traumatic for the house. i spent a lot of time giving offerings and comfort and talking to the house during that week and it took all summer before things settled down and the house felt more like itself.
breaking that down, my house has a spirit of it’s own. it is old and crotchety and opinionated, but also solid and steadfast and loving and warm. when i walk in the front door, it’s like getting a hug. i love my house and my house loves me. as anxious and stressed as my family makes me, my house is there to soothe and protect me and i wanted to be there to soothe and protect the house as it was healing from a big, necessary surgery.
but just like humans who are made of colonies of bacteria and cells, my house is made up of many other beings. there are the mice and snakes and cobweb spiders and ants that are endemic to rural life. bats in the attic, millepedes that creep up from the crawlspace under the kitchen, hunting spiders in the basement that eat the millipedes, lol. but also each room has a function and a place in the web of community as well as it’s own microcosm of housespirits. and each of those rooms are happiest when they are able to do the things that they do best.
i have tiny altars everywhere where i leave offerings to the wights and the housespirits. i give cinnamon sticks, cedar leaves from the trees out in the windbreak and lavender buds to the woodstove about once a week when i light it and ask that it keep my family warm, but not *too* warm. cozy and safe when the wind howls outside. i take the kitchen scraps to the compost bins and offer them to the spirits of rot and decay that create life in death. and the beasties that feed on it. i offer to the Land and the wights and the critters that live here just like i do. the squirrels and barn cats and birds and bugs and the whole physical web of community living hand in hand with the spirits and plants and trees and wind and all of the seen and unseen things.
breaking things down further, are offerings of service. a couple years ago, i took upon myself that the dishes and keeping the kitchen clean every night was my responsibility, so i offer water and maintenance to the kitchen sink. i spend so much time there every day that it is really the heart of my home as well as being the oldest part of the house. i have had such a hard time keeping up with dishes over the years, that i just decided that i was going to make it a part of loving my house. it started as a chore, for sure. i grumbled and forgot and bitched and complained, but every day for a year, i loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the counters right before i went to bed, even if that was at 3am.
i found ways to be more efficient and reduced 2 loads of dishes a day (for a family of 6, that’s not bad!) to one load a day (even better!) and i bought fancy dishwasher pods to offer to the dishwasher. i called the maintenance guy when things didn’t seem right and got it repaired and working like a charm. and i started really enjoying the process of putting the dishes into there in a regular pattern. it was almost as soothing as playing tetris. it was giving me tiny delights.
the act of placing all the bowls in a row and rinsing off the plates and putting all the forks in one place and all the spoons in another gives me a little shot of reward juice now, which was unthinkable when i started. doing this act of service for my house has also benefited me.
two years after that decision, i am still washing the dishes every night and i still occasionally say, ugh! i have to wash the dishes! but it’s such a small and easy part of my day now, that i’ve added wiping out the sink, offering the leftovers to the garbage disposal and getting joy out of cleaning that with a lemon and some ice cubes and vacuuming and mopping once a week. little actions that i can find satisfaction and tiny delights in all add up to a big thing that my kitchen is clean and not attracting pests. and that make me happy as well as my house and my family.
and yes, when i am sick i let things slide. but my family will temporarily take up that slack. we all have our own responsibilities in caring for the house and family, but we are a team, a community and when we all do our part and take appropriate responsibility, life is smoother and not only are we happier, but the house and Land are happier.
now as i am approaching my own half a century mark, i view the world thru this lens when i start any big project be it art, fiber, writing or magick, housekeeping, taking care of myself, and this upcoming week, when i’ll be moving across the house to another room.
breaking the big tasks down into small ones gives many ways to find joy and delight in finishing a task and to concentrate on the work in front of you, rather than worrying about upcoming deadlines. finding the parts that you enjoy in small tasks makes the bigger task so much easier to manage. and loving my house and doing things to make it happy is my best motivation.
so find a starting point. do one small thing and give a mouse a cookie until it’s time to rest. enjoy and celebrate accomplishing so many things! and begin again the next day. pay attention to the community within the big jobs and find those tiny delights in washing the dishes.