The other side of cleaning

Spring is a good reminder of the need to clean again and again. But a cleaner perception allows us to see beauty and potential in what may be considered at best a chore. Beneath the surface, there is much more happening and much more is possible within you and in the space, beyond the obvious fact that you are moving dirt from one place to another. There are studies about the benefits of engaging in cleaning and Bill Gates gets to wash his own dishes. But here are some potentially helpful thoughts if and when you get to clean.

First consider this:

Cleaning is the process of removing dirt from any space, surface, object or subject, thereby exposing beauty, potential, truth and sacredness.

Alignment. Cleaning is aligning with the default tendency of the universe, which is healing, movement from brokenness to wholeness. One reason we do not experience healing often is because we block it, intentionally or unintentionally. Cleaning unblocks flow and facilitates healing in a practical and basic way. Brokenness in nature tends naturally towards wholeness. This is what cleaning aligns with simply by removing dirt and trash and therefore revealing beauty. Thankfully, when properly stewarded, we get immediate feedback through an inner sense of peace and satisfaction.

Love. Cleaning is an expression of love, and respect. We clean because we care and when we don’t care about ourselves or our immediate environment, it shows. The attention we bring to a space and to the various objects and surfaces is truly rewarding when it is an expression of love. If cleaning does not proceed from loving attention and intention, it is just using the body to move dirt, which may be done much more efficiently by a robot. There is enough cruelty in the world than to be cruel to yourself in not loving the fact that you get to reveal beauty. Even when you do the dishes, be kind to yourself by doing it out of love for those who used or will use the dishes not just out of obligation.

Belonging. Cleaning creates a sense of belonging and a true sense of ownership. It shifts your relationship with a place from somone with no sense of belonging to someone who truly belongs, because you practically care for it. Cleaning can move you from apathy to empathy. Cleaning is a great ritual to engage in when you move into a new home or a new office. It is as though you do not truly become an inhabitant of the space until you have at least participated in cleaning it, even (especially) if you are the CEO. The sense of ownership that develops when you clean has to do with stewardship, custodianship and care. This has huge implications in education, immigrant and refugee integration and community development. We do not begin to belong in a place until we practically care for the place and the more we care for a place, the more we will care about it. And people who care do not inflict violence on the people and the place for which they care. Rather, they are protectors and custodians of the beauty, potential and sacredness of the place. If you feel out of place somewhere, try cleaning there.

Workout. Cleaning movement is healthy movement. It is not as intense as running on a treadmill or playing football but when done often, it keeps your joints lubricated and your blood flowing while helping you to move different parts of your body in a natural way. Like most exercises, the benefits lie in consistency. When cleaning, it helps to bring the same loving attention, intention and awareness that you bring to the space being cleaned, to your body. Be kind and listen to your body in the process of cleaning and after. Allow it to be exercised and healed just as you are “healing” and restoring the physical space or thing you are cleaning.

Presence. Cleaning trains you to be present, a quality we are all in desperate need of. Cleaning trains you to be aware of what is immediately before you right now by calling you back from where your mind has wandered into the present moment and place. This stain after all, needs attention. It is difficult to be 100% present because the mind naturally wanders but in the process of cleaning, there is always a reminder and a need to return to the present, to bring the mind back into the body and into the present physical location again and again, which is itself cleansing. The benefits transcend the physical act of cleaning. There is much healing that can happen within and around us when we start to be present with all our senses, mind and heart. Cleaning is an opportunity to practice spirit, mind, body presence and as you learn presence in cleaning, you can be present at other times, like this moment. By the way, I recommend cleaning without headphones if you want to practice presence partly because cleaning time is an opportunity to practice deep listening – listening with your whole being to what is happening around you and within you.

Touch. When you touch any thing or any one, what transpires is more than heat or germ exchange. There is energy transference even when you are not conscious of it but when you are aware and do it intentionally, you can transmit healing through contact with physical objects. I found out while reading Marie Kondo’s bestselling book about tidying (which I highly recommend), that the Japanese word te-ate which means to heal or cure also means to apply the hands or to touch with the hands, which is consistent with the belief in some circles that healing can occur through touch. We do not appreciate the power and magic of human touch until it is absent. When you clean you have the opportunity to transmit and receive energy because there is a lot of touch going on as a matter of necessity. Objects and physical surfaces are not inert, there is intelligence and life in them because there is intelligence and life in all matter but they pick up the vibrational frequency of the space they are in which I believe has much to do with the nature of the thoughts, words and actions that take place there. True, it is possible to exchange germs through contact with people and contaminated surfaces but joy in the heart is contagious and can neutralize the harmful effect of germs and negative vibrations.

Recalibration. Cleaning is an opportunity to recalibrate a space and remove negative “charge”. The normal use of a space generates dirt on many levels. There is physical dirt we can see, there are physical germs we cannot see and there is dirt in terms of the “vibe” of the space, which has to do with harmful thoughts, words and actions. A land may be in need of deep cleansing or a place of business or a home, depending on what transpired there. When you clean, you have the opportunity of recalibrating the “vibe” of the space. How do you do that? That is a different topic as it depends on the situation but you can begin by cleaning with love, joy and peace in your heart. Just as a meal cooked with love tastes different than a meal cooked without love, a space cleaned with love feels different than a space cleaned without love and this difference goes beyond physical appearance. I believe it has to do with the tangible effect of Love on the molecules and atoms around us just as love affects the molecules and atoms in food so much that we taste the difference. Clean your space or dishes or vehicle or body, with the understanding that you are recalibrating it each time you clean.

Loving-kindness. What you are doing when you clean is bringing care to various surfaces, objects and corners in a space, thereby permeating the space with loving-kindness. In reality, you release kindness within yourself by genuinely caring for the space and that can be healing in unexpected ways. Carefully removing dirt from a surface releases healing within you. When you inflict violence on any thing or any one, you are inflicting violence on yourself too. Violence towards any thing or any one is first a maltreatment of oneself and often proceeds from violence within oneself. When you are cruel to the space in any way, you release cruelty within yourself in addition to transferring the same energy into the space and the objects you interact with and that can be harmful in unexpected ways. One of the ways humans are designed to self heal is to extend kindness to others. This is one of the reasons cleaning is so therapeutic. Caring for a space is an opportunity to care for oneself so thinking of it as just a chore is at best unintelligent. When you clean, think of yourself as being kind to yourself by extending kindness to the space, to the objects being cleaned and the people who will benefit.

Meditation. I am sometimes asked if we meditate before or after cleaning and I often say that the cleaning is the meditation. Sometimes when I want to meditate, I go clean. The repetitive motion in cleaning calms the chatter in your mind and can easily put you in a meditative state. When you clean, do not just see it as an activity you would rather not do but an excellent opportunity to meditate. True, cleaning helps you to be fully present, spirit, mind and body but it also facilitates wandering, which is great for your mind, Those times when our minds wander, are times when our minds are in receptive mode rather than processing mode. Such moments are indispensable to mental health and true creativity.

Possibility. Cleaning is a reminder that with your participation, whatever is broken around you can be healed. It is a statement of hope and an enactment of possibility. When you clean, remind yourself that you are enacting and celebrating the fact that you live in a universe where, with your participation transformation, healing, restoration is possible. Just having this belief in situations where you may feel stuck can help you see possibilities you never saw and to find your way to resolution. When you want to remind yourself that transformation is possible in a difficult situation, go and love yourself by cleaning the bathroom or the dishes. You may very well begin to see differently, which is often what is needed in difficult situations. Cleaning after all, is a process of discovery. By removing dirt, you uncover beauty and potential within and without. Eden Philippots said, “The universe is ful of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

There is so much going on in the world today and we can debate endlessly on how to address them but there is a profound immediacy about cleaning. Your dishes still need to be washed. Your floor still needs to be swept. Your body still needs to be cleaned. Your mind still needs sweeping. Your way of seeing is still in need of cleansing. And these call your attention from everything going on out there to what is needed here and now. And that is a kind of protest. A subtle, noiseless, way of making the world better.

Happy Cleaning.

5 thoughts on “The other side of cleaning


    What a great article, you are an inspiration. I clean the communal areas of an apartment block and I absolutely love my job. I wake up in the morning and really look forward to the start of my shift. I time myself on the mile walk to work and try to do it in less than 12 minutes. This fixes a target pace to work to for my shift. The schedule set by my boss is achieved by just after half my time is over but I keep to that pace to clean areas more frequently than expected, or tackle areas not in the schedule.I have my eye on green mold on the external walls, any suggestions as to what to use? I take great pleasure to working hard whilst maintaining the highest standards. Just writing this comment reinforces me as to how happy I am being a cleaner. Now the weather is getting better i’ll be happier when I don’t need a coat to wear going to work, then I can display my polo shirt proudly displaying the name of my communal cleaning company name on it. My big regret in life is that I did not take up cleaning soner and perhaps set up my own cleaning business.

    Happy Cleaning


    1. tolu Post author

      Thank you Phil for your kind words. So encouraging to know that this resonates with other cleaners. This link contains information on how to deal with mold – In place of chlorine-based bleach, there are oxygen-based alternatives which are more expensive and slower acting but better in terms of effect on people and environment…

      Mold is one of those cleaning situations that you need specialized knowledge to deal with and for such I would consult those who know better. But like I have written before, true cleaning also involves understanding how to prevent the dirt – the mold, if possible. Since it is outside the building, that may be hard to prevent.

      Happy Cleaning.

  2. Alex

    This is a fantastic article.
    I’ve never even thought about this side of cleaning before and this article has certainly given me another perspective.
    Being aware of this has certainly improved my motivation for cleaning.
    Thanks for sharing this article.


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