All of the articles below have been published in Grid Magazine
Dear Lois, I am unmotivated and I don’t feel like doing anything around the house. What should I do?
If I were to make a sweeping assumption, I would say that everyone feels like this at one point or another. It is natural to feel overwhelmed, and being a productive, hyper-motivated person is not always the healthiest mode of operating for most people.
I feel unmotivated right now. The house needs to be dusted and mopped, and I have no interest in making dinner. I struggle with depression, and I am extremely sensitive to negative energies. Eventually, I perk up and feel up to life, but for now, I don’t feel like doing anything. At times like these, we must remember that it is okay to feel unmotivated. It’s okay to fall apart. It takes a lot of vulnerability to admit our needs and what we might lack—that is where the real work begins.
When I feel healthy and emotionally stable, I practice good habits that keep the house under control. When I don’t, usually what happens is this: I let the house get to a point where I can’t, in good conscience, let it get any dirtier than it already is, I
then become extremely hard on myself and my family, and follow the lack of interest by going on a cleaning bender. I’m not quite there yet, maybe in another week, after my menstrual cycle ends.
The last time that I truly had to pull it together was also the time when I learned that I can let those who love me take care of me. I don’t have to be as strong as I thought was necessary.
Culturally, as a woman, I have a desire to nurture, heal and make beautiful all that I see that is troubled or upsetting. I tend to extend grace to those around me but become extremely hard on myself. I am learning how to accept my patterns and be alright with my depression, shortcomings and, yes, my dirty floor. I am not Super Mom or a domestic goddess, I am a person trying to hold it all together without cracking under the pressures and circumstances of our modern world.
When I tell myself that I can’t pick up a vacuum, write a song or pick up a pencil, I know that the laundry is waiting for me. This can feel oppressive or can serve as a lifeline. Stick to simple, mundane tasks; the laundry is perfect for this. Don’t think too much, just move your body—go through the motions, you will get to the other side. When I am caught up, feeling on top of the home and confident, I am ready to create, explore and push myself (metaphorically and physically) out the door.
This is a very vulnerable feeling for me, but it brings me to the question of motivation: If you don’t feel like doing anything, just take care of yourself in slow, quiet ways. The chores around the home can be a kind of gateway into a fuller, deeper expression of self if you let them. When we take the time to explore our depression and heal from past wounds, we can take steps in a more fulfilled direction. Action, participation and inspiration are found in the creation of every meal. You might not be used to tasting the subtle flavors of this energy, but you will eventually embody it.
To break it down, I do a half-hearted feather-dusting every couple of days. This keeps the dust down. I give myself a break for feeling unmotivated. I don’t have to be on top of my game 100 percent of the time. My home doesn’t fall apart when I get depressed. I follow the rules that I set up for myself and let my family take care of me. For instance, clean-up after dinner entails clearing the table, doing the dishes, wiping all counters, putting away clean dishes, changing the table linens, vacuuming and tidying of common spaces. As a family, we do these tasks together. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete, and it is crucial to how our family functions. We also have a baseline for what is an acceptable amount of clutter and dirt. I am finding that this baseline moves with the family’s ability to be better and more efficient at cleaning, as we mold good habits and hold each other accountable for our common spaces.
When we learn routines, we can carry good form throughout our lives, even through the darkest times. Many times I feel as though my modus operandi has been learned through the lessons brought by hard times and doubt. How foolish would I be if I did not recognize this and respect my strength? I can usher in gratitude for myself and those who support me, and know that today feels a little better than yesterday. Feelings of being unmotivated are temporary and we should be able to weigh negative feelings against positive ones.
So, do your best. One step at a time. When we are unmotivated and down, it is important to let ourselves heal, but part of the healing process includes cleanliness, maintenance and simply doing the dishes. Take care of yourself and embody who you are, an ever-expanding, creative being who has enough sense to put their life in order.
Dear Lois: I’m always fighting with my husband about chores. Is gender equality in the home possible?
I consider myself to be someone who promotes mutual respect, gender equality and adequate maintenance of the home. This might seem relatively straightforward. However, ask any woman, anywhere, if these ideals are realistically attainable, and the answer is a resounding and emphatic “no.”
The way that women have been socialized to feel solely responsible for domesticity is a source of trauma and conflict within families as well as the larger society.
Our conception of home tends to follow us no matter where we live. Through our habits, behavior and beliefs about ourselves, it’s like our past homes chase us into the present. Eventually, it all catches up to us. The importance of a healthy home for our mental health, feelings of safety and overall well-being should not be taken lightly. In our homes, we forge our futures, as well as the futures of the individuals who dwell there and that of our families as a whole. We can choose to live in ways that
mitigate conflict rather than perpetuate it.
The amount of arguing and social deconstruction between couples—the energy it takes to elevate our homes to egalitarian principles—is, at times, flat-out unbearable.
Many (perhaps nearly all) women are absolutely tired of attempting to convince men that our socially programmed domestic roles are bogus. How long do we have to wait until cavalier attitudes toward domestic equality become socially unacceptable? Thankfully, we have demonized catcalling and degrading pats on the posterior. Can we now stand together in saying it is not okay to call a woman a relentless nag when she simply wants the systemic burden of housework to be lifted?
Viewing our interpersonal relationships in a larger, gendered cultural context, it is easy to see how the fight for domestic equality might not seem worth the effort. Often it is easier in the short term to accept inequality than to remedy the underlying problem. Movement toward mutual domestic respect and fairness quickly ushers in conflict. Additionally, when we attempt to get to the bottom of problematic issues in the home, we find that we relive our past experiences of home along with the gendered expectations we learned to internalize as children. When women stand up for a rational investigation of truth and the principles of conduct and equality, the response should be one of solidarity and comradery between the sexes. All too often, this is not the case.
We know that our homes are where we establish safe spaces, positive mental health practices and upstanding behaviors for ourselves and future generations, so we must take this issue of domestic gender inequality more seriously. It is inconsistent to advocate for gender equality outside of the home but not within it.
Why can’t we work together across all genders to make healthy homes in pursuit of the goal of gender equality at large? If we want gender equality out in the world, we need to be practicing it within our homes.
Question why we, as a society, encourage women to leave abusers more often than we reprimand men for misconduct. Let’s consider that resistance to domestic equality is part of a cycle of systemic oppression. We should focus on helping women advocate for themselves, in an uncompromising attempt to push out the toxic masculinity. We should encourage men to abandon their privilege to join the fight against the oppression of women, specifically through the fair treatment of the women in their lives.
Every time I stand for gender equality in the home I try to remember these key rules:
We are human, and our anger has the potential to create its own trauma; speak kindly and walk away from conflicts that are going nowhere.
We are not alone in feeling tired and unequally yoked by society. Know that the problem is far larger than you and your family.
Most importantly, every time we stand up for the well-being of our homes, we stand up for all women. Don’t be afraid of change or troubling the water.
I also have good news: The people who resist you in your desires for equality do not have to be subject to your ideals. They can leave and you will be fine. Remember rule No. 2, you are not alone. In order to have harmonious homes, we must respect each other’s voices, efforts and labor. Let’s make home a place of restoration, refuge and comfort.
If we believe that our purpose in life is to make big waves out there in the world, we might miss the radical energy of acting locally. This urge to build the “biggest thing” is not who we are; we are part of a community that relies on us for individual actions. Within this, the largest goal and smallest task are equal, as our purpose in life is to share, love and be loved. Here, the home and the world are reciprocal proxies; they are identical spheres of purpose.
For most men, this new way of being does come with drawbacks. He will have to do things he may not like, like cleaning the bathroom. He’ll have to do these jobs for himself, others and the little ones who will need to learn these things for their future. If this feels overwhelming, he doesn’t need to worry; there are people he’s close to, perhaps who he even lives with, who have extensive experience in these matters and would be happy to share their knowledge.
Women, take heart; change is coming. Forgiveness and love are the foundation of any home, and this is the way of the future. Don’t be afraid to call upon and stand alongside one another. Let’s address mental health and gender-based conditioning with empathy. We don’t have to accept that history repeats itself. We can change together.
Dear Lois, Can a dirt-and-clutter problem be so bad that you should just move out and move on?
Taking a backseat in our own lives and homes is a choice. Cutting and running leaves a multitude of problems and ultimately asks someone else to clean up the mess. It is nice to have a fresh start, but habits come along for the ride—and sometimes bad habits are magnified with the stress of change and/or moving from one home to the next. When the home gets to the point where it is so overwhelming, it seems easier to pack up and move on than to look at the mess we got ourselves into. Ultimately, we have to sift through the clutter either way. The best thing we can do is take back control.
I’ve worked with countless clients who felt that they couldn’t do anything but live a life where they felt trapped, depressed and hated their cluttered surroundings. When the foundations of our human experience are clouded by dread and resentment, we become easily distracted from the bigger picture. Having a pity party about the fact that life takes effort will keep
us from participating in the work that has to be done—not only right in front of us, but also on a broader scale.
I look at political dysfunction, imminent wars, the fires in Australia and the state of climate change and I feel powerless. But if I truly believe that I can’t do anything to solve the world’s problems and that all change must come from the top, then I become part of the problem. So it goes for the home, relationships and just about any complicated issue.
The serenity prayer is helpful and important to reflect on: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Often we focus on things we can’t change; we should be looking at the impact we can make right in front of us, right now. There is always a path that can take us to higher ground, or simply, get us out of the hole we are in. Humility, determination, bravery and hope are needed to face our perceptions of our limitations.
When it comes to clutter and projects left undone, there is so much to unpack. In every paper pile, junk drawer and dumping area, we find our own procrastination, denial and apathy. Confronting such traits in ourselves is unbelievably difficult. It reveals the gap between our ideologies, desires and the actual work involved in making them a reality. Maybe your life or your identity is revealing itself to be different than you thought it was. This is part of our human experience. A great place to deconstruct this subset of ego is within the mundane. Through the mundane, we find the sublime, which is available to us at any moment.
I’m not attempting to sugarcoat the idea that cleaning and organizing should elicit excitement; I am opening a dialogue about what our behaviors teach us about ourselves. When we start the process of deconstruction, reworking what is broken and piled-up, we feel good. Overwhelmed, yes, but ultimately, we feel proud of ourselves after we’ve taken matters into our own hands.
Step back and look at the problem. How big of a problem is it? What mountain are you attempting to climb? Many times, we want shortcuts to remedy the symptoms of clutter because the real issues are too hard to face, namely, how the mess and clutter happened in the first place. When we acknowledge that we can be messy and apathetic toward major issues, we can then take the first steps on a path of clarity, healthy decision-making and control over our story and reality. Rather than shuffling items and issues from one place to another, we begin the real work.
When we feel stuck and unmotivated and blame external pressures for our troubles, we lose sight of the changes we can make for ourselves. Rip everything apart so you can rebuild it. Take action. Organize the room you’ve been throwing all of your junk into, the places that drive you crazy and the areas you need to focus on. Don’t wait around for other people to make your life easier or better.
Here is a hard truth: You can’t get people to care, they have to care for themselves. This applies to you as well. Stop waiting for someone to be your muse or fix your problems. Care enough about yourself to do something about the problem. It is called self-respect.
When we release blame, guilt and remorse, we will find that awareness, understanding, forgiveness and egalitarianism are now on the table for examination. These bold actions are easily found throughout daily domestic life. This gift reveals itself when we agree to rummage through life’s mélange of untidy lessons. In other words, we should embrace our inner punk, defy our ego and conquer the junk-pile curated by materialism and capitalism. We are not our stuff; our identities lie in one another as people, culture and active participants in a cosmic experience. Be free from anger and dread.
We can take one step at a time; we don’t have to go out on a leap of faith. We never arrive at point B if we don’t acknowledge that point A is a place to be restored and made well. We can take pride in our actions, foster good habits and develop the strength to make our homes (and truly so much more) better. We can inspire, we can motivate and, with time, we can teach others how to establish their own paths for the betterment of all life. We are not the center of the universe, we are in this together. For now, one step at a time, keep your eye on the big picture.
Dear Lois, Do you ever clean up after your friends, and do your friends ever clean up after you?
Marie is spicy, clever and tells you how it is. This combination of traits pairs especially well with a dark, self-deprecating sense of humor and a healthy amount of gumption. She knows how to pick me up and dust me off, and reminds me to not take myself too seriously.
Our friendship is not a competition. We encourage one another and celebrate our successes. We cook together, fold laundry, hike, thrift, day drink and, for the most part, hold each other accountable for bad habits. We teach each other the fundamental boundaries of self-respect.
I met Marie around the time I obtained the title of Cleaning Lady. I hadn’t chosen to be a housekeeper, but I found myself becoming increasingly methodical in my approach, rethinking the path and starting my own business.
We started working together. I would come to her home and we would discuss the functionality and state of her house. We made plans to organize and clean, strategizing methods for developing a symbiotic relationship with laundry. I was her cleaning lady and I loved it! We talked dirty and we still do. We talked about bathroom dirt, dishes dirt, personal dirt. She was supporting my new business; I was helping her get her home in order. It was mutually respectful, valuable and honest in very personal ways. What started out as money for muscle was replaced with wine for folding. We listened, cared and quickly became good friends.
It’s hard to find good friends, and I didn’t know the meaning of friendship until I went through a divorce. With no friends in sight, I was an uncomfortably heavy load to be around, little children and all. She was the first person to ask me how I was holding up. With Marie, I could be myself and it was fine; she accepted me as I was. For the first time, I felt seen by a woman as a woman.
At that time, my values changed and I didn’t know how to protect myself, but I held tight to an unbreakable thread of spirituality. The winds were strong and transformative, and I, the kite flyer, was convinced this thread would hold my kite as it sailed to a higher place. At times I got carried away, finding silver linings in every storm cloud, but Marie sanctioned my unreasonable optimism, and I liked that.
She flies a different kite from mine, but we soar alongside each other, navigating confusing emotions, and sharing similar winds and dreams of a better life. She’s taught me that it is okay to be real and to be myself, ragged flag and all.
When life brings difficulty, it’s often within this that we find our real friends. I know this sounds overly dramatic, but life is hard all of the time. There’s a war right outside our windows, and the fighting inside of our homes is more than we bargained for. Existence itself is catastrophically messy at times, and your true friends will make sure you rise above the garbage.
Marie and I recently met a group of breast cancer survivors who shared their stories with us. They reiterated that when they felt sick, the deepest kind of support was when someone cooked a meal, hired a cleaning service or played with their kids. In any heavy situation, be it sickness, divorce, death or trauma, simple acts of domestic service are transformative. It may be easier to avoid others’ misfortune, to forget that hard breaks and tough times tear apart marriages and wreak havoc on social lives. We hope that someone else is taking care of business and convince ourselves that we don’t have time. Kindness is strange, and we should give showing up more credit.
There is a giant island of trash floating in the ocean right now. I didn’t make it, didn’t cause it, so it must not be my problem. There is a massive pile of laundry sitting in your friend’s basement right now. You didn’t make it, so why would you help wash and fold? There are many ways to be a good friend and dive ever deeper into the human experience of the gift of friendship. One of the best ways to be present for each other is in sharing everyday human experiences, the ups and downs, the celebration and also the mess when we drop the balls we are juggling. When we clean, cook and take care of each other in basic ways, we communicate that we are here and present. Help out. Scrubbing the fridge and moving boxes of books is going to mean something to someone.
We are all dirty, messy humans looking for a happy place to call home. When we humbly approach one another in our low points, we understand more about ourselves and our friends. It is just a perk that it feels good to do beautiful things for others; not a motivating factor. Cleaning a friend’s toilet may not feel glamorous or significant, but the act goes a long way. Much good is born from muck and crud.
There is no longer the excuse of “not knowing what to do.” If you want to make the world a better place, do something nice for someone without expectations. You don’t need money; you just need time. We can rise above the garbage when we stand together.
My friendship with Marie was built in a dark place, and we’ve been holding the lamp for each other ever since.
written and illustrated by Lois Volta
Dear Lois, can we define "self-care" in a way that does not push us toward consumerism?
In my work as a home consultant, I see firsthand the need for reducing and rethinking our use of “self-care” products, and this means addressing the immense social pressures involved, especially for women.
The wellness industry, in particular, has blurred the lines between commercialism and self-care, hijacking our conceptions of dharma, enlightenment and self-worth by selling us useless, smelly, expensive products. As such, it should be examined and scrutinized. At a young age, girls slide into the role of desired object, learning to construct their self-image in accordance with American commercial values. Later in life, serums and creams are sold to exploit the aging process. We hold on to the socially constructed concept of beauty by praying for a healthy glow and tight skin.
Heaven forbid our bodies change. We could redefine our conceptions of beauty, but there is a fear that no one will love an old, wrinkly spinster. Through all of this, the wellness industry is the secret friend holding our hands as we slather and pluck, convincing us that the snake oil will help us transcend our disappointment with what is actually our natural and innate beauty.
This feeling of inadequacy affects women much more than men. However, we all reap what corporate America sows. We contribute to the garbage harvest by purchasing products as a form of escape from the hell that our nonsense junk-centered society creates. We chase the excitement of a purchase and the possibility that magic creams and indestructible drill bits will set us free and provide contentment. We are bombarded with messages attempting to convince us that we are One Product Away from being happy.
Actual self-care is an action, and is in opposition to all forms of commercialism; it is not something you can buy. Self-care is scrubbing the shower rather than filling it with countless products we can only hope will “work.”
Self-care means preparing healthy food and creating a place that makes wellness possible. We have been brainwashed to think that we need manufactured products in order to be good to ourselves. Can we simply be “good” to ourselves by eating an apple instead of a bag of chips? Cleaning our kitchen and organizing our closets is self-care, not buying a new outfit or oil diffuser. We have to be willing to dive into the moment and see what beauty lays before us. We also want to lean into choices that make us proud and show that we value ourselves. Eating well, committing to the spaces where we live and work, creating positive new habits—these actions are the key to true self-care and take us to places from which we can inspire, help and be a force for good. Start by being the role model for your children that you needed as a child.
The idea that we can buy ourselves to heaven has left our homes a cluttered mess. It doesn’t make any sense to blow our money on “moon powder” that makes us one with the universe at the expense of simplicity and charity. Addressing the needs of the home is a basic way of taking care of ourselves. It does not cost money, but it might cost the pride of thinking we are above cleaning. It could also mean the realization that no one is going to save us from our own dirt and grime. You can’t buy humility.
When we free our minds from the commercialism that whispers to us to buy, our bodies will follow. When we work with the heart, we understand there is more to life than ourselves; we connect to a deeper current of caring for all life.
Our homes are places that remind us that habit and ritual bring freedom. In caring for our homes, we directly create spaces that save us from guilt and future drudgery, which are the very feelings the wellness industry preys upon. Healthy habits make us feel better. With time, we regain a sense of pride and purpose, and can consciously and creatively contribute to our immediate surroundings. This energy can’t help but to push outward to the benefit of family and community. Caring for others is another form of self-care.
Our refusal to participate in destructive social norms can be part of a greater societal healing process. How have we fallen so far from grace and natural beauty that we turn our gaze from the mistreated workers in packing facilities? What if we cared deeply about where our precious products came from—about who suffers in making sure our toenails are the perfect shade of burgundy? Unfortunately, it is a daunting task to fully understand the damage we create by simply living. Simple living is a different approach; it requires less, and less is more.
Nothing we buy will satisfy our desire to be whole and one with creation. What we do have is the ability to co-create spaces of well-being. This looks different for everyone, but in general, it relies on self-responsibility and participation within community. You won’t find that at a spa, but you might find it clearing the table and loading the dishwasher. Self-care is an action.
written and illustrated by Lois Volta
Dear Lois, Is it possible to transcend the domestic workload of the holiday season and live out of the heart?
My favorite part of Thanksgiving is ironing the tablecloths and napkins, setting the table, arranging flowers and falling into quiet, meditative actions. It’s the calm before the social whirlwind ahead—my chance to think about my guests and curiously anticipate their arrival.
I want to create a safe, beautiful space for all of my guests, so this time is my opportunity to call upon the energy required, because lord knows I need some help there.
I search for meaning in the trivial, remembering that gratitude and kindness bring levity to everything. I celebrate autumn, deciding to view the wave of holidays with determined optimism.
Yet I’m always a little worried when I send the email to my family
expressing my desire to host Thanksgiving. Is there too much going on to add Thanksgiving dinner to the to-do list? It’s a lot of work. The coordination, the preparation and all the unnoticed details usher in feelings of apprehension that obscure the life-giving power of serving others.
We romanticize our holidays, which serves as a comfort but also shields us from reality in a form of collective apathy. In our culture, traditions are becoming less and less important as corporate America hijacks each and every holiday, replacing natural beauty with kitschy, plastic, manufactured decorations.
I have come to the conclusion that Thanksgiving is a celebration of autumn, a time of togetherness and a genuine attempt to exhibit gratitude. Being thankful is no easy feat: Life is hard and we live in a time in which we are seeing the light go out for so many. When others are suffering, there is a guilt that comes with celebration. Even the concept of gratitude has been co-opted by so-called spiritualists who sell the belief that we can cultivate “abundance” through gratitude and that a $125 goopy facemask will deliver us to gratitude and self-worth. What happened to the age-old wisdom that caring for others is how we care for ourselves?
This time of year, I wade through the cultural sludge, holding fast to the offerings of our beautiful Earth. I love the colors, flavors and cooking traditions of autumn and have a deep appreciation for the brisk weather and my wood-burning stove. I have respect for the tenderness of an embrace, the laughter of friends and family around the table. I dive deeply into craft, building my traditions with the work of my hands. Learning old recipes, researching new ones, peeling, chopping, cooking, waiting, tasting and smelling—there is a world of value in these small acts of kindness and service.
Let’s not be too rosy; these days are indeed accompanied by work and stress, onions to chop, a house to clean, dishes to wash and the general pressure of personal differences. For many, spending extended time with family is overwhelming.
Each holiday and family gathering gives us an opportunity to see and reflect on our own maturity. I know I’m not perfect, so I hope to be forgiven for my shortcomings while I learn to accept others for who they are. For me, this space and peace of mind comes from gratitude for the people in my life. I remember the humanity in all of us, and, when necessary, set boundaries to protect myself from negative energy. Most times, our kindness is a huge relief to others, no matter the situation. Act first; love trumps hate.
It’s wonderful to reshape the commercial meaning of conventional holidays and give it new blood. When the heart becomes the center of our actions, the cultural baggage dissipates and our ideals work more symbiotically with the realities of life.
The thoughtfulness we pour into our homes—opening our doors and showing up for others—will breathe new life into our spaces and spirits. If we want our world to heal, we must seek healing in our families and relationships. As part of this, we share food, stories, games and laughter. This is the knowledge that we teach our children through the way we live; a type of knowledge that will not let them down, regardless of how complicated the future may be, cultivating childlike wonder while preparing them to live in a culture predicated on dissatisfaction.
written and illustrated by Lois Volta
With the chilly weather upon us, our homes will reveal the seasonal obligations of closing storm windows, packing school lunches and having a functional hats-and-scarves bin. Every change of season gives us the opportunity to address habits that we’ve carved out over the years and possibly over a lifetime.
Marking the change of seasons with butternut squash soup and apple picking, we understand our place-in-time through ritual. We fall into the natural patterns of the seasonal changes of our beautiful planet.
As Philadelphians, we await the cold winter approaching and know that a pumpkin-spice latte isn’t going to cut it when the days are shorter and the possibility of seasonal depression pokes its head up like a seedling in spring soil.
It doesn’t surprise me that, every couple of months, when we know the weather will change, we ask ourselves to ‘be better’ or ‘start over.’ We protect ourselves from the bad habits of last year by using hope as a crutch. Carving new grooves in our brain’s wiring isn’t a particularly easy task. Just like when working the muscles of our bodies, we know there will be growing pains and resistance. We also know that when we set out for the stars, we might land on the moon.
When considering small changes in our domestic choices, we must remember that this is an uphill battle. One person attempting a zero-waste lifestyle can only do so much, like a drop of freshwater in an ocean of corporate waste. The mass-produced sentiment that ‘one person can make a difference’ is hard to wrap our heads around and comes across as propaganda.
Fundamentally, we need political powers that enforce laws and regulations that curb the escalation of climate change. But in the meantime, can we create solidarity and view ourselves as part of a broader, more robust movement of domestic awareness? This is why I’m an advocate of refusing to buy senseless plastic products, toxic home-cleaning agents and paper towels.
That’s the ticket: Every small change we make should be identified as part of the movement to connect us to each other and our dying Earth. Collective acts of rebellion and the refusal to participate in the status quo will make waves. It is how we live and vote that decides the fate of our planet and, as Americans we need to simplify our living habits and vote for leaders who believe that climate change is real. It is our global responsibility to unite in this capacity.
In the grocery store, I resent the number of choices I’m confronted with. Does buying prepackaged plastic-wrapped school lunches seem like a good idea? And does anyone even care? It seems like everyone, including me, is tired and wants things to be as convenient and easy as possible. Who has time to learn how to make homemade granola bars or sew reusable snack bags?
Our convenience comes at the expense of the Earth. Even in reducing our waste, we still contribute to the trash in our oceans. We can’t do it all overnight, but we can start by collectively refusing to buy individual pre-packaged snack bags and learning how to buy in bulk. A do-it-yourself attitude has a bigger impact than you might think.
Making modifications, however great or small, to the way we live is the least we can do to participate in the greater narrative. It also requires that we look outside of ourselves and our lifestyle choices in order to consider the whole. What and who are we living for? It seems to me that we have all done the mental gymnastics to self-exonerate and convince ourselves that buying our children sugar-filled, plastic-wrapped ‘nutritional fruit bars’ won’t give them Type-2 diabetes, as the hallowed trash collector whisks away our mountain of problems. How do we get ourselves to care, let alone convince others to? I don’t know.
I do know that if a society is a mirror of its people, how we live in our homes is important. Do we operate them autocratically or do we care for them in a socially conscious, ethically minded and holistic way? Gender equality, awareness of environmental concerns, respect for diversity and the value of work—these things must be taught, learned and applied in the home. Awareness of our tangible, domestic reality can serve as a teacher and guide for deeper states of consciousness and societal healing. How engaged are we and how willing are we to be the change we want to see?
The change of the season can serve to remind us that our world is changing, too. Let’s not take that for granted. Let’s take our compulsion to be “better” and use it to make lasting change in ourselves and homes. If we are in it together, we will carry the hope for a better environment for all life. Keep pushing your wheel of love up the hill, you are not alone.
written and illustrated by Lois Volta
It’s all relative. For each person, there is a different set of needs that a wardrobe must fulfill. The landscaper’s wardrobe will be vastly different than the ballerina’s. A better question to explore is, “How do I maintain a healthy relationship with my clothing?” From here, we can do some digging and talk about how to mindfully maintain what we do have.
Closets are intrinsically personal and tend to provoke anxiety. Think about how you want to feel about your closet when you are not in front of it. When setting larger goals about closet choices it is best to do this from a mindful perspective.
I absolutely hate staring at all my clothes and feeling like I have nothing to wear. There are a couple of reasons why this happens:
The item I want to wear is dirty; I feel guilty that I am behind on the laundry.
Everything is cluttered, stuffed and wrinkly; I am not proud of the way I have been caring for my clothing.
I find myself paralyzed by an overwhelming amount of choices.
I am reminded that I am unbelievably fortunate to have so many clothes and options and here I am, standing in my first-world problem.
I am reminded of the way I think about my body and the pressures of ‘looking good.
There is a way to transcend these negative thought patterns. I can step away from the stress of laundry maintenance and into a state of mind in which I enjoy all aspects of my clothing and wardrobe rituals. Here are some ways I achieve this:
I keep up with my laundry and never let my laundry basket overflow. I am realistic about the amount of time it takes to maintain the amount of clothes I own. Less is more and I really don’t care if my staple clothing items are on repeat throughout the week.
I have implemented new habits that make things easy. I clean my personal clothing on a day when I am home and can fold them as soon as they are done. I’ve learned new folding techniques to prevent overcrowding and I donate the clothes I don’t wear. When I look in my drawers they are tidy—I can see every piece of clothing. My wardrobe, as a whole, has breathing room; nothing gets lost or forgotten and everything makes an appearance.
Less is more. Less means more time to get on with my day.
I am thankful for what I have and know that I am fortunate to have more than enough. This gives me a feeling of contentment. I don’t need to buy anything else and I know that I’d rather not feed the monster of the fashion industry. Trendy is lame.
Everything that I put on my body makes me feel good. Looking good is not the problem; the societal pressure to look good is the problem.
Closets shouldn’t be a source of anxiety. Self-criticism is self-defeating, though I do feel it is important to evaluate what it is about my clothes that is affecting me negatively. It is important to me that I buy the majority of my wardrobe secondhand. Consignment shops are a great option for high quality clothing at half the price. Personally, I have no problem splurging at a thrift store- most of them donate money to charitable organizations and the experience, as a whole, forces me to be more creative. When I buy something new, I try to find responsible, affordable options. Sometimes, I don’t, and it’s ok. It is literally impossible to buy responsibly in all cases. We can learn from our spending habits and focus on making thoughtful decisions within the information, situation, and means at our disposal.
For those who dislike laundry: Washing and folding laundry is a part of life: accept this and then decide what you’re going to do about it. Do you do your own laundry? If not, why is someone doing your laundry for you? Better yet, why doesn’t this person even let you to touch the laundry machine? Are you really that unhelpful? Do your own laundry. Maybe the person who’s currently doing it for you should bag up your clothes and put them outside for you to deal with. Respect the systems already in place that you have been benefiting from. Show an openness to learning rather than begrudging compliance and sloppiness.
For those who need help: Pencil in the time. Think of it as self-care. Get rid of clothing that you feel indifferent about, doesn’t fit, or hasn’t been worn. You really don’t need 20 t-shirts... Be realistic and stop lying to yourself about what you actually wear. If you like it and know you’ll never wear it, give it to someone who will. Cut your losses and live in generosity. Your clothing does not define who you are, so you don’t have to be so sentimental; just slim it down. The payoff is worth it. Take a full day to set it straight, and if you need help, get the help you need.
For those who have been doing ALL of the laundry: Up your game. Learn how to be more efficient, sustainable, and wiser with your time. Your work has not been in vain. Thank you for all you do! Now it’s time to teach the rest of the family how to care for themselves. If you get hit by a truck or go on strike, your family should know how to keep up with the laundry. Life goes on, and you shouldn’t be doing it all.
Overall, I like getting dressed in the morning. When I put my laundry away, I feel satisfied with my form and thankful that the hard work has become easy. I like taking care of my clothes and my clothes take care of me back. Ultimately, this is a relationship with yourself and how you take care of your body in a very basic way—let it be thoughtful and meaningful.
written and illustrated by Lois Volta
It isn’t easy to accept that our dirt and mess are important. Why would we want to? Many of us feel there are bigger, better and more exciting things to do with our lives than to vacuum and dust the house. In actuality, the mess is a window through which we see the deep, unknown world of inner consciousness calling us to engage with life in a very practical way. The dust on the shelves is us—the dead part of us. The death, the dirt, the unsavory aspects of our tangible reality, they don’t need the negative connotations, and addressing them does not have to be a “chore.”
The house carries, sees and holds it all. It is volatile, alive and subject to change just like the people within it. It hears the fights and registers the neglect; it holds the trauma of depression and illness, all the while striving for restoration and wholeness.
We carry this same structure within our consciousness. Our bodies, living yet dying, are the subjects and objects of care: eating well, personal hygiene and overall wellness are undoubtedly important. How is it, then, that we convince ourselves that caring for our homes is boring and trivial?
Our homes are an extension of ourselves and of the present, and it is counterintuitive to long for bigger, better and more exciting lives when we resent interacting with our homes and lives as they are.
There is a tendency to look outside of the present for a sense of larger purpose and importance. Dirty dishes and grimy bathrooms seem pointless and menial when we feel “destined for greatness” somewhere else in the world. But if the present were different, if we were relieved of the drudgery of everyday responsibilities, would we make good on our self-perceived importance or sit right back down in front of the TV? For successful movement out of this existential crisis, we need a paradigm shift.
Unless we are planning to leave the present moment in favor of a different one, the mess, clutter and dust we ignore will become an exponentially larger problem in the future. In lieu of personal action, we might throw money at the problem to make it go away or do the mental gymnastics to convince ourselves that we “like” living in the chaos and grime. To each their own. If we cared for our bodies in the same way, we would have to accept that sickness is the norm and that preventative care is not worth our time.
Good form will carry us through the hardest days and most exhausting evenings. If we can truly accept ourselves where we are, on this journey, in this home, with this job, with these people surrounding us, we embrace the true freedom of interacting with our lives as they are. Although I may wish to be “somewhere else,” I am here now, and not in a future that may never materialize. I have high hopes for what I would like to see for myself and our world, but no expectations. I embrace that life comes with maintenance and work. I also embrace relaxation, restoration and the fruit of the seeds I have planted. In looking at the whole, I respect the trivial.
The future depends on a sustained involvement in life as it is right now.
So, I’ve neglected the basement. I’ve thrown things down there, let it become a place where I hide bad habits. I’ve closed the door to ignore it. What does that say? I know that it is just a basement, so who cares if it’s a mess? But it serves as a reminder that I am not appropriately caring for the spaces that I have right now. I can rationalize that the space is inadequate, too small, that it serves as a multifunctioning space that can’t ever possibly be what I want it to be. Or, I can ignore the wish for a different situation and make the time to deal with my mountain of clutter. The experience doesn’t have to be negative—it is an opportunity for self-reflection and self-determination.
When faced with an uphill climb, the tendency is to look for a way out without addressing the habits that brought the mess in the first place. Press a button and the cleaning fairy will make the dust and clutter go away—is this the dream? How lazy and out of touch with reality! It will be no different in a new space. Poor habits follow us wherever we go.
Examining our everyday behaviors, domestic habits and relationship with our tangible reality is essential for the development of self-knowledge and freedom. There is no cure to be bought, no shortcut to be found and no savior from the truth that our dead skin cells become dust.
Cleaning up after ourselves and the ones we love is worth our time. We can transcend the existential dread of trivial work, set a new bar for domestic gender equality and redefine this central issue for our modern times. As a species, we must evolve by looking at where we are now, seeing the mess, the trash and the grime. We must stop and give thought, weight and importance to the habits we will instill in future generations and the impact this will have on the future of this planet. We shouldn’t let the realities of domesticity deter us from action. We can learn through our existence that we are living, breathing creatures worth taking care of, and act accordingly.
written by Lois Volta
There’s no right or wrong way to run a household, so balance in the home means something different for everyone. We all come from our own places, have our own intimate, ingrained domestic habits, and generally don’t like being told what to do. Disagreement within the home can threaten our sense of autonomy, personal space and conceptions of fairness. If you bear the brunt of the mental and physical load of the home, it’s natural to be upset. In asking our partners or housemates to engage in domesticity, we can expect a vulnerable and sometimes volatile experience.
Start by defining what a balanced home looks like for you and deciding if it is worth fighting for. You should never ask for “help” around the house; this perpetuates the perception that you are the manager of the home, and that you should be given help and support as opposed to shared responsibility and teamwork. Rather, ask that your partners, housemates and children live mindfully and
respectfully. This is a new mindset, which requires you to be respectful and understanding of others, their differences, past experiences and domestic inadequacies. Can you love a person who’s never touched a laundry basket? This is not a lesson in passivity toward or complicity in domestic inequality, but a grand reveal of radical acceptance, compassion and patience through which real change may occur.
Let’s respect the historically and socially-gendered pressures within the home. In an environment of mutual respect, we leave the argument and enter into a conversation. Healthy communication is a sign of a balanced home, and for this, your self-respect is required. If those in your home aren’t respecting you enough to have a constructive and open conversation about domesticity and shared labor, why are you living with them? If children are involved, are you a role model of cooperative collaboration and self-respect?
For me, gender equality, sustainability, kindness and beauty are worth fighting for. My family doesn’t always appreciate it. I figure it out as I go and I know that I’m not always right—I’ve come to peace with this. I also feel loved just as I am, confrontational ideals and all. It’s worth the hard conversations and interpersonal fights to show my children that they can experience domestic gender equality firsthand, that washing and folding napkins and rags is far better than using products that end up in a landfill, and that having a good attitude makes everything easier for everyone.
Life takes work and cooperation. The byproduct of living is mess. Accept the mess and roll up your sleeves, especially if you have taken for granted the domestic labor that makes your life better.
Balance is more likely when we are open to learning from each other. I try to teach without teaching, lead by example, and scream into a pillow when the house is trashed instead of venting my anger on others, thus compromising my role as patient, loving mother. I find it meaningful and necessary to be open with my family about how I balance my personal and work lives so they understand that I am not, nor should be, willing to shoulder the second-shift of housework on my own.
Yes, I can do most of the housework better, faster and more easily than they because I have a lifetime of practice. If it’s not cherished and respected, this feels like a curse. I absolutely love it when my husband or kids ask me for advice on how to do something around the house. It shows me that they are willing to learn and hold their share of the weight even if they don’t know how. It feels good to see in them the recognition that skills within the home are valuable and worth learning how to do well. There is an art to all of it, and I hit my 10,000 hours years ago.
Everyone can develop domestic awareness; it is most heartfelt when we come to it of our own accord, not because we are being told to engage or, conversely, to “ease-up.” Truth is, the more I look for domestic awareness, the more I find it in the quality of love and respect we have for each other and ourselves.
When I follow everyone around with a dustpan, letting loose a broad scream for help, I am not respecting myself. In caring for others without conditions or expectations, I am being respectful. I feel loved when this way of being is seen and appreciated. Ultimately, I want to know that it is safe to enjoy showing my love to others through service without my efforts being devalued and seen as trivial. I value the work that we all bring to the table.
These are the concepts that I tackle to find a deeper understanding of domestic balance (it’s not just about divvying up the chores). The more I place love in my home, the more the home gives back to me and the people within. It becomes a place worthy of being taken care of. The work is internal, and I am enough to spark change in the hearts of those with whom I have relationships.
It’s not easy, but that’s okay; we are all in this together. Balance will make an appearance now and then to remind you that it’s going to be just fine.
written and illustrated by Lois Volta