Episode 19: An Honored Guest
Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we take a few minutes to consider our Ideal Life and try to look for untrodden paths to help us get there.
The podcast in which we step back and relish in the gorgeous Venn Diagrams that make up our lives, in the hopes that the overlaps there can help us make the less pleasant aspects of our lives more livable.
The podcast in which we can laugh at ourselves and our failures, and maybe even learn a little oddity or two that will get us thinking that we don’t have it so bad after all…
My name is Lily Fields, and I’m going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half-hour or so. Now, unfortunately, my magic wand is at the shop, so we are going to be having quite the down-to-earth conversation this week.
Now now now, Lily Fields, Oh–that’s you. In my mind, you sound like a Southern Belle. You are perfectly adorable.
If you have no Fairy Dust to spread about, then why should we even bother listening?
What I mean is that, this week, we are going to be tackling a subject that I do not master at all, and thereby have no magic spell to help us make the topic any easier. If anything, Cinderella, you are the one of us who has the little magic bluebirds and helpful little mice who attend to your housework with you.
But it is in being authentic and honest about my repeated failures in this area that perhaps I might have something to say that is worth listening to.
Yes, but Lily, must you go on about those Venn Diagrams again?
Yes, my dear, I must. A Venn Diagram, in which all the different Ideal Life Themes are the circles that show just how interconnected they are, is the very best metaphor I can find for what I want us to do every single day with our Ideal Life Exercise. I want us to be able to see the ways in which our Mental Health impacts the cleanliness of our home, or how our Habits and Routines impact our Spiritual Life.
This metaphor of the Venn Diagram helps us to see how even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant progress in one circle can impact the way we function in another. Which means that positive change can have a compounding effect…one tiny rock out of our shoe in one area can make another area function more smoothly.
Repeatedly and regularly examining these relationships will help us move forward. I promise.
Fine, all right. But Lily Fields, but there better be a reward for us at the end of this.
Well, today, there sure is. Today, LiElla Kelly, Death Doula and your wicked stepsister is going to share with us a weird and wonderful burial practice which is going to make us glad that the most emotionally-charged cleaning we have to do might be scrubbing the toilet or fishing Legos out of a clogged shower drain.
We are in the middle of a series about the Ideal Life Categories. If you’ll remember with me, The Ideal Life Exercise is a way to, every single day, five to fifteen minutes at a time, check our progress towards living our Ideal Life. In the early days of the podcast, we took time to articulate what our Ideal Life looked like, and most importantly, the kind of person we would need to be in order to fully live that Ideal Life. We did this by finishing one simple prompt, as many times as we needed to. The prompt went like this:
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…
In examining our answers, we discovered that a certain number of themes, or categories, appeared in our answers: themes like our health, our bodies, work, our calendars, our parenting, our marriage, our pastimes…For me, there were nineteen of these themes, which I came to see as circles in a big, brilliant Venn Diagram that was the blueprint for my life. The ways that the circles of that Venn Diagram overlap are unique to me…just as in your life, the ways that they overlap are unique to you. This means that for each of us, our blueprint is different, obviously, because each of us have different talents, passions and values.
In order to check our progress each day, we lift out one of just those circles from the Venn Diagram and answer a few questions about it.
These are the questions: What is working? What isn’t working? What do I need to think about? What do I need to do?
This week, we are talking about one of the areas of greatest struggle for me personally, which is why I hope that you will find some humor and some levity in this week’s episode. Our topic this week is Keeping a Clean House.
If you can, return to your Ideal Life Statements, and see if you have any that pertain to the state of cleanliness of your home. Here are some of mine:
In my Ideal LIfe I am a person who:
- has a tidy kitchen
- keeps the apartment decluttered
- knows the last time the toilet was scrubbed
- has clean sheets on her bed
- can see out the windows
- doesn’t mind washing the floor
- folds and puts away laundry immediately
- doesn’t expect anyone else to be bothered by what bothers me
- only gets out what can be used in an hour
- has a sparkly sink and faucet
Why a Clean House?
To come round out my unfitness as a wife and mother is another wholly socially unacceptable gem of a character trait: I am a terrible terrible terrible terrible housekeeper.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a clean house. I love a sparkly floor or a clean shower-thing-you-put-the-soap-on. I don’t just passively dislike housekeeping. I actively hate it.
The same thing that made me a good project manager and wedding planner but hate managing my family’s schedule and meal planning is what makes me hate cleaning: if it is an activity that has to be repeated daily, weekly, or monthly with exactly the same results as the last time, then you can count on it being something I hate doing.
I have made no secret of the fact that I am a progress addict. I like to see things improve over time. So far, I have found nothing that prevents a scalawag from eating rice krispies over a freshly vacuumed rug. This is not progress. This is the ultimate in stasis.
Living with it
Whereas I couldn’t have suspected that the scheduling and planning thing would be a problem in my marriage twenty two years ago, this active, visceral hatred of all things domestic was a red flag from the beginning.
I did try to put some order to it in the first few weeks of our marriage; it was the first time I realized that my need for order and his need for liberty would be in conflict. We had our first real fight about the “contract” I drew up: a carefully organized who does what-on-what-day. Except that when it was his turn and because something didn’t “look too bad”, he would say “it didn’t need to be done.”
But since I am a rules and structure person, I would do what I had assigned to myself on the day for which it was assigned. Which meant that I ended up doing everything, and it never “looked too bad” on his day. And he got used to me doing everything.
And I just got angrier and angrier.
Anger + Resentment + Fatigue + Feeling Invisible= Crisis
The birth of babies is an upheaval, any way you look at it. I made room for them in our apartment by doing a “Tidying Festival” à la Marie Kondo. I was attracted to the idea because she made it sound like a once-in-a-lifetime activity that would give you peace in your stuff-life forever. This did a great deal to relieve some of the tension. But it still didn’t help with the cleaning up thing.
Having half the stuff we’d had before didn’t mean the floors stayed clean or the dishes didn’t pile up. It seemed that one tiny baby had three times the laundry of two normal-sized adults.
And somehow, because I was the structure and rules person in the family, I had trained my indulgent husband to believe that all these thankless, hateful things should end up on my plate. My motto has always been, “If it pisses you off, doing something about it.” So I do. But I do it with a lot of resentment.
Enter post-partum depression. Enter a crisis of identity. Enter a new season of wanting to be seen as a woman and not just as a roommate.
Yup. I had a crisis. A big, ugly, tear down the walls crisis.
Just do the dishes
If any of us survived, it is thanks to Dana K. White and her media empire, which includes a blog and podcast called “A Slob Comes Clean”, and a number of excellent books. I wish I remember how I discovered her podcast, but it saved my family. At one point, during what she called her “deslobification process” she said she had to stop treating her home like a project and start learning to do the basic things to keep it under control. She had a podcast episode where she talked about significant others and family members, and how the only thing we can do is set the example.
Her first eye-opening lesson was to simply do the dishes. I started doing the dishes after every meal. There was one benefit to doing this, and I am going to shamefully admit it here: by doing the dishes after every meal, drying them and putting them away, it gave me an excuse to let my husband deal with the boys. I was off the hook for as long as it took to be completely done.
I used the time I spent doing the dishes to imagine dialogue for my characters to speak, to problem solve plot holes, to worldbuild. I put music in my ears and blocked everything else out.
Doing the dishes, the act of which I still do not enjoy, became a little bubble of “me-time” because I could disengage my brain from the boredom of parenting and invest in the only thing that made me feel alive: my novels.
Point One: An Honored Guest
A few weeks ago, I got some pushback from a listener about something I’ve been saying in the podcast. It wasn’t a criticism, per se, but you know me. Once I start overthinking something, I can’t let it go.
The listener’s sticking point was that she doesn’t like it when I say we should “treat ourselves like an honored guest in our home.” She said, with legitimate concern,
“It sounds like you are saying ‘be selfish,’ but in the same breath you praise the courageous and selfless people in Ukraine. Pick your lane.”
–podcast listener with a very good point
First off, I had many second thoughts before wading into anything about my thoughts on what is happening in Ukraine. I will stay away from these topics in the future. However, I stand firmly by my admiration of their selflessness. My heart breaks for what they are experiencing, and I pray that it all end very, very soon.
That said, I am concerned that I would have portrayed the idea of “treating ourselves like an honored guest,” as being “selfish.” If that is what this listener heard, then I need to have an adequate answer.
So, I need to sit down and decide if I really mean “be selfish?” Is treating ourselves like an honored guest in our home being selfish?
When I picture being selfish, the first thing I imagine is when I am standing in front what is left of my birthday cake after everyone has had a piece, and I think, “I am saving the rest of this for me, and nobody better try to sneak a piece.” Oh…you don’t ever have those thoughts? You are a better person than I.
Having the selfish thought that I don’t want to share my birthday cake doesn’t mean that I won’t share my birthday cake. It just means that in that moment, I want it all for me. Selfishness is a weird instinctive way our hearts have of telling us, “I like this and I want as much of it as I can possibly have.”
Selfishness is immature and poorly thought-out. It is usually something that happens to someone else’s (perceived) detriment–in the birthday cake example, the desired result of my selfishness is that no one else get any birthday cake.
Selfishness is unintentional most of the time, meaning, we don’t have to give it a ton of thought. I don’t have to try really hard to be selfish. It comes pretty darn naturally to me, thankyouverymuch.
It is in this way that I would distinguish it from “treating myself as an honored guest.”
It does not come naturally to treat myself as an honored guest. Somewhere along the line in our relationships with others–as parents, as employees, as spouses, as friends–we come to make a difference between people who are worthy of the “good dishes” and people who aren’t. People who we set up the dining room table for, and those who can sit with us at the kitchen table.
People who we will change the kitchen hand towel for, and people we won’t.
Many years ago, prior to having children, my husband and I hosted someone in our apartment who was thinking about moving to our city. It was very much in my best interest that this person like it here, because we would be working together and I needed this person’s skills on my team.
I do not have the gift of hospitality. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I dread having people in my home, but it is the pressure I put on myself to prepare for having people over that I dread.
I made a five page checklist of preparations I needed to make for that person to stay in our apartment. (Overkill? Why yes, yes it was.) It was that important to me.
When I say I need to treat myself as an honored guest in my home, I am thinking specifically about that. How with every single little thing, I would think, “I hope she never finds out it isn’t always like this!”
About how I got out the good towels, how hard I scrubbed the shower, about how I scoured the light switches for fingerprints, how I took down the curtains to wash them, how I washed the windows inside and out, how I cleaned the baseboards and moved all the furniture to vacuum. It was obsessive. It felt obsessive.
About how, when I was finally done with my checklist, how badly I wished that I had done this sooner, because of how wonderful it looked and felt.
Why don’t I don’t this more often?
That was the first time I had the inkling that it would be really, really nice to be an honored guest in my own home.
Wouldn’t it be nice to use the good towels? Wouldn’t it be nice to have clean windows more often? Wouldn’t it be nice for the shower to sparkle? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the table set nicely?
When I say that we need to treat ourselves as an honored guest, I don’t mean “work ourselves to the bone every single day so that everything is always guest-ready.”
I do mean to do the small things that would make a difference and bring us little beads of joy to put on the necklace of our lives.
Case in point: One small thing that I absolutely adore is slipping into fresh sheets at bedtime.
I do not love the process of changing the sheets on my bed. I do not love washing and the subsequent hanging out to dry. But I get immeasurable joy from sliding between fresh sheets at bedtime.
When it comes the day that I have written on my calendar that I am to change the sheets, I often see the words and think, “ugh. I hate changing the sheets.” Because the first thing I think of is the wrestling match that I will have with the fitted sheet, first to get it onto the laundry line to dry, and second, the rematch I will have with it when I fold it and put it back in the drawer.
But if I can get into the mindset of treating myself like an honored guest, I can then imagine what it will feel at bedtime, when the wrestling matches will have been long forgotten about, and I slip my little feet down into the bed between crisp, clean, smooth sheets.
That feeling right there, that anticipation, is enough to make me strip the bed and get started.
Treating ourselves like an honored guest is not a blank check to behave selfishly, but rather, in part, to consider how doing the things we need to do anyway can bring us future joy, and to minimize our thoughts about how annoying those things are to do in the present.
I often say, “Life is short, wear the pretty clothes.” Well, I’d like to add, “Life is short, use the good towels,” and “Life is short, enjoy the clean sheets.”
We shouldn’t be saving things up for “special occasions,” because the “special occasions” we think we are saving things for are so unbelievably rare.
There is so much joy in treating life as the special occasion we’ve been saving up for. There is so much potential for joy when we treat ourselves as an honored guest. It is an unlimited treasure chest of ways, big and small, to show ourselves love.
I do not believe that this desire to bring delight and joy into our lives is selfish. For it to be selfish would mean that it is to someone else’s detriment, and that is not the case.
If anything, when there is more delight and joy and wonder in our lives, we are better equipped to share our lives with others.
When I have done something, as small as changing my own sheets, it makes me want my little boys to experience this same tiny pleasure of slipping into clean sheets. In this way, when done with first and foremost, the attitude of doing something out of concern for myself (changing my sheets), it makes it possible to do a very very basic household chore out of a place of love and delight for my boys.
Treating ourselves as honored guests is not selfish. It is a first step to transforming how we view our current circumstances. It is the difference between “buckling down and disciplining myself to change everyone’s sheets” and “I can’t wait for the boys to get into bed tonight and see how awesome it feels to snuggle down in clean sheets.”
It starts, though, with doing little things for ourselves. Viewing little moments as opportunities to celebrate. Yes, those little things might look selfish at first, but they have so much revolutionary potential that we must not despise them. Do not despise the day of small beginnings.
So let’s look at this example in terms of that gorgeous Venn Diagram: For one, it is really good for my Mental Health to have tiny moments of joy to fill my day with. If something as small as fresh sheets every week or so can create one of those tiny moments, then by doing this one small housekeeping task, I am doing something for my Mental Health. In the same way, when it comes to the Parenting circle on my Venn Diagram, and that one, overarching Golden Rule that I live by as a parent, that is: Doing for others as I would want done for me, changing the sheets for them is a way to live that out.
Turning some of these housekeeping tasks, like doing the dishes immediately after a meal, into habits, touches two more circles: The circle of Habits and Routines, as well as Contentment, because, as we will see in a few weeks, the circle of Contentment is about keeping our possessions to a minimum, and doing the dishes after every meal means we need fewer dishes.
Do I fail? Oh yes. I fail. I fail all the time. But returning to this topic every few weeks means that it never gets too far out of control that I can’t come back with a few hours of concentrated effort.
Point Two: Wicked Stepsister
LiElla Kelly, has a good story for you today!
LiElla isn’t actually wicked, please keep in mind. LiElla is a Death Doula, that is, a professional who helps people walk through end-of-life issues.
This means she has an intriguing vault of curiosities about death rituals and burial methods from around the world, out of which she has pulled one with which you and I can be quite grateful we don’t have to get down and dirty. Because, yes, indeed, this weird and wonderful story is about cleaning.
LiElla, the floor is yours.
Clean, sparkling, unblemished, pristine—we love clean. Clean makes us feel good. Imagine the comfort and satisfaction of crawling between fresh, clean sheets. We love that feeling, we love clean. So get out your scrub brushes, get a bucket of water, a bucket of vinegar, some trash bags, a clean white sheet and let’s get to it. A sheet? Yes, a sheet, like the one on your bed. I’ll explain later. Let me back up a little bit, before we get too deep. What I have to say about cleaning, may not be your cup of tea. I’m going to present cleaning from a very wicked, very deathy angle so if you’re not up for it, feel free to fast forward right through me and head back to Lily. But…if you’re sticking with me, let’s go to Greece. I have never visited Greece but it’s very high on my list. I imagine blue sea and sky dotted with the crisp white sun-bleached buildings and walls. Even the stones in the cemeteries glow white from the salty air. The cemetery, that’s where we’re headed with our cleaning supplies. Grab your things.
Greece is a country in crisis. There is an economic crisis putting pressure on family finances and a land crisis. Specifically, there’s not enough space for the dead. Greece is heavily influenced by the powerful Greek Orthodox Church which teaches that a body that has been cremated, cannot be resurrected. Therefore, crematoriums are scarce in Greece, scarce as in there’s one, there’s one crematorium in all of Greece. Some families will have the bodies of loved ones sent to neighboring Bulgaria for cremation, but that simply isn’t an option for most.
So here we are, in Greece and Grandma has died. What are we going to do? Have a funeral of course. Grandma is dressed in her favorite dress, thick wool socks to warm her feet, she’s placed in the coffin and buried with her head facing west, to the setting sun, the place where the day ends. We decorate her grave with flowers and a photo or two and then we go about our business. This is the way death works. However, three years later, our lease is up. Lease? Yes, we only leased Grandma’s plot and each year from here on out, the annual rent, is going to increase. And remember, we’re just trying to keep afloat through an economic crisis. We really can’t afford this expense. So, you, me a couple of supportive friends, we all head to the cemetery with our cleaning supplies. Wait, what? Ya, we’re going to dig up grandma. As we head to the cemetery, well-wishing locals tell us that they hope grandma has “melted” by which they mean, decomposed substantially. We thank them for their positive thoughts and continue on to meet our grave digger, or grave undigger as the case may be. He digs for a couple of hours while we explore the cemetery. Eventually, he signals to us that he needs our help. You grab a trash bag while I lay out our clean, white sheet. The digger starts throwing pieces of coffin debris and scraps of muddy torn fabric into your bag. You step aside and I am handed a skull. I use my brushes to remove the earth from the eye sockets and then lay it on the sheet. We do our work systematically, the grave digger continues unearthing bones, moving from head to feet. You collect debris, I remove dirt from bones. Finally, after we’ve collected the long bones of the legs, our digger brings up two wool socks. It turns out they weren’t for keeping grandma’s feet warm. Wool doesn’t break down easily. Those heavy socks, they hold all of the small bones of the feet. We shake them out on our sheet. Our grave digger, refills the grave and leaves, he has about 15 exhumations to do each week. He can’t stick around. You, me and our friends begin scrubbing and cleaning the bones with water and vinegar, placing each cleansed bone into a box, just a cardboard box, nothing fancy. We gather our supplies and our box of grandma and we head to the ossuary. Maybe you’re imaging one of the amazing ossuaries of Europe like the Paris catacombs or the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. No, we’re not headed to an artful ossuary. This ossuary is more like a shed. Inside, there are utilitarian metal shelves. Grandma will be placed unceremoniously on a shelf in a place that echoes a police evidence locker. Is that the end? No. Not for many. Many of these former people will be moved one last time to something called a “digestive pit,” a mass underground grave. No ceremony, the gravedigger will simply toss the remains into the pit with thousands of others. So ends our trip to Greece.
How do you feel about this process? Do you find the idea of exhuming and cleaning the bones of your loved ones to be appalling? And bear in mind, it’s not always the very old who die. A family could be moving through this same process with a much younger loved one. I realize that this is a lot to take in. So why do I bring up cleaning bones and exhumations? There’s a crisis, and it’s not just in Greece. Population increase, environmental strain, lack of open space, and the price tag associated with traditional funerals are all things that we have to consider when it comes to our own death choices. I will most definitely share more about alternative body disposition options in an upcoming episode. In the meantime, thank you for sticking with me through my very wicked twist on cleaning. You may go back to Lily now.
Thank you LiElla.
So let’s take a minute to review the four questions we ask for each of our Ideal Life Categories:
What is working? What is going well in your housekeeping right now? Have you undertaken your spring cleaning, or a decluttering project? Good for you!
What isn’t working? Go ahead and be honest. There might be more than one thing not working. That’s okay. Just state the facts.
What do you need to think about? I, for one, am intrigued by something I heard about recently called “Swedish Death Cleaning” (sounds like it would be right up LiElla’s alley, don’t you think?)
What one small thing can you do today to get you closer to your Ideal Life in your housekeeping? Change the sheets, put away the laundry, take that junk that has been filling up your garage for far too long to the dump. Just do one little thing that you might do if you had an honored guest coming to visit. Only this time, you are the honored guest.
I’ve said this before, but seeking to live your Ideal Life is an act of self-love. Treating yourself as an honored guest is an act of self-love. Taking a few minutes each day to consider these four questions is a way to pursue your Ideal Life.
You are an amazing human being, and you deserve more little beads of joy on the necklace of your life. Find those little things that would make you feel like an honored guest in your home, and enjoy them. This world needs more joy, and you can start by providing it for yourself.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast.
The way that you have been sharing the program lately with your friends is amazing! I’m learning firsthand that it’s hard to explain what a podcast is to people who don’t know, and that can be a challenge to sharing it. So the fact that you are out there doing it means the world to me.
So, to that end, I have been also posting the full audio on YouTube, in a version that might be easier to share with people unfamiliar with the wonderful world of podcasts. I’ll put the link to the YouTube Channel in the Show Notes.
You are the best marketing department a fairy godmother could ever have.
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Episode 19: Be Your Guest is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “A Clean House.” The series began with Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
Talking Points: Keeping house is not a project; Why don’t we do this more often?; Be Your Guest; Wicked Cleaning.
Dana K. White’s work can be found on her website, https://www.aslobcomesclean.com/. Her podcast, A Slob Comes Clean, can be found on all podcast platforms. She is amazing.
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website, https://leavingwellmt.com/ or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.