I should finish an article or return a handful of emails, but all I really feel like doing right now is sweeping.
Not sleeping. Sweeping. About this time every day, I get the urge to sweep the downstairs floors.
I think almost everyone could name some chore that they find satisfying for its level of mundane-ness: the kind of task that lets your mind wander to more cerebral issues while your body completes a utilitarian function. I’ve heard other people say this about ironing, or grooming a pet. For me, though, it’s sweeping.
There’s such a satisfying sense that if I do it every day, or at least every day that we’re using the house and not out of town, I can keep up. Unlike so many other pursuits I try to stick with, sweeping seems manageable. As long as I devote twenty minutes every day to it, I really can reach my goals in this area: to keep the floors reasonably clean.
Sweeping is highly measurable, too. How much you accomplish each time is literally visible in the dustpan. In fact, sometimes I purposely make all my piles before throwing any of them away and then pick them all up at once just for the satisfaction of seeing all the dust, dirt, crumbs and lint in one impressive pile. “All that! It was all on my floor, and I managed to gather it all up to throw away!” I think, aware even as I do so of how absurd it is to find this satisfying and yet pleased with myself all the same.
Sometimes I can’t help but think of the mopping scene in the film “Mystic Pizza,” where Julia Roberts’ character, angry with her sister for failing to show up as promised to take her waitressing shift, hands her the mop and snaps, “Wipe your conscience.” Is my enthusiasm for sweeping compensatory? I wonder. Am I sweeping something under the rug? Am I trying to make a clean sweep?
No. I’m just savoring one of my few daily responsibilities that feels finite. Unlike raising children or writing, every day’s sweeping session has a beginning and an end. True, I never get every last grain of dirt or sesame seed. (Sweeping my house would take half the time if my children chose white toast for breakfast once in a while instead of sesame bagels every day.) And I never do it twice within the same day: once the broom has been put away, no matter how many new crumbs I spy, I’m done, and that sense of finality appeals to me as well.
It’s easy, that’s all. And it’s a task for which I always feel that doing my best is good enough. Our floors sparkle only once a month, and that’s after our house cleaner’s monthly visit. She mops and uses floor polish. I do not. And since we live on a farm, plenty gets tracked in every day. (My kids have rightfully pointed out that no matter what the time of year, I claim it’s the worst season for keeping floors clean: in summer, sand from our trips to the beach; in the fall, hay from my morning cow-feeding sessions; in the winter, grit and melting snow; in the spring, mud.)
But I do what I can every day. And unlike many of the other areas of my life in which I do what I can every day, with sweeping, it always feels to me like I’ve earned a passing grade for execution and an A for effort.