Cleaning is not made for those of us who were built for grand gestures. It is a war of attrition against the dust; little things over and over and over again, never ending. A lesson in entropy.

When you live for the flash, for the romance of it all, it’s hard to find that in the daily sweeping of the kitchen floor or the seemingly endless job of doing the dishes.

Did I not just do these? you ask, and of course you did, but you also ate again, and that made dishes dirty again. Unless you stand in front of the fridge or the sink to eat your food directly out of the pan — but then the pan needs cleaning. And even if you only order fast food, there’s still the garbage to deal with.

Somehow, on our journey out of the trees and to this existence we call civilization, we’ve made it so that the very process of existing every day creates a hell of a lot of mess. Which then shows exactly how much sense it makes that there are so many gods and goddesses associated with the hearth.

An outdoor oven in front of a backdrop of red earth and green plants.
Photo by Lachlan Ross from Pexels

The hearth in olden times was the center of the household, of course; it was the kitchen, and it was there a fire would keep the family warm and cook their food. It was also a place that required constant upkeep, as did the rest of the house.

We’ve made things slightly more convenient for ourselves — vacuums, Swiffers, and other modern inventions make certain cleaning tasks less Herculean — but the simple fact of the matter is that the amount of cleaning and tidying we must do in order to keep normal life going hasn’t really changed.

What has changed is how much we’re expected to be outside the house, earning our keep — earning the right to continue to eat and shit and love and generally be mammals upon this green earth.

The pandemic was, in some respects, a blessing for our household, because it reminded us exactly how much work householding is — it reminded us about hearth-keeping and how you really do need a person (one at least, more is better) at home full time to deal with keeping the family in food and clothes and a generally not-dusty existence.

I struggle with cleaning — every day, I struggle against it; every day it’s another episode of “I don’t fucking want to.” Because I am a creature of the grand gesture — triple Leo in my chart and more fire besides — I am the person who wants to do a cleaning marathon and then not have to think about it for another month or so.

Decluttering might work that way, for some folks; cleaning does not.

You cannot leave the dishes and the sweeping and the keeping the fridge clean and the dealing with food and the garbage in the bathroom and the dusting and all the other myriad, tiny hearth-keeping tasks that must be done on daily or weekly bases, for an entire month.

Well, you can, but then they pile up, and animals are attracted, and the dust overwhelms your sinuses, and the floor feels gritty under your feet, and every time you look at the mess you feel depressed and full of self-loathing and like you’re not a Real Person and Never Will Be —

but I have to tell you a secret.

Almost everyone struggles with balancing it all.

Yes, I know, there are people on YouTube or with blogs or on Instagram who seem to have these perfect, put together lives; their houses are always neat and tidy and the one time they post a “Oops I didn’t tidy today! It’s so MESSY lol” picture you want to STRANGLE them because your house has NEVER LOOKED SO AMAZING —

but. But but but.

These people are in the minority. In fact I’m willing to state that they are so in the minority that the majority of the ones you see online with their perfect houses and the occasional “this throw pillow is upside down, my house is a mess” post — these people are not that put-together. They struggle as much as the rest of us.

Struggling to balance all the nitty-gritty details — the foundation that must be there to support the rest of your life — with the job you must work in order to earn the right to pursue your passions, with taking care of another being, with just finding ten minutes every day to have to yourself…that struggle is normal.

It shouldn’t be, but it is. So it goes with so many things in this world.

My mom broke her ankle in January 2020 and then a pandemic hit. I took care of her and worked as many hours as I could grab on my casual schedule and tried valiantly to keep the house to her standards. I failed miserably in that, and it probably galvanized her to get better faster.

Once she was better, she became the main Hearth-Keeper again — and in fact, it became her main role, as she could no longer do her jobs safely. That’s now likely the case for the foreseeable future.

We’ve had so many conversations over the past year and change about hearth-keeping, and its central importance to human life. We’ve talked about Hestia and Demeter and a return to paying attention to the gods of old, and the important lessons they have to share with us.

My mom has been trying to support me in my becoming the central Hearth-Keeper of my own life, the mistress of my household, ruling with an iron fist within a velvet glove.

Saying it’s been a breeze would be a complete lie, especially in the face of everything I’ve said already.

We all struggle with this shit. Some of us more than others, but we all do.

Lately I’ve been in a state of total overwhelm, and tonight instead of writing the article I should be writing because of a commitment I made to write and post it by tomorrow in my writing group, I sat down and started penning the opening words to this piece — words that came to me as I worked on cleaning my suite earlier in the evening.

There is no flashy, grand gesture in what I did tonight. It was not as satisfying as a spectacle would be to me. It was small steps, eked out as much as my body would allow, and stopping when I started sneezing too much. (Cleaning with allergies? Special hell.)

Yet I can still see the differences I made, and I remind myself that better is the aim, not done. That practice makes progress, not perfect.

And I say my thanks to the Great Mother and to Hestia for my blessings — for a mortal mother who Hearth-Keeps for me so I can go to work and go back to school and raise a puppy and write and rescue my husband from the Underworld. For a mortal mother with whom I can have daily conversations about philosophy and the gods and spiritual existence — a blessing I know I am rare among humans to receive.

I say thanks for my puppy, who saved me from my own underworld last fall. For the garden, the good rich soil into which I can lose myself and know I am part of the Great Mother’s cycles. For the safety my family has known over the past year, for our luck in being where we are, for the movements in the universe that align me perfectly and that I cannot see until well after they have happened.

When new developments arise that seem less than fortuitous, I remind myself of all I cannot understand until I have gone through it, and I put my faith in the gods.

They have me. I trust them.

And in the meantime, I sweep the damned kitchen.