Have you cleaned up your messes?

We all have them – the chores we hate. For some, it will be taking out the garbage, for others, sorting through the junk drawer, or my personal favorite, cleaning the bathroom. A Zen master once said: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I experienced this philosophy first-hand today as I was cleaning my bathroom. Let me explain. I want to be a person who approaches life with enthusiasm, and tackles challenges with an open mind. I am willing to learn from my mistakes, and I am willing to change as my life requires. Yet, when it comes to cleaning the bathroom, something in me freezes up. Don’t get me wrong – I love a clean bathroom. There’s nothing like the first shower after the tub has been scrubbed down, or the feeling of fresh bathmats under my toes. But thinking about all that nasty stuck around the toilet bowl, the dead skin lodged in the ring around the tub, and the stray hairs left over from brisk towel action, it all makes me cringe.

I have tried various approaches to deal with my aversion to cleaning the bathroom – hiring someone else to do it, guilting my husband into doing it, even making it a game for my two year old and I to play together (that’s right, honey, we scrub the floor with this vapourous rag, not the lazy-mom’s Swiffer). But there is something I forget when I am scheming to have someone else literally do my dirty work for me: the way we do anything is the way we do everything. So while I am looking for shortcuts in the cleaning department, I have to ask myself, what other short-cuts are happening in my life? Where have I put responsibility on other people, when really I know I am the best one for the job? Where have I manipulated and tricked others into doing something that I hate, then taken credit for the achievement? I tell you, this morning, with my hands inside the toilet bowl, my mind was asking me these tough questions. The answers I got all sounded something like this: it is up to me to clean up my own mess. This applies not only with the bathroom, but with my relationships, with my work, and with the state of my ‘inner spaces’. It is up to me to clean up my own mess. Like the bathroom, no one will do as thorough of a job as I will, and like the bathroom, it will feel so good when it’s done. And also, like the bathroom, doing it once is not enough. We are making messes all the time, and it is up to us to monitor them, and then clean them up before they get so tricky that we have to hire professionals to help. Here are some ideas about where the messes may be in your own life, and some ideas on how to clean things up.

1. A Messy Past

You may be like many in the self-help arena who feel like they are running from a messy past. Whether it’s dysfunction, abuse, death, or disease in your past, the truth of the matter is, you made it! So many people try to put the past behind them without ever really exploring what actually happened back there. On the other hand, you can spend years and paycheques rehashing the past with friends, family, or even professionals, but instead of healing things, you now simply have someone else to blame for the way your life turned out. There is another way. This way involves courage, accountability, and a true desire to change. Basically, you will face your past, acknowledge it, and then release it (also known as moving on). I know people who spend decades grieving the loss of a loved one, or a lifetime holding on to anger about some event from their childhood. A messy past leads to a complicated present, so clean things up, and you will notice a huge difference. Approach your past with the same confidence that you approach other things in your life, and it will not be able to dictate your future.

2. A Stale Relationship

You may have a stale relationship hanging out in the bedroom of your life. If you don’t have one of our own, you surely know a friend or family member who is trying to hide theirs. Stale relationships happen when you don’t put in the on-going maintenance required to keep your intimate relationship vibrant. Remember back to a time when you were in love. What did it feel like? How did you behave? If you are like most people, you found excuses to spend time with the person, gave them tokens of your affection, and talked about their amazing-ness to all your friends and family. To freshen up a stale relationship, you start by remembering what made you fall in love in the first place. Then, you start doing some of the things you used to do. No one’s asking you to take lavish holidays with your mate, nor buy them expensive gifts. But maybe you could touch his arm at dinner, or maybe you could stop your cleaning today and actually watch the game with him. Maybe you could let her know how pretty her eyes look today, or take an interest in the book she’s reading. The freshness returns when we start paying attention to the little things about each other again, and if you are reading this, stop waiting for him/her to do it – be the leader! Remember, it is up to you to clean up this mess, and you may even have fun while doing it!

3. A Cluttered Agenda

Are you too busy? Are you filling up your day with a lot of extra stuff that someone else really could do for you? Most people who have a cluttered agenda like to be in control, and feel uncomfortable when they have too much free time. Remember, you are only as busy as you want to be. You may say, “My job requires it” or “I have children”. The excuses are many. Just know that you made this mess, and you can clean it up. If your agenda is cluttered, clean things up. You need downtime, you need rest, and you need time to reflect on the present and plan for the future. If you don’t have some unscheduled time every day, you will eventually start to resent those things that keep you so busy. And that’s when relationships begin to suffer. I had a client once who always complained about how busy she was, and as we explored in more deeply, we found that her busy-ness was her way of feeling important since she was a full-time mom with a part-time career. When she began to see how she had created this over-stretched schedule, she was open to solutions on how to have more time for herself. This required cancelling appointments, telling people her days were booked in advance, and being firm with her boundaries, but eventually, she was able to re-balance her life and de-clutter her agenda. Clean up your day, and your life will start.

So back to the bathroom. After putting it off for three days, I completed the cleaning this morning, and oh, what a relief. The sink is sparkling, the tub glows, and the floor is pristine. I cleaned up my own mess, and it feels so good!