The Elegance of Housekeeping

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2020, women spent an average of 2.4 hours a day doing household tasks, and men spent 1.6 hours. Let’s put aside any gender issues for now, and consider the fact that most of us spend a good deal of time every day doing household chores. Is it really possible to find elegance in something as seemingly dull and mundane as housekeeping? 

Everyday elegance is all about infusing deep beauty and meaning to the simple, ordinary rituals of our lives. No matter our situation, most of us have at least some homemaking tasks to do each day. Besides the pleasure of living in a clean and tidy home, housekeeping can provide a daily rhythm, clear our minds, and fill us with gratitude. 

Our housekeeping routine can add the elegance of structure to our days. There was a time in my life when a full-time job and active children left little time for housework. Now that I’m a retired, empty-nester, I have plenty of time. In either case, I benefited from a daily housekeeping schedule. Author and pastor John C. Maxwell said, “The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” 

What does your housekeeping routine include? Do you make the bed as soon as you get up? Is the kitchen swept right after dinner? Does the bathroom get cleaned on Tuesdays? What have you decided to delegate or pay someone else to do? There’s comfort in having a predictable plan and schedule. Decades ago I taught with a delightful gentleman who told me he wound his grandfather clock every Sunday night before going to bed. It was a soothing ritual he enjoyed each week like clockwork. 

Routine housekeeping tasks can offer the elegance of mindfulness. As a college student long ago, I couldn’t settle in for a serious study session until my dorm room was spick and span. Getting my environment in order was part of my study ritual. My daughter, a successful lawyer, calls it “productive procrastination.” We both find clearing our space helps clear our minds.

In a wonderful little book called A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, a Buddhist monk shares how cleaning methods employed in Zen temples can be used “as a way to cultivate the mind.” After years of unavoidable multi-tasking, I now enjoy giving my full attention to a specific task such as cleaning a window, ironing a shirt, or filling the birdbath. It’s during this time when I often come up with my best ideas. Agatha Christie said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” 

Housework can fill us with the elegance of gratitude. Caring for our home and possessions reminds us of all we have. Furniture to polish. Clothing to launder. Dishes to wash. Trinkets to dust. Whether we live in a rented apartment, a tiny house, or a grand estate, we can be thankful for a roof over our head and a pillow to rest it on. 

We can’t overestimate the importance of home, and therefore, of home-making. Winston Churchill said, “We shape our homes, and then our homes shape us.” Rather than thinking of housework as drudgery, we can learn to view it as an opportunity to add everyday elegance to the place we call home and to the lives of the people who live and visit there. §

“When all else fails, cleaning house is the perfect antidote to most of life’s ills.” ~ Author Sue Grafton

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The Elegance of Letting Go

About this time every year, nature gently reminds us of the elegance of letting go. Colorful falling leaves release their hold and dance and twirl in the autumn wind, gracefully showing us the way.

There’s a scientific reason deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter. It’s a process called abscission. Rather than fruitlessly expend energy during the harsh winter months, trees shed their leaves to conserve resources. The process helps trees retain water and keeps them from blowing over. As a bonus, fallen leaves add replenishing nutrients to the soil. In a beautiful act of self-preservation, trees let go in order to stay healthy and alive. 

The trees’ annual decluttering process might initially inspire us to let go of a few material things ourselves. Broken things. Meaningless things. Uncomfortable things. Too many things. Perfectly wonderful things that no longer suit our season of life.

It’s no easy task to rake all our physical clutter into a big pile like so many fallen leaves. Harder still is letting go of intangible things that clutter our hearts and minds. As we watch the autumn leaves cut loose and fly, what can we let go of to help protect, replenish, and nurture the very root of our being? 

Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” We convince ourselves we must tightly cling to old memories, thoughts, and behaviors, and we spend precious energy feeding them and keeping them alive. Letting them go finally frees us to rest, grow stronger, and be happier. 

If I was still teaching, I would assign us to draw a tree with falling leaves. On each leaf, we’d write something we’re ready to let go. Those little leaves would probably hold some very powerful words like worry, resentment, guilt, hurt, and anger. What would you write on your leaves? 

Poet May Sarton wrote, “I think of trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep. Imitate the trees.” Autumn is such a beautiful time of year. Let’s follow its lead and elegantly let go in preparation for a season of thanksgiving, peace, and hope. §

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

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The Elegance of Creativity

My husband has rekindled his hobby of making stained glass art. It has been a joy to watch him set up his work space, assemble his supplies, tinker for hours with his designs, and hang the finished products in the window for sunshine to bring them to life. Mike’s creativity had been lying dormant like a seed just below the surface, ready to emerge when the time was right. 

His inspiration was refueled a few weeks ago when we visited a friend’s garage art studio. As Mindy showed us her work area filled with her collection of beautiful handmade jewelry and pottery, my husband’s blue eyes lit up like fire in a kiln. The tipping point was our friend’s casual comment, “I make art as a creative release, and it makes me happy.” And just like that, my husband was an artist again. 

In his book The Courage to Create, Rollo May wrote, “We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.” May believed creativity is an essential component of a successful and fulfilling life. We were created to create. 

Our desire to create is seen in the popularity of television programs featuring ordinary people being creative. Watching other people bake cakes, plant gardens, and build tree houses makes for good television, but it doesn’t garner the same positive benefits as rolling up our sleeves and doing it ourselves. Maybe that explains the success of stores like Hobby Lobby.

There’s something innately elegant about being thoroughly engrossed in making something. When we’re creating, our personal problems melt away along with the cares of the world. We fall into a rhythm psychologists refer to as flow, defined as a mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and utter enjoyment.

Minutes flow into happy hours as Mike grinds pieces of glass, as Mindy shapes clay, as my mother-in-law stitches a quilt, as my neighbor decorates sugar cookies. Mihaly Csikszentmihali, a psychologist who died this week at 87, said during intense creativity, “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” 

Even if you haven’t made anything since that diorama for your seventh grade English class, you are creative. Boldly answer your call to create. Paint. Dance. Weave. Sing. Bake. Carve. Invent. Cook. Design. Sculpt. Fix. Plant. Film. Decorate, Sew. Draw. Write. Act. Quilt. Build. 

So what stops us from exploring our creativity? Here are my top excuses and what I tell myself in response.

  1. I don’t know how. You’re smart; you’ll figure it out. Take advantage of resources at the library, bookstore, and the Internet. Remember, we learn by doing.  
  2. What if I’m not good at it. At first, you probably won’t be. Create for creativity’s sake. If it turns out great, that’s just a bonus. 
  3. I’m not inspired. Go outside. Nature holds all of the inspiration we ever need. Hang out with other creatives. Become a patron of the arts.  
  4. I’m feeling lazy. Life is short. Get up and carpe the heck out of the diem!

Research shows being creative can improve happiness, stress, confidence, focus, problem-solving, authenticity, anxiety, self-expression, sense of freedom, resilience, open-mindedness, risk-taking, decision-making, and clarity. How wonderfully elegant. §

“The creator made us creative. Our creativity is our gift from God. Our use of it is our gift to God.”
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

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The Elegance of Positive Body Language

In the Disney movie of the fairy tale The Little Mermaid, Ariel makes the questionable decision to give her voice to Ursula the Sea Witch in exchange for the chance to be with a prince. Ariel asks how she will communicate without her voice, to which Ursula provocatively exclaims, “Don’t underestimate the importance of body language!”

Though evil and misguided, the sea witch was right about the power of non-verbal communication. It’s something I frequently taught my language arts students. In the early seventies, psychologist Albert Mehrabian conducted a well-known study that concluded body language is significantly more important than actual words spoken.

Mehrabian’s Communication Model states that messages are conveyed 7% through words, 38% through tone and voice, and 55% through body language. Body language includes our facial expressions, gestures, and posture. If we want to communicate elegantly, that is simply, positively, and effectively, then we must pay attention to the messages we send non-verbally. 

How we communicate with others is an important life skill that can greatly influence our relationships and our happiness. Every day we have the opportunity to communicate positively with people including our family, friends, co-workers, and strangers. Psychologist and author Rollo May said, “Communication leads to community, understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.”

We’ve all been in frustrating situations where our words are somehow misconstrued or misinterpreted. Here are some points we can consider to help us send a positive message through our body language.

  • Posture – Slouching signals a lack of interest or alertness. Sit and stand with back and shoulders straight but relaxed. 
  • Arms  – Crossing our arms can make us appear closed-off, self-conscious, or defensive. Placing hands on our hips can seem aggressive. Let them hang loosely and comfortably .
  • Handshakes – Handshakes should be friendly and confident. Be careful it doesn’t feel like a vice grip or a limp noodle.
  • Eye Contact – Looking others in the eye shows we are engaged, but don’t make it creepy. Just look at the person and keep a gentle gaze.
  • Facial Expressions – Genuine smiles and nods show we understand and are listening. Try to relax the face so it doesn’t appear tense or angry.
  • Proximity – Lean in a bit to show interest, but be aware of personal space and appropriate social distancing.
  • Hand Gestures – In general, palms should be open to show, well, openness. Talking with our hands too much can be distracting and make us seem nervous, but an occasional gesture can help make a point.
  • Fidgeting – Fiddling with pens, hair, phones, and other objects can indicate boredom or immaturity.

Body language is a powerful communication tool, especially when we use it honestly and sincerely. Unlike the little mermaid, we don’t have to give up our voice. We can learn to enhance our words with effective non-verbal communication to express ourselves more eloquently and elegantly. §

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
~ Peter Drucker

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Elegant Muses Like Maya Angelou, Bertha Flowers, and You

A muse is a someone who inspires others. The word originated in Greek mythology when the daughters of Zeus presided over arts and sciences. A loftier word for mentor, a muse is really anyone who helps us create our best life. We can all use a muse to inspire everyday elegance, and we should all aspire to be one.

In her poignant autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes a special neighbor named Mrs. Bertha Flowers. About Mrs. Flowers, Angelou writes, “She had the grace of control to appear warm in the coldest weather, and on the Arkansas summer days it seemed she had a private breeze which swirled around, cooling her.”

Mrs. Flowers became a muse to young Maya (then Marquerite Johnson) and changed her life by exposing her to literature and other lessons in living. Angelou writes, “She was one of the few gentlewomen I have ever known, and has remained through my life the measure of what a human being can be.”

As a literature teacher, I was thankful Angelou’s short story about Mrs. Flowers appeared in our eighth grade textbook, and I looked forward to visiting her year after year. It seemed we could all feel Mrs. Flowers’ elegant presence in our classroom after reading about her.

Just a year before Angelou died at age 86, I was fortunate to attend a lecture of hers. Wearing a beautiful black dress and pearls, she was a queen who sat on her throne bestowing wisdom, wit, and her own lessons in living.

From the moment she walked on stage until the moment she regally exited, a lump formed in my throat, my eyes filled with tears, and I had goose bumps that lasted for days. Only a muse can inspire such a reaction.

Finding a muse, or mentor, is a personal journey. It may be someone you admire from afar, or someone you are fortunate to know well. It might even be a fictional character who has become flesh and blood in your mind.

I’ve been lucky enough to have several mentors in my life, particularly in my roles as teacher and mother. In hindsight, I realize each of these people possessed everyday elegance, including the rare ability to remain composed under the most stressful situations.

While turning to a muse can help us improve our lives, at some point, we should consider paying it forward by serving as a muse, or mentor, who provides motivation, guidance, and support. I can only hope I’ve been a positive influence in someone else’s life along the way.

As adults, we must remember that we might be a muse, mentor, or role model without even realizing it. Whether we like it or not, younger people are watching and learning from us. Remembering this keeps us more accountable for our own conduct and behavior.

We may never fill the shoes of someone like the genteel Mrs. Bertha Flowers, but we can all at least aspire to what Angelou called “a true measure of what a human being can be.”

“Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.”
~Maya Angelou

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The Elegance of Getting Dressed

Mark Twain famously said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” In comparison to serious global and personal challenges, how we dress may seem silly and of little consequence. The fact remains that most of us wear clothes. No matter our personal style, the simple act of getting dressed can add everyday elegance to our lives from morning to night.

For the sake of clarity, let’s define getting dressed as the process of basic hygiene, good grooming, and selection of an appropriate outfit to wear. There does seem to be an increasingly popular trend of not getting dressed, as if life is one big come-as-you-are-party. It probably goes without saying that this choice will not inspire elegance. 

The decision to get dressed each morning can become a pleasant routine that starts the day on the right foot. Wearing something that feels uncomfortable, unattractive, or inappropriate makes for a long day. We might even feel sluggish, sad, or snippy. Once we take the time to get dressed, we can forget about what we’re wearing and seize the day with enthusiasm and confidence. 

Most people interpret the effort to look our best as a nod of respect to ourselves and others. A jaunty hat, a pretty dress, or a sharp jacket can bring smiles from complete strangers throughout the day. Perhaps more importantly, getting dressed will be appreciated by the people in our own homes and the person in the mirror. As fashion designer Tom Ford said, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.”

An evening ritual of changing out of our daytime clothes and getting ready for bed lets our mind and body know it’s time to wind down. This is a good time to consider how our clothes functioned in our real, everyday life. Over time, we can say goodbye to so-so items and curate a closet filled with things we love. It’s also a perfect time to feel grateful for all we have, including  our clothing. 

“Get up, dress up, show up, and never give up,” said contemporary writer Regina Brett. There are many things in life outside of our control, but getting dressed isn’t one of them. The simple routine of getting dressed each day is an opportunity to add beauty and elegance to our lives and to those around us. §

“Never wear anything that panics the cat.”
~ P. J. O’Rourke

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Breaking the Hurry Habit

In one of my favorite poems, My Symphony, William Henry Channing advises us to “hurry never.” As much as I’ve always loved that sentiment, it’s something I’ve been slow to learn. Breaking the hurry habit can be difficult, but it is one of the best things we can do to take better care of ourselves and to capture that elusive everyday elegance.

As a busy mother and teacher, I operated on two speeds for decades ~ a hundred miles an hour and passed out from exhaustion. Most days, I hit the ground running the second I crawled out of bed in the morning until the second I collapsed back in at night. During the five minutes between classes, I flew around like a whirling dervish, squeezing in as many tasks as I could before the next class began.

I don’t say this to boast. It wasn’t healthy or wise, and it was anything but elegant. Even after my children were grown and I was no longer teaching, I still found myself rushing. I walked, drove, talked, moved, and acted as if there was a sense of urgency when there was none. I had a hurry habit.

It seems the want to rush isn’t just a symptom of our modern, fast-paced lifestyle. These words were written in the 1600s by Saint Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

I sympathize with those in the hectic stages of childrearing, caregiving, homemaking, schooling, or career. I know it sometimes seems there’s no choice but to be in a hurry. I also know the toll it can take on our relationships, health, and inner peace.

We all want to be active and efficient, but we can learn to do so at a slower and more deliberate pace. As a reminder to myself, and to you, here are ten ways breaking the hurry habit can help us live with more grace ~

  1. Better Health ~ When I catch myself rushing, I feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Our bodies aren’t meant to be in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. Slowing down can improve our physical and mental health.
  2. More Beauty ~ I wonder how many sunsets or full moons I missed because I was too busy to notice. The more we slow down, the more we notice beautiful things around us.
  3. More Help ~ If our life truly demands us to constantly be in a hurry, it’s time to get some help. It’s smart self-care to ask for help when we need it. No matter what we’ve been taught to believe, nobody can do it all.
  4. Sweeter Memories ~ Have you ever been so busy that you felt you completely missed a child’s important milestone, a holiday, or a special event? Time moves on whether we’re aware of it or not.
  5. More Kindness ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down allows us to be more courteous, patient, and aware of others.
  6. More Productivity ~ It may seem counter-intuitive, but hurrying doesn’t always help us get more done. In fact, rushing often results in mistakes, accidents, and bad choices.
  7. Better Decisions ~ When we set an intention to stop hurrying, we find it easier to make decisions about what we can include in our lives. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something more important to us.
  8. More Peace ~ Think about the difference between frantically driving someplace and leisurely driving to your destination. A calmer, less rushed demeanor can bring more peace to ourselves and those around us.
  9. Better Planning ~ A school secretary I worked with had a sign over her desk that read, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” If we want to stop rushing ourselves and others, planning ahead is crucial.
  10. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. By breaking the hurry habit, we can calmly glide through our days with more elegance and composure.


“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
~ William Shakespeare

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The Elegance of a Daily Walk

I have a penchant for novels and movies set during the 1800s. My favorite scenes feature characters gracefully strolling through the beautiful countryside. Without the invention of the automobile or the luxury of a horse-drawn carriage, walking was the only way most people could visit friends or go to church, school, or shops. These days, walking is primarily done for exercise, but taking a daily stroll has many more benefits that can add elegance to our lives. 

There’s no denying the simplicity of taking a walk. It requires no special equipment, it’s free, and we can do it on our own schedule. Whether walking through a misty moor or around the block, all one needs to do is put on shoes and go. We can even do as they did during the Regency era and “take a turn” around the living room after enjoying tea or a rich meal. 

Nature is the main reason I head out the door for my daily walk. Though my route may stay constant, each walk tells a different story with a unique setting that includes the weather and colors of the sky at that particular hour. One never knows what may appear in the unfolding scenes of a walk ~ a bunny in the neighbor’s yard, a fawn at the edge of the woods, Queen Anne’s Lace growing alongside the road. 

Walks can also provide much-needed solitude. One of my most beloved characters in literature is Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. This complex introvert frequently takes long walks alone to sort her thoughts and clear her head. About Lizzie, Jane Austen wrote, “Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk.” 

On the other hand, walks can provide a connection to our community. I often walk down the sidewalk of the busiest road in town. Hardly a day passes that I don’t run into someone I know who honks, waves, or stops for a quick chat. No one tips their hat or curtsies, as they do in my favorite movies, but walking in my hometown makes me feel grateful to be part of a place I love.  

Finally, taking a long solitary walk feels like a romantic nod to the past. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon strolling across a field of wildflowers, stopping under a large shade tree to read a book of poetry or write a few lines of my own. I usually walk in a baseball cap and sneakers, but I dream of the day that I confidently go for a stroll wearing a flowing dress and carrying a parasol. §

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

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