Housework – can it assist creativity?

Housework may not assist creativity for everyone. Some people tell me they thrive on chaos.

For  me housework is itself a creative activity. I find it very satisfying. Every week, when my house is clean and pretty, I feel as if I’ve created a glimpse of a peaceful paradise.

Tidy room

Tidy room

At first glance, it might seem absurd to put housework and creativity in the same sentence. Many people regard housework as drudgery. They put it off. It can cause arguments. But when my house is clean and orderly, I become strangely peaceful and happy. The effect of a clean house is the same as that of a good day’s writing.

Thursday is always housework day at our house. There’s no reason for Thursday. It’s simply ‘the day’! Left to my own uninterrupted devices, I enjoy doing the major cleaning tasks in a few hours set aside for the purpose. Making the bed, washing the dishes and minor tidying keeps the house humming along for the rest of the week.

I once had six kids under eight The housework was a full-time, totally unsatisfying occupation. It was never, ever finished. As soon as I’d cleaned one mess another, even worse, appeared. A bit like the evil spirits in the Bible, really. I struggled with that for a few years.

When the children were older and I went back to paid work, it became easier to manage the housework. I became more organised. My children were mostly good about doing their chores. The load was shared, although my daughter Anne took far more responsibility than her brothers.

Gardening is creative

Gardening is creative

It is widely acknowledged that making a garden is an act of creativity. If that is so, then why not also housework? Housework gets bad press. It is the butt of many jokes. Perhaps it is not so much the actual housework that is the problem but the ‘shoulds’ that we bring to bear on it.

Housework is the butt of jokes

Housework is the butt of jokes

Housework may be an act of creativity in itself. And for some people it is also necessary for creativity. I enjoy the stories about the Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley who would never start to write before she had done all the chores.

Seven reasons why housework is good for writers and other creative people

  • While we may not be able to control many events in our lives, we can create order in our surroundings. ‘It’s not the tragedies that kill us,’ Dorothy Parker once said, ‘it’s the messes’.
  • Housework can become one of rituals that restores our sense of equilibrium and leaves us free for new ideas.
  • An orderly background is the perfect foil for the chaos of creativity.
  • A clean, uncluttered home comforts, nurtures and sustains the people who live there.
  • A clean home invites small acts of creativity – a vase of flowers, a new cushion or pictures rearranged in a more pleasing pattern. A beautiful house is one where there are pleasant vistas that add up to a pleasing whole.
  • Performing repetitive tasks stimulates the brain to creativity in unrelated areas. As Agatha Christie is reported as saying, ‘The best time to plan a book is when you are doing the dishes’.
  • When the housework’s done, there is less to distract the writer or artist from their other work. It’s difficult to think clearly when we are surrounded by clutter, chaos and confusion.
  • Housework can be profoundly meditative.

Please share your ideas about housework and whether you think it can assist creativity.

12 thoughts on “Housework – can it assist creativity?

    • Hi, Rosie. I don’t think housework in itself is about being feminist or not. I think it is only if one person has to do everything for other people who accept it as their right to be waited on. As I said, I find it enjoyable and creative to beautify our space. If I had to clean for another able-bodied person who didn’t do other things that I don’t like doing (washing the cars, cleaning the patio, sweeping paths, etc) then it would be a feminist issue.

  1. Your house is always beautiful and very pretty Maureen. Maybe housework needs another name? Home beautification day ?? Not creative enough, I’m afraid, to come up with another!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I think our house is lovely, too. I like the idea of calling housework something better. It needs something rally different, doesn’t it?

  2. You have triggered some deeply ingrained seeds of mine, Maureen. Like you, I had some very long, hectic, unbelievable years – five kids under 7 years. But my house, wherever we lived, was usually tidy; I baked every day, we had fancy biscuits with cream fillings, I cooked lovely Greek food, the kids’ shoes were polished, etc. etc. In the late 80s, I studies two units on Women’s Studies at Murdoch University. One of the books we read was The Women’s Room. OMG – did that stir up my unconscious. I realised, that sometime, somewhere, somehow, I had said to myself: “If this is what my life is all about, then I am going to be perfect!!” What I also came to realise, that whilst on the one hand, one might make a negative comment about this, I also appreciate that this stance is what helped me to survive. And I am still surviving, still keeping my house tidy and clean – and yet feeling so very free to be me – and looking forward to more revelations of who that ‘me’ might be. Yes, I agree definitely with you – one cannot be free to continue on an exciting path of finding the ‘me’ if we are surrounded in chaos and clutter. I need to remove all chaos and clutter – of the varying kinds – to allow any creative juice to flow. One thing I must admit – I no longer bake every day – so if you want cream biscuits when you come for coffee, please let me know so I can rush down to the bakery. Thanks.

    • I am so glad you and I have had so many similar experiences, Elizabeth, and that we are able to share them with one another. You sound as if you did the tough times much better than I did – I tried hard, but never made perfect housewife status. My efforts were, I hope, enough to get me into a ‘good-enough’ mother category. It sounds as if you were really creative, even with so many small children and the hectic years. I too am very grateful for the Women’s Studies courses at universities in the 1980s. And for the support of some of the many second-wave feminists in Perth who looked after their sisters who struggled with family breakdowns and single parenthood. Feminism is, for me, very liberating. It says that women can be and do whatever they choose.

      Now you and I are able to choose to live in pretty, orderly houses. And to be creative however that manifests, especially in our writing.

  3. Is that a joke? (Re Agatha Christie!) I’ll assume it is, as doubtless she had a “daily”, if not more staff! No, I think it doesn’t make any difference to creativity – unless it’s really bad, and distracting you! I do what needs to be done, when it needs done. I don’t stress over it. Paperwork is my main bugbear – I do struggle to stay on top of that!

    • Thanks for your comment about housework, Linda. I think it probably is a joke about Agatha Christie, but it sounded good when I read it. It seems from the few comments on my blog and a couple of discussions with people that the people I know are fairly evenly divided between those who think housework itself can be creative or not. There seems to be consensus that if it gets too overwhelming, it can get in the way of almost anything, including creativity. My paperwork is fairly simple these days, thank goodness. I do sympathise, though.

  4. Hmmmmm…. I too find the concept that housework could be a creative act in itself a tough call to make. More that… a clean house clears the mind, into which there is space to be creative.
    Just as well I now have a studio… on the few occasions when my creativity comes inside the house…. it’s anything but clean and orderly!

    • Thanks for the comment, Claire. I think it very much depends on what we think creative and creativity are. I guess one way I look at a clean house is the way you’ve described – as a clear physical and mental space in which to be creative. The creative ‘messes’ in a house don’t change that. What you are calling ‘messes’ are part of the act of creativity, in the space you’ve made. I do love your studio and I’m a bit envious of it. A lot envious.

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