Let’s have a show of hands from everyone who loves to clean their toilets.

(Pause.)

Come come, don’t be shy. Raise those hands.

(Longer pause.)

OK, I think we can conclude that cleaning toilets is not high on anyone’s list of Really Fun Things to do.

Then why do we clean our toilets? The answer is obvious: We like clean toilets. If someone drops by for coffee, it’s nice to know the bathroom won’t shame us.

Now let’s try another experiment: Raise your hand if you can tell me who is more likely to clean those toilets – a man or a woman?

(Pause while the writer reels back to avoid all the upraised hands.)

OK, you there in the blue shirt, what’s your answer? … A woman? Right you are!

It’s true that women do most of the dirty chores in a house. No matter how liberated we are, it’s a fact that women do more housework.

Facts are funny things. You can rail and scream and fight, but facts don’t change. Women do more housework.

Why? Because we like our toilets clean. We might complain about it, but we prefer clean toilets to dirty ones.

We all have household chores that some might call “drudgery.” Dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, cooking – these need to be done. Traditionally women were the ones who did this because women took pride in a clean home.


Then women started entering the workplace. Attitudes started changing. Women were told they were wasting their intellect by being housewives and mothers (eeww, yuck). No, it was a far better thing to park the kids in day care and spend eight hours a day filing briefs or punching computer keys.

Housework and mothering became something humiliating. Women should be ashamed to clean toilets. It’s better to hire someone (another woman, presumably) to do that lowly task for us. Women should be ashamed to wipe baby bottoms. It’s better to hire someone (another woman, presumably) to raise our kids for us. We have careers to conquer! Software to design! Surgeries to perform! Advertising campaigns to plan! We don’t have time to clean our homes or raise our kids!

OK, time for a different outlook. What if – just try to wrap your mind around this concept – what if chores can be looked at as a joyous thing in the larger picture?

What if I am not merely keeping my toilets cleaned and my dishes washed and my kids at home? What if I’m conducting a piece of performance art dedicated to creating an atmosphere of love and friendship?

Hey, presto! It works! When my dishes are done and my toilets are clean, I am calm and happy when friends (or even strangers) stop in. We have coffee; we relax and visit. Our kids are included (since we homeschool), and adults and children can talk and get to know each other better. The house smells like baking bread and simmering soup. Try doing that in a day care or office.

Which scenario do you think your kids prefer being raised in?

Being a lowly housewife despite my educational status (master’s degree in the biological sciences) affords me an unbelievable satisfaction. My dedication to this performance art results in an unstressed and happy life for my family. We are moderate-to-low income, but that’s OK. Part of my performance art includes the science of frugality and thrift.

A neighbor who takes her performance art to an even higher level reports that visitors unfamiliar with domestic tranquility are awed. If they are cynical of the joys of home because they were raised in day care by career-minded parents They depart rejuvenated and burning with a zeal to try this kind of performance art themselves.

Because – let’s face it – nobody leaves their office after a hard day’s work and wishes they had a more cold and sterile environment to come home to. No, they want the smell of baking bread and simmering soup and a happy, welcoming family.

With one spouse making a living and the other spouse making the living worthwhile, performance art can be a beautiful thing indeed.

There’s an old story about three men moving stones. A traveler asks the first man, “What are you doing?” The man snarls back, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m moving these stupid rocks around.”

The traveler asks the second man what he is doing. The man shrugs and replies, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m building a wall.”

The traveler asks the third man what he is doing. The man gives him a beatific smile, lifts up his eyes and says, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m building a cathedral.”

Because my family does so much of our living here in our home (we have a home business as well as homeschool), we often have controlled chaos. Our place is a fixer-upper, so you might say our “cathedral” is perpetually under construction.

So when sheet-rock dust is falling on a doll city of blocks, and the dogs have discovered the box of crackers left on the pantry floor, and the cat decides he just has to hack up that hairball on a pile of folded laundry, and the neighbor kids come pouring in asking for hot chocolate after sledding, and the kitchen table is piled with math books, a half-finished science project and six encyclopedias … we try to remember all of these are blessings.

My effort at domesticity is an evolving thing. The house is not always clean. The toilets are not always scrubbed, the floors vacuumed, or the dishes washed. But in the grand scheme of things, I try to build a cathedral with my performance art instead of merely piling rocks.

We all have chores. Sometimes they’re irksome, tiring and dirty. Sometimes we wish we could just shove them onto someone else.

But take pride while moving your stones. They have to be moved anyway, so you may as well build a cathedral with them.

You might even say there’s an art to it.


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Patrice Lewis is co-founder of Don Lewis Designs. She and her husband have been in business for 14 years. The Lewises live on 40 acres in north Idaho with their two homeschooled children, assorted livestock and a shop that overflows into the house with depressing regularity. Visit patricelewis.com.

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