Housecleaning Leads to an Examen of Physical Surroundings

house cleaning

I hired a housecleaner because I simply cannot keep up with a full-time job, choir practices, leadership with a women’s fellowship, family obligations, and oh…too much going on.

Carissa labored for three hours in my absence, and afterwards, our house looked very different to me. Returning home that evening, I stepped back and saw my house with new perspective. It was as if another person were showing it to me.

What did the house look like through the housecleaner’s eyes? I have no idea what her faith tradition is or isn’t, but it’s pretty clear what mine is! When visitors enter the front door, the first thing ahead of them is a framed copy of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son with a museum light above it.

I wondered what the housecleaner thought as she changed the sheets in our bedroom with its framed poster of all the saints of the California missions and our icons of Our Lady of Loreto and St. Joseph.

As Carissa dusted under the porcelain figurine of Mary in the dining room and the statue of the Sacred Heart on the family room fireplace, what did she think? As she cleaned the kitchen sink below a clay icon of St. Martha, made by the monks of Valyermo, did she wonder who that woman was?

As I surveyed my clean home, I noticed that the guest room nightstand holds a few books on Ignatian spirituality. Am I pushing my perspective on houseguests? The dresser has a handwoven basket from Africa and a picture of the man who made it—a reminder of the sisters and brothers in distant lands who benefit from our almsgiving. Am I showing off like a Pharisee?

My new set of eyes evaluated my household. Are we over the top with visual reminders of our Catholic faith in every room?

It was like an Examen of my physical surroundings. I was grateful for Carissa’s labors and I felt as if I were walking back through my home’s day. Knowing someone else witnessed my mess, usually kept from public view, I wondered:

What does my house say about me and what I value?

As I engaged in this particular Examen of my house, I asked myself if I even see these familiar items at all anymore. I heard a caution to make sure that my faith is not merely on display.

Most days I walk past my belongings without seeing them—like an un-“Examen”-ed life.

I noticed afresh the over-stuffed closet with too many ill-fitting shoes. Why do I hold on to so much? I made a decision for tomorrow: to simplify.

Carissa dusted frames of Marian photos my photographer husband took during our travels. She vacuumed, scrubbed, and polished. She was gone when I arrived home to enjoy the fruits of her labors. There was no criticism to be heard, no shame about the dirt. It was just clean.

Sort of like when Christ cleans my spiritual home.

Suddenly, I’m thinking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In Reconciliation, I invite another to come in and see the clutter in my spiritual house, the things that embarrass me, my dirty laundry and smelly bathroom. And by the grace of God, the priest helps me clean it up. And I don’t even have to pay him by the hour!

About Loretta Pehanich 34 Articles
Loretta Pehanich is a spiritual director and author of Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. She is involved with the Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Sacramento and its program in giving the Spiritual Exercises. She has more than 20 years of experience in ministry, including retreat work and small group leadership. Loretta currently works as a fundraiser in Sacramento. She and her husband have four children and nine grandchildren.

15 Comments on Housecleaning Leads to an Examen of Physical Surroundings

  1. For the past 2 days I had been housecleaning in my mother’s house while visiting. The clutter and the disorder made me depressed and sorry for everyone in there but at times I felt angry that they allowed the clutter to build and take over the surroundings. She was widowed at the age of 33 and had since raised all 6 of her children through hard work. We have all graduated but the focus on earning and providing for us still haunts her at age 84. I also feel guilty of moving out of a 3 generational house we shared and decided to live in another country since I used to take care of the house as she go about her business. As I go thru my Examen, I realized the dynamics and beauty of a multi-generational family like ours in keeping our family home working and making it a welcoming and caring place of refuge. Having support and sharing responsibilities. I see the smile on her face as she looks at the cleared pathway and the uncluttered pantry and kitchen and the cars after reclaiming the garage. Done with the housecleaning, now the decorating begins. Looking forward to a spending a wonderful Christmas with my big family in my multi-generational home.. I thank the Lord for this gift of family especially for my mom!

  2. I find that it is often not the writings but the thoughts that arise from the reading that sometimes is most important. My thoughts runneth over. Thank you for stimulating the sometimes underused spiritual sense of self.

  3. This is a wonderful reminder for me: Home is where the heart is…so what does our home say about our heart? As I reflect on this blog post, it occurs to me that the “stuff” cluttering my own home and obscuring our religious art is reminiscent of the interior clutter of my life. It is time, indeed, for some re-ordering. Thank you for the insight!

  4. Far from being over the top or Pharisaical, the religious art and reminders of the universal Church are a form of letting your light shine and not putting it under a basket. It sounds to me like devotion within your home and a quiet type of evangelization for those who visit or cleanse it.

    • I do need reminders!
      However, one friend said that her house cleaner once commented to another client (not knowing the two women were friends) that client one must be some sort of religious fanatic because she had a cross above every bedroom door in the house!

  5. I try to practice the Examen way but I suddenly stop almost more than a year. But when I read your article on Housecleaning Leads to Examen, I reconsider and you lead me to practice it again. Thank you very much. God is good, the Holy Spirit lead me to read and suddenly I feel and find myself reflecting back what happen those time I drop to practice Examen. Again thank you very much!

  6. What does my house say about me and my values? I think this is a question we all can reflect on and then carefully consider our next step.Our home has the external component which is shared with all who pass by. Is the mower “right”? Are the colors ok for the neighborhood? Do the closets have the right clothes and shoes? Yet it is the interior intentions behind these exterior facades that really count. As Zachaeas showed us, the exterior pomp may have nothing to do with the internal review discovered by the Examen.

    • Its true. I sit at my desk, which looks out over the front lawn, and I am screened by tilted slatted shades. I observe people passing by, not knowing that I watch them as they stare with an evaluative eye at the exterior of my home. At Christmas, they will see a large manger scene display!

  7. Another set of questions arise as an examen:/ be honest /Is my house too big that I can’t clean it by myself? Would Jesus suggest to move to something smaller, that a different woman doesn’t need to clean my toilet and go through my mess? Did He lived in a huge house, mansion, palace and our Lady was having servants to keep up with the vast space? Is’n it huge contrast to have all these visible Catholic reminders, while the rest/ my inability to clean myself and being attached to stuff/ talks about my soul not being really free? Did Saints have this problems in general?/ I recall saints being free and detached and rather helping others, that were in real need to clean their place, never mind hire someone to do their duty/
    I write this , because I am seeing this more and more among Catholic women here- they do spiritual things,and because of that excuse themselves from doing the basic ordinary duties that majority have to go through and are call to do.
    There is no balance and freedom at all in that and they witness this to others that this is the way . Many women are in the same position like you with full time jobs, family etc. They have also good spiritual life and not because they do not clean their own mess. They know what God is calling them to do and do not have more stuff or’ too many imaginary SPIRITUAL calls’ . It is about not only discernment but also discipline. Many women do not have a discipline and patience here. They have money, things, are crazy busy but that is not what God is calling us to do and live.
    Believe me, I mean it as a help and little bit of light. I was on the other end for many years. I was a cleaning lady and no matter what pictures and statues your home has, what most matter is your heart. Sadly many middle class Catholic women here have that body language and lifestyle, that many Saints will cry about. And how they behaved to the cleaning ladies is just cruel. Please think about it. My grandmother had only one bedroom place, but she is a saint. Never materialistic, loving and never under pressure. Think about what your Savior died for, not that we will have luxury and comfort but we will love freely people, Him- not our overstuffed houses, schedues, accounts, and cars. LiFE IS A GIFT not an achievment!

  8. Your home is your private retreat. What people see there expresses who you are. The items you display keep you close to God. The housecleaner just helped you see them with fresh eyes – that’s a good thing and a refresher for you, to keep them front and center in your life once more.

  9. Wonderful insights about the virtue of both an external and internal examination of what we love and value about ourselves, our families and our homes. And just in time for Thanksgiving!

    • And I must admit, the examen of my home is something I can learn from each week as possessions shift. Paperwork on the sink gathers, like Eucharist waiting to be broken on the altar.

  10. “What does my house say about me and what I value?” is such an important question for me right now as I work through what feels like a never-ending remodel of my much loved little house following a major sewer line back up. God, please help me simplify and help me clean up my heart, which is what really matters. Thanks, Loretta, for this reminder.

    • Sometimes an overhaul of our home is precipitated by such unexpected problems. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Joyce. I discover another level of surrender in your comment.

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