A good friend of mine once told me that he loved to iron. Ironing, Mike reasoned, was profoundly optimistic. No matter what else happened, a freshly pressed shirt, done just so, started his day on the right foot. Granted, things could surely go downhill from there, but in his mind, the act of ironing that shirt was physically embracing hope for a good day.
At the time, I snorted derisively and told him he was totally crazy. Ironing, to my thinking, is a task invented by Satan to be avoided at all costs. My husband has joked that the sight of an iron could easily frighten our adult children, having never encountered one while growing up.
Mike’s comment has popped into my mind several times over the years, usually as I’ve contemplated the need to press some wrinkled garment. The other day, standing out in my front yard, a pile of leaves at my feet, I discovered that, while I still hated ironing, I understood exactly what he’d meant.
Sweeping, I realized, is my ironing.
In our older neighborhood, hundreds of cedar elm trees dot the landscape. They’re native to Texas and provide wonderful summer shade along with some of the little bit of colored fall foliage we get. The small yellow leaves are short-lived, though; cedar elms are deciduous, which means in late October and early November, they drop their leaves and seed pods (called samaras).
Those leaves make a god-awful mess. And the samaras? In the spring, they turn into thousands and thousands of tiny cedar elm saplings wherever they’ve remained.
Sweeping is my fall therapy. I get so caught up in the chore that it literally sweeps me away. For example, I was almost late picking up my mom for her celebratory 79th birthday lunch because I’d lost track of time while collecting, piling, and bagging bunches of leaves. I spend so much time in this activity that I’ve actually incorporated “Monday: yard work/sweeping” into my workout schedule.
According to CalorieLab.com, sweeping outdoors burns about 51 calories in 15 minutes and 204 in an hour. That’s more than sweeping inside (39 for 15 minutes, 156 per hour) and about the same as raking leaves.*
I’d like to think, however, that I rack up more calories than less dedicated sweepers. I tackle sweeping like I do any other physical exercise: purposefully, vigorously, methodically. I work as efficiently and swiftly as possible, approaching sweeping as an endurance event. I don’t quit until all the leaves are piled and bagged. I am also the first to admit that there is a not-so-subtle sheen of OCD all over this activity.
But it’s not really the exercise that has me out on my driveway, steps, and curb multiple times a day, broom in hand, yard bag in tow. As with my friend Mike and ironing, I find a beautiful optimism in sweeping. Nothing says a house is loved more than a tidy stoop, cleared driveway, and passable walkway.
Before anyone walks in our front door, the message is clear: someone cares for this place.
Yes, there are several more weeks before the cedar elms are spent, their leaves and seed pods all shed. Yes, I clear the same areas over and over again. Yes, those minutes in the yard could be used elsewhere. And yes, perhaps my neighbors think I’m a bit, well, obsessed.
But none of this matters. Every time I sweep, I feel love in my heart for my home. Those clean, clear spaces provide a calming, soothing oasis in otherwise hectic days. With the leaves at bay, all is right with my world. What better way, then, to spend my time?
Well, my friend might say “ironing,” but though we differ on bliss’s form, we certainly agree that finding recurring optimism in our everyday tasks makes life that much better.
*What about exercise expended in ironing, I hear you ask. Calories burned=a measly 22 per 15 minutes and 88 in an hour. Suck on that, optimist Mike!