• Maggie Wheeler

Kitchen Cupboards and Other Meditations

We know the kitchen is the heart of the home. The home is the heart of our lives. It is central to our everyday living and—to be honest—our survival. The kitchen, like no other room, gets significant daily traffic. Our homes are frameworks that capture our essence. Our kitchens are the bridge of the ship.

Each year, after Valentine’s Day, I start the first step of my annual spring cleaning: the kitchen cupboards. Late February and early March is a good time frame for such thankless work. The outside world is dark early and does not yet beckon. Inside work makes sense: Empty every cupboard, wipe out the inside, check the contents, let dry, restack and follow up with a good cleaning on the outside with Murphy’s Oil Soap. Check.

Mind numbing and thankless. Should do it in a weekend.

But over the years, I changed my approach to that of doing one cupboard every night after supper. Just one. And that is hard as I am a “guns blazing” kind of project person. Plan. Execute. Achieve. Move on. Especially something as cringeworthy as cleaning kitchen cupboards.

But I found two things happened with this different approach. First, just doing one every night in a few spare minutes over time made the job almost inconsequential. No big deal. The second fallout is that what is usually a mundane and unwanted task has become, for me, a meditation.

You’re thinking, “She needs to get a life.” I won’t argue that. But follow me here for a bit.

When I start this cleaning meditation, we are leaving winter and thinking about spring. About new life. A new season of growth. During the week or so it takes, as I pull out dishes and mugs, wash special items gathering dust, wipe down soup cans, toss that which needs to be discarded, I am doing a mental review. Of my kitchen. Of my year just spent. Of the victories and disappointments. Of gifts and of loss. Of things forgotten in corners that need to be found again.

As I make a list of things to replace or add to the function of my “bridge,” I also extend that to my life for the next season. The next year going forward until I find myself here again.

But what this meditation has slowly added over the years, especially in my fifties, is a profound moment to reflect on all that I have. With gratitude. In terms of the kitchen, I have cupboards full of lovely dishes, all the glassware I will ever need, well-seasoned pots to cook with, a fridge and pantry cupboard full of food. I am a rich woman, indeed.

Here’s the second shoe, if you want it.

I then absorb the reality of all that I no longer need.

We started as hunter-gatherers many millennia ago and not much has changed in our nature or our societies. The pursuit of material comfort and acquisition is the stuff of life. No argument there, either. But at the midpoint of our lives, there comes a moment of pivot where we have enough if we just stop to realize it. And the power it brings. The power of freedom.

Freedom is always scary when it arrives, despite it being named as one of our lifelong goals. Who are we if we are not acquiring? Who are we if our perceived needs have been filled? What are our new needs? And if they are largely no longer material, where do we look?

Those are questions midlife will also answer if we pursue them. But take the wonderful moment of pivot and understand the freedom we have achieved at this point in our lives. Ours to take, if we will. Many will not.

The calendar says that spring is 11 days away. So is spring cleaning. The sweeping up of this past season and the plantings of the next. The physical can also be the spiritual and the cognitive. And at midlife, we’re really, really good at that.

There’s no feeling like standing in your kitchen on a quiet and sunny Sunday morning, enjoying the glow of clean cupboards and fresh life slates.

So happy spring cleaning. I suggest you start with the kitchen cupboards.

And don’t forget to pivot…

Talk next week,


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