Simple Tasks That Are Good For Your Soul

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” ~Zen Proverb

Sometimes my psyche and soul get tired.

That's happened to me this week.

Does it ever happen to you?

It often happens for me after a particularly busy or intense time with work or in my personal life — or a combination of both. Sometimes you just wake up, even after a good night's sleep, and think “Damn, I'm tired. My brain hurts. My heart is overloaded.”

When this happens, I've learned that it doesn't help me to “push through” and keep going, because eventually my head will spin off. Nor does it help much to try to figure it out or assign it too much meaning. This can lead to unattractive crying jags.  And if I just sit and rest, it gives my over-taxed psyche too much space to run amok and make nasty assumptions that are rarely true.

I have found that doing simple tasks (not involving a lot of brain power) provides wonderfully restorative benefits to the heart and soul. By keeping my hands moving and my brain on low simmer, I am filled with a pleasant combination of relaxation, purpose, and accomplishment.

I may not be conquering the world, but I am residing peacefully in the moment. Sometimes that's enough.

Not every simple task evokes those feelings. Scrubbing a toilet, paying bills,  or using a leaf blower tend to aggravate the problem, not help it. But there are certain repetitive tasks that have a Zen-like quality and are extremely soothing for me.

Here are a few simple tasks that are good for your soul . . .

Chopping veggies. An onion, some carrots, a couple of red bell peppers, a sharp knife and a big cutting board. The sound and rhythm of chopping, watching the veggies pile up, and scraping them into a bowl or pot. It is strangely satisfying.

Making soup. This is often step two after chopping veggies. Making soup is all about assembling, simmering, and savoring smells. It fills the house with a soothing aroma and a “welcome home” feel. It's my favorite meal to prepare.

Folding laundry. A big pile of warm, clean clothes that smell like Downy. The “snap” as you shake out an item. The pleasure of folding corner to corner, creating neat stacks for people you love. (Delivering them — not so fun.)

Grooming a pet. We had cats for many years (now deceased sadly). If we didn't comb them, we'd be tripping over orange-sized fur balls around the house. The cats would sit contentedly in my lap while I'd comb them. A warm purring kitty and the repetitive motion of combing was really relaxing.

Raking leaves. When I was a kid, I hated this. That was back in the day before leaf blowers. Now raking leaves on a crisp fall day in the sunshine feels like a happy throw-back to childhood.

Sewing a hem. I am not much of a seamstress, but I can sew a hem. It's just enough sewing to be satisfying. Pulling the needle in and out of the fabric, making small neat stitches, and completing this simple task just makes me happy.

Washing dishes. I don't take much pleasure in loading and unloading the dishwasher. But hand-washing dishes is a different story. We avoid it because it's so time-consuming, but if you aren't rushed, it's very pleasurable. Washing the dishes in warm soapy water, rinsing them in cool water, drying them on with a clean cotton towel, and them stacking them neatly — ahh, how nice.

Cleaning a closet. My closet is a testimony to my sad little belief that “I'm sure I'll wear this one day.” Mostly, I wear the same 10-15 items because I like them. When the mood strikes, I will brutally ravage my closet using the “if you haven't worn it in a year” rule as my guide. Once the clothes are out of sight, it feels so amazing. Ha ha — I have streamlined.

Planting flowers. Planting pansies in the fall when the weather is cooler is a lovely way to get in “the flow.” Digging rows of neat little holes, filling them with pretty colorful flowers, pressing the soil around them, and watering them makes you feel sunshiny and alive.

Shelling beans. I haven't done this in many years. I used to do it with my mom as a child. It seemed like an awfully tedious task to reap a handful of beans that could just as easily come out of a can. But once I tasted canned beans, I knew why we shelled them. We had some pretty good talks while shelling beans too. I think I may start shelling again.

Clearing my desk. Does your desk get messy like mine does? Right now on my desk I have my desktop computer, my laptop, my phone, a camera,  my keys, two pair of earrings, two pair of sunglasses, an almost empty tea cup, the stems from the grapes I've just eaten, a lamp, two small speakers, the land-line phone, my calendar, and some assorted papers. Just typing this, I'm feeling out-of sorts. Clearing my desk clears my mind.

Making my bed. I don't practice the habit of making my bed every day. Sometimes I get up in a hurry, leave the room, and don't return for several hours. But I love the way a neatly made bed makes me feel. I like the process of making the bed, tucking in the sheets, pulling up and smoothing out the comforter, and arranging an assortment of pillows. It looks nice and inviting — waiting for me when it's time for sleep. A made bed makes the entire room look fresh.

There are other tasks  I'm sure would be soul-satisfying, but I don't do them enough to justify officially putting them on the list. Making bread dough seems like it would be lots of fun. I also like painting a wall, but I hate the prep and clean-up involved. Washing the car in warm weather is fun, but I don't care for the detail work of cleaning the tires and vacuuming the inside.

I think my simple everyday tasks need to be simple to do and simple to start and stop.

So that's my list . . . what's yours?

(Please be sweet and tweet.)

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  1. Thekla Richter says:

    I think that it’s so important and rejuvenating to do tasks that give others pleasure and/or create results that you can clearly touch and feel. We are wired deep to define accomplishment as something tangible and modern technology often divorces our efforts from seeing results that convince our deepest gut sense that we in fact DID something.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is so true Thekla. You can work all day at your computer and really have nothing tangible to show for it. There is something soul satisfying about tasks that offer immediate results that you can see and feel.

  2. This was a nice post! I simply like cooking dinner and helping my daughter with her homework. It just makes me feel good inside. 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s lovely Marcelina. I used to do that when my kids were smaller. They would sit at the kitchen table doing homework while I cooked dinner. Those are very special moments — as insignificant as they may seem at the time.

  3. Beauty of moment is in the simplicity of that very moment itself.
    Very nice post. Thank you!

  4. Weeding. It gets me outside and the simple act of being bending over fills my head with blood, stretches out my legs and back, and if I set a goal of “this 3’x4″ stretch, weed free”, I get an amazing sense of accomplishment.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s a cool way to go at it Meg. I like the “3X4” stretch idea! I like the satisfaction of pulling a weed and getting the roots out.

  5. Hi Barrie,

    Yeah I know the feeling. When I reach the point where I cannot go further I have to take some time out and stop. Trying to force myself onwards yields dismal results. Even my favourite games where I get to conquer the world seems like too much brain-work and effort.

    During such times, I too engage in Zen-like activities to restore my balance.

    Like you, I like to clear my desk or my room to make things neater. It is also more conducive for work. I cannot stand untidiness.

    One other thing I do is to wrap my books. I love my books and I do not like them getting dog-eared. So I wrap them in plastic to protect them. After that, I put my books in zip-lock bags and place them in the fridge (haha, just kidding about the fridge. 😛 I put them in my cupboard.) The reason for the zip-lock bags is to prevent silverfish from eating them. When you have almost a 1000 books like I do, you will have a silverfish problem. And nothing irritates me more than finding one in my books.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      1000 books! Wow Irving — you should start a lending library! I am not as meticulous with my books — I give mine a whole lot of love. They sit in stacks by my bed with bent pages and well-worn covers. I can see how wrapping them would be a meditative activity. (I am guessing you don’t have children! You might have to adapt to some untidiness when you do. 🙂

  6. Hi Barrie, and Happy Wednesday!
    I love this post. The simple things really make me happy. I’m with Meg on the weeding as well, and sweeping. I love to sweep the driveway and the patio. When everyone else uses a noisy blower, I take pleasure in the repetitive motion and get some extra exercise as well. As with all the things you listed in your post, I enjoy the process, and the end result. Thanks for sharing your talent and insight. Have a lovely week.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I like sweeping too Trish. I have a front porch that I enjoy sweeping and making it tidy for people who come to my front door. Thank you for your kind comments. I hope you have a lovely week as well!

  7. I love to get out in the garden for some weeding or planting. Getting my hands in the soil puts me back in touch with nature and where we come from. You’re right – anything involving repetitive motion and then the reward of a stack or row of something finished is so fulfilling. It’s maintenance – but it’s actually fulfilling too.
    Thanks for the reminder that these simple tasks can actually help us in our goals of productivity.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sarah,
      Yes, they help with productivity and sanity! It’s nice to know you don’t have to tax your brain to accomplish something useful. I think this is why nuns and monks live so long — lots of repetitive tasks and meditation/prayer!

  8. Terri in TN says:

    What a timely article!!! I worked way too much overtime this past week and am at the too tired to think stage. I was trying to just “push through it” today and was just about to start a crying jag when I saw this. Awesome! I think I will go tackle my closet when I get off of work today. Thanks so much for the inspiration! I’m really hopeful that it will help!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Terri,
      I’m so glad this post came at the right time for you. If you need to have that crying jag, just do it while sorting your closet. Sometimes a good jag will release some tension! Just breathe deeply and try to steer your thoughts away from all you need to do. Take care of yourself!

  9. Hi Barrie,
    I believe one needs a regular break from the ‘cycle’ of every day going on’s whatever that may be. A Rejuvenation if you will. I do anything that’s different…..imagine, take a walk, play with my dog,and/or birds, read a chapter of a good book…..anything that gets you into a better space, ready to again attack the day.
    be good to yourself

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi David,
      Rejuvenation is a good word for it. You’ve listed some wonderful activities — fun activities. Those are good for the soul too!

  10. Hello Barrie

    Have always found when making up the bed have found the same feeling of a renewal and like it when getting into the bed after it has been made up.Also do not mind raking up leaves,

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Michael,
      Yes, there is something much nice about a made bed when it’s time to get in it. It’s like unwrapping a package! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  11. Hi Barrie,

    Beautiful post!

    I love the things you mentioned above, but for me these are part of my daily chores along-with my writing career that I juggle between. So, I would prefer a quieter moment with myself. I think what works for me and relives me of my exhaustion or the time when I am truly drained is meditation. I simply prefer to cut off from the world and things around me and find a quiet. peaceful place, and do into my inner self. It is the best moment I share with myself. However, it is rarely practiced and I am wishing to do more of it now.

    I think we all get so caught in the rut of life, and the daily chores that take us down- that we forget to live a few moments for ourselves and with us alone. This is something that is needed, and we realize it after we reach a break-point somewhere.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Oh I totally agree with you Harleena. Those completely silent, inactive times are crucial. But sometimes we have to complete tasks — and some of these tasks can be meditative as well as productive.

  12. sophia fernandess says:

    Dear Barrie,
    I felt so good just reading your reflections on making our soul so restful. Thats what makes me so refreshing, all that you shared is so right, small task, but it gives a feeling of being yourself. Thank you Barrie for helping me realize the joy and comfort that we can derive in doing those beautiful task. i value it so much and i am drawn to such activities….though at times my friends feel that i need not spend time in cooking and cleaning as i have other important task to attend, but I believe such choices keeps me alive.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Dear Sophia,
      It’s wonderful that you have found the beauty in those daily tasks. If they keep you alive, then you must do them! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and always love hearing from you.

  13. I think the one thing that helps me relax is reading a favorite magazine or book while zipping a cup of hot green tea. I really like to savor the tea as I look at mostly Home and Yoga magazines. I love to see new creative ideas for the home and also learn more about new ways to exercise and take care of myself. This usually mellows me out and takes me out of the stress/stories in my head and body.

  14. I love this one. Well done.

  15. Carolyn Medina says:

    Thank you for this post, especially the “make your bed” comment. My mother always insisted her 6 children make our beds. She said, “When you make your bed, the whole room looks neat, even if it isn’t.” It was so nice to be reminded of that today. My mother has Alzheimer’s now and isn’t giving us any more advice. Thank you for reminding me of those earlier chaotic but happy times. And I do still make my bed, every day! Dusting is a different matter entirely!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      What a nice memory Carolyn. If you are still making your bed every day, your mother is still giving you advice — just silently. 🙂 That advice really sticks with us, doesn’t it? Your mom must be some lady to have raised 6 kids.

  16. For me it is watering the plants in my garden & pulling out some weeds as I go . And if this happens to be at sunrise or sunset WOW !!

    • I must agree with you, the garden is a perfect place.. Thanks for sharing this Maria.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Just about any outside task at sunrise or sunset is wonderful. (Well, maybe not leaf blowing! 🙂 )

  17. In addition to some of the simple tasks you mentioned (especially planting flowers and washing dishes), I also find wrapping presents to be very relaxing and pleasant. I think it’s because at the same time I’m doing a simple task I’ve done many times before, I’m also thinking about the person to whom I’m giving the gift and that makes me happy. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy the simple things in life, Barrie.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Kara,
      I like wrapping presents too. It’s especially nice when you can do it in a relaxed moment — not when you are steeped in holiday stress and madness. Keeping gifts simple and heartfelt helps and definitely makes it a happy experience for the wrapper and the receiver!

  18. I think that’s why God invented household chores for people to do. He knew that we will at some point of time be overwhelmed by our projects, work, assignment, care for children and a million other mind consuming tasks.

    The daily grind of chores to ensure normal functioning is a therapeutic in nature to the soul and it numbs the mind to recovery.

    My personal favourite is the process of cooking something that I love to eat. In the process I cooked a meal for the family whether they like it or not. I love the decision to pick the dish I would want to cook. I love the shopping for ingredients at the markets. I love the preparation of all the ingredients from washing vegetables to chopping garlic and eventually cooking the dish itself. I love the moment and privilege of always being the first one to dip my finger into the sauce.

    Simple pleasures truly rejuvenate the soul and mind.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Jimmy,
      Cooking is such a therapeutic activity. It sounds like you are an excellent cook. BTW, I question whether or not God created household chores — maybe the Old Testament God! 🙂

  19. Hi Barrie,

    Yes i relate to what you are saying closely right now as I am on a healing journey that requires a lot more practice and I feel like i need a break- haven’t I done enough?
    Great list
    I would add for me cooking and checking out new recipes that I can adapt and going to the beach:sitting in the sun and immersing my body in all those wonderful sea ions that revive the vibes.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Suzie,
      Yes, the beach is my favorite therapy couch! How can you not feel relaxed and peaceful there? Thank you for sharing.

  20. This is just what I needed today since my mood is a bit of. In this moment it starts to be late but if my mood continues tomorrow I’ll just do something meditative. I like picking berries but it’s not possible for the moment.


    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’m so glad this came to you at the right time Miia. Yes, I guess it’s too late to pick berries, but maybe you could gather fall leaves for an arrangement or try one of the other tasks. I hope you’re mood is better tomorrow. 🙂

  21. Love how you say these tasks can provide “restorative benefits to the heart and soul.” One of my favorites: putting things back in place after an unusually hectic week, returning from a trip or wrapping up a big project. The return to order these tasks bring is both energizing and relaxing to me.

  22. What a lovely post Barrie! I had a day just like that today…tackling the ironing basket is mindless and repetitive enough to start me back on the right road when my brain and ‘heart’ are burnt out. Then I get the momentum going and do a scrubbing floors and dusting clean-up, resulting in that simple feeling of accomplishment from mindless but ‘in the moment’ tasks. Sometimes I even make my bed on a day like that! 😉

  23. Organizing my day such as writing on my organizer or filling out my gratitude journal is a nice and simple task to give my brain a break. 🙂