Monday, December 1, 2008

The Importance of Being Tidy

"A place for everything, and everything in its place."

I have often heard in recent years, "Oh, I'm really not very neat...but at least I'm not dirty." The implication of this is that being dirty (failing to clean the toilets on a regular basis, leaving food to grow mold all over the house, etc) is still deemed reprehensible, but being organized, neat, and tidy is given a backseat. It seems that our concept of cleanliness, like many things nowadays, finds itself open to interpretation. We pick and choose exactly how clean our homes ought to be, and often we find that our chosen level of cleanliness neglects basic tidiness. We say this depends on our personalities or preferences, but I tend to think it has something more to do with our level of determination, our ability to combat sloth, and the nature of our homemaking skills.

In my home growing up, any given day would find my mother voicing the above adage. Neatness was expected in our home, as it had been in hers growing up. Now, let me set the record straight. Both my mother and grandmother worked full-time outside the home. In fact, my grandmother sometimes worked two jobs while raising seven children in an age where a husband would not be bothered to lift one finger to aid her with the housework. Yet, my grandmother kept her home impeccably clean. Now, my mother didn't do a daily dusting as her mother had done. We also found that Grandma's habit of white-washing the ceilings every spring was a bit archaic for our household. But, cleanliness was the norm in our home. It was expected. And, a part of that cleanliness had to do with being neat, or tidy.

I confess that the level of neatness I was able to maintain during my college days and in the first year of marriage is no longer always possible with an active toddler and the fatigue of early pregnancy. I'm not superwoman, after all, and despite the overwhelming opinion that "anyone" can keep house--that there's "not much to do"--let me assure you, it takes plenty of energy and effort to keep a home running efficiently and keeping it clean in the process. I'm not suggesting that our houses should always look like they were dropped out of a Martha Stewart publication, and I know that keeping a house as clean as we would like in the rough-and-tumble of life is not always possible. But, I would like to make a general cry against our society's negligence of neatness. I think many of us (myself included from time to time) are in need of a serious wake-up call regarding the importance of being tidy before entropy is allowed to take over our homes completely.

If things are basically clean, why bother being tidy? The answer to this question is the key to finding the determination to be neat. John Wesley was often fond of saying that "Cleanliness is next to godliness." But one needn't delve into Methodist theology to find that tidiness is important to the Creator of the Universe. Scripture tells us in 1 Cornithians 14:33 that "God is a God not of disorder but of peace." Neatness is a part of God's very character. As children of God, we are called to model our own characters and behavior upon Him. That's a pretty good reason to start caring about being tidy.

Apart from religion, countless articles--and even books!--have been written about the importance of having a well-organized workspace. Apparently a tidy desk at work is not only conducive to working more efficiently, it positively affects the very attitude and emotions of the worker. Order and loveliness are pleasing, and we work more effectively in an environment where these elements have been valued and implemented. Moreover, we are happier working in such an environment! It helps us to thrive. If tidiness is important in the workplace, how much more important should it be in our homes! Our homes ought to be sanctuaries to our families. Here, individuality, creativity, and relationship are meant to flourish; here we find nourishment, inspiration, comfort, and love. Surely such things are of greater importance than the latest project or deadline?

Tidiness will help to put us in a better frame of mind, the better to undertake all the other work that homemaking entails. Perhaps nowhere is it more necessary for work be undertaken cheerfully than in the home. Who would want to view the care of their home and family as drudgery? Yet, this is precisely how we feel when we are faced with cleaning and caring for a home that is not orderly, that is not lovely. If we care for our homes with joy, then we offer that joy to our family members and teach our children that homemaking is something to be enjoyed. If we are miserable, complaining and procrastinating and finding ourselves discouraged because no matter how much we clean our home is not neat and pretty, then we teach our children that homemaking is a detestable chore to be avoided.

Moreover, when our homes are not neat, we are not able to fully enjoy them. We do not know where things are, and so we fail to utilize our belongings. We avoid messy rooms because we do not enjoy being in them, making our house feel smaller--something that families like mine cannot afford! We hardly feel inspired to cook a delicious dinner when the kitchen is full of dishes to be washed or put away. And, don't even think about serving that meal cheerfully and beautifully at the table--it's piled high with last week's junk mail. Does any of this sound familiar?

Home ought to be a place of inspiration where the deepest elements of our humanity are nurtured and given room to grow and flourish. What garden choked with weeds and haphazardly planted ever offered much inspiration? In the same way that we tend a garden, we ought to tend to our homes. We will not all have the same standards of neatness. My grandmother still does her daily dusting, and I'm lucky if I get a thorough dusting in once a week. But, the goal of making our homes neat and lovely should be a top priority.

It's not easy. What's easy is to pat ourselves on the back and say, "I've had a hard day. I'd much rather sit down and watch some television than sort those toys or put away the laundry." But, that extra half hour of television is not likely to give us as much pleasure as an organized play area or a neat dresser. And, if you're not used to being tidy, you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle for awhile until both the expectation of neatness and the skills to achieve and maintain a tidy home are acquired. Keeping the determination for a lovely home that is nurturing to you and your family will be the key in sticking it out through the rough patches. Remember, don't beat yourself up. Just keep the goal in mind, and remember the wise words of L.M. Montgomery, "Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it...yet.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Bethany! Sure, my home isn't impeccably neat and tidy, but I do spend some time each morning straightening up. I once heard that if you develop a healthy habit of picking things up whenever you see them out of their place, it will help a lot. I think it's true!


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