Reposted from November 2009
I remember sharing a dorm room with Elly in college and simply being astounded that every day, first thing, she made her bed. It was no mean feat, either, as she was on the top bunk. Always. It was and is simply pulling teeth for me to make my bed. But I suspect it would have been just as difficult for Elly to not make her bed as it was for me to make my bed. In both cases, it would seem to us that something was not right. In my case, because a jumble of blankets was normal, and a made bed was unfamiliarly neat-looking. For Elly, it was the opposite. An unmade bed was just not right; things were off. What made this difference in us? Years and years of unbroken habit: hers established in making her bed everyday and mine in not.
For the Children
I desperately want my children to have the second nature to put a book back on the shelf when they’re done, to put their coat in the coat closet (I even just have a bin to toss them in!), to pick up their pencils when they fall on the floor, etc. I want them to be established in good habits, because in things like that, it is all about what you are accustomed to do.
I want my children to have years of unbroken habit in keeping things the way they should be kept rather than in making and leaving messes. I want it to take no conscious thought or effort to put something away rather than just put it down wherever, just to do it that way because that’s what was natural to them.
But, there is no way they are going to have those sorts of habits established unless I establish them as well, and unless I establish them myself first. First, because I won’t think to remind them to put things away if it’s not normal to me. Then I’m just inconsistent, sometimes having them put things away and sometimes not; then they just learn (if they’re lucky) how to play their mother rather than learning any lasting habits. Second, order and neatness cannot become natural to them unless I give them an environment where order and neatness is the norm. If the house is normally in decent order and we have set times to tidy up so things never get too far out of hand — I’m not talking perfectionistic cleanliness, I’m only after non-chaos — then they can see how pencils on the floor are out of order rather than barely noticeable and how leaving books spread all over the house is not right. Third, there is of course the hypocrisy angle. If the kitchen always has dirty dishes from three days ago and flour that’s been on the counter for days, how can I harp on Legos left out? If my bedroom has clothes on the floor, why do I care if their room has clothes on the floor? If I expect of them what I don’t expect of myself, I will lose my credibility and their respect.
But what I need to remember in all this is that my desire is to give to them. I want good things for them; my intention is to bestow good habits, not to take from them, not even to demand of them, ultimately. That needs to be evident in my attitude, or once again I will not be giving them a love of order and neatness. If it is not natural to me, and if things aren’t kept up regularly, then I get frustrated and become a harpy, carping on them for messes left hither and yon. And then cleaning up becomes a hateful, unpleasant thing for us all. Instead, I want picking up to just be part of the normal rhythm of life.
Peace of Mind
“The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on all speak loudly about what you believe. “The beauty of Thy peace,” shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul” — Elisabeth Elliot
Also, the more I do work on establishing order, the more I realize what a peace-giving thing it is. My old ways are still evident in my bedroom (though it’s not so bad as my childhood bedroom): it feels awkward and bizarre when I walk into my room and it’s clean. It isn’t natural to me, and I feel out of place, like I’m trying to be something I am not. A clean kitchen also used to feel that way to me, but I’ve had enough times of consistency that a messy, cluttered kitchen now feels wrong rather than normal. A floor that needs to be swept actually bothers me, even if a bedroom that needs to be vacuumed doesn’t. So, I want to continue this trend. However, there are two problems with this. The first is the obvious one that I still have a lot of areas and bad habits to conquer. The second is that the more I grow accustomed to neatness, the more and more that disorderliness stresses me out. But, if I grow in habits like putting things away instead of putting it down, the messes don’t grow so quickly and as exponentially as they once did. So I want to become better at the moment-by-moment and daily maintenance habits rather than focusing on big weekly (or monthly) cleans.
I like organizing closets, but when the closet is in disarray two days after a big organizing binge, it all seems futile. And, since I’m the only one getting into the closet, I can’t even blame anyone else. Really, what’s the point of all this organizing if I don’t put things away where they belong when I’m done with them? What’s the point of having a place for everything, if I don’t put things back in their place? Those are the sorts of habits I want to learn. I want my lovely organization systems and methods to work, but they — say it with me, Elly — don’t work if I don’t. And the more I work them the more smoothly they work and the more stress they relieve.
No Time Like the Present
The more I can conquer around the house and the more good habits I can instill in myself and my children now, the more benefits we will reap as life picks up its pace. I have always viewed getting a working system in place and working on good habits a priority in this early stage of the homeschooling family game. Now we’ve begun to pick up the pace in that game and it’s all a lot less theoretical, and either my motivation is going to kick into high gear or I’m going to throw up my hands, let it all go, try to “just do the next thing, whatever that is” (which becomes dealing with one emergency after another), and being exhausted and cranky and frustrated all the time. I don’t want to be exhausted and cranky all the time. I do want a home of peace. I do want to manage my home. And I think it’s possible. And I think it’s going to be a lot of work up front, but it’ll get easier the longer I am consistent. Now might not be the easiest time to put up the effort, but I just don’t see that putting it off for 4-5 months will really make life easier or help my attitude at all. There just is no “good” — i.e. easy — time to start when you’re in the life stage of pregnancies, little people, and beginning school. But putting it off until all that calms down hardly seems workable, either. The dynamics will change, but will they calm down, especially if we persist in bad habits and bad attitudes? And, really, school is only going to be more demanding as Hans progresses and as the others begin. And what if there’s another pregnancy and baby? And, I’d really like to start a garden, but how can I even think of adding more to my plate when I’m not on top of what I’ve got? So, now might not be easy, but it’s just not looking like there’s going to be an easy time anytime soon. And, tackling it now holds out the promise of life not being so hard as it might be if I don’t.
So here goes.
- Why? (November 2009)
- Habits, Routines, & Schedules (November 2009)
- Established by Repetition (November 2009)
- Duty & Self-Discipline (November 2009)
- The Nitty-Gritty (November 2009)
- To Tend One’s Bed (June 2010)
- Inertia (January 2011)