Long ago I was trying to choose between two suitors, both pastors. One had sent me flowers, one had not. One was near, one was far way. One was the accountant type, briefcase in hand and every hair in place. In an e-mail to my family overseas, I outlined my two prospects, soliciting their votes. My mother countered with an extremely practical question, as mothers will. “Are you tidy enough for ____ [the accountant type]?” If I hadn’t known myself well, that might have hurt my feelings, but she had a point. Orderliness was not something for which I was famous, although my future husband must have been looking for more than only orderliness in a wife, because the “accountant type” is the one who married me!
As the years go by, disorderliness has grown to bother me more than it did before (my own disorderliness, of course—I’ve seldom, if ever, had to pick up after my husband!). Once we had children, I realized the need to train our two girls to be tidy, considering I didn’t relish spending copious amounts of time tidying up after them. I often pondered how Jesus folded His grave clothes when He left the tomb on the resurrection morning, perhaps the most important morning of His life, when no one would have objected to His tossing them aside. God loves order, and if it matters to Him, it matters to me.
Of course, there is also the biblical injunction to “let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40, NKJV). I wondered for a long time how far to take the “all things” in that verse. One day I asked a pastor friend if he thought it meant absolutely every little thing. He countered with a verse where Paul adjures Titus to “set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5). That appealed to me, the idea that order is only needed in as much as it is lacking. We also have counsels against having everything in a state of perfection in our homes to the point that our kids are neglected. “Your temporal matters may be neglected rather than the heart wants and culture of the minds of your children” (The Health Reformer, Aug. 1, 1872). For me, that helps keep things in perspective.
I’m still on my journey from relative disorder to relative order. I’ve learned some strategies by experience that smooth the way and help keep home happy. Here are a few practical principles:
1) Think ahead. Before you purchase a life-sized stuffed leopard for your child or accept it as a handme-down, think about where on earth you will store it and what you’ll have to move to get it there.
2) Only move things once.If you take a hair clip from the kitchen counter to your bedroom to put away, don’t leave it on the bathroom counter along the way. Instead, put it directly into the drawer, not just anywhere. Then it’s done and over with, never to take up your time again. This relates to mail that comes into the house as well—deal with it immediately. Throw away junk mail, file important documents, and keep things to be attended to in a current file or on a list that you check daily. That way, things don’t cross your desk two, three, or four times. This works with e-mail too. Dealing with messages promptly prevents the necessity of re-reading hundreds of messages you no longer need.
3) De-clutter regularly. Clutter accumulates almost without our realizing it. When I arrived in the United States to go to college, I had two suitcases and a carry-on bag. When I left less than two years later, I had 19 boxes of stuff that I had accumulated as a “poor” student. As a pastor’s wife, I often think, What if we have to move? I want to be as ready as possible when that time comes, so we often go through our shelves and closets to give away or sell items. It is freeing! Even my children look forward to doing this and voluntarily do it on their own. (I think they got my husband’s genes in this area!)
4) Have a daily tidy-up time. Have your kids help “swoop” (rapidly pick things up and put them in their places) in their own areas each day. We sing a silly song (“We are the swoopers . . .”) while twirling in a circle, as you would for “Ring Around a Rosie,” to get everyone motivated, and then we pick up anything that is out of place in one area as fast as we can. Setting the timer helps us not get distracted. If we need to put away an item that isn’t ours (for example, the owner of the item is not present), we can pray for that person as we put the item away.
5) Remember to thank God for His abundance, for He provides the material goods in your house—enough for yourself and to share with others. Here’s a thought: What if, today, you only had things that you had remembered to thank God for yesterday? For example, if you only thanked God yesterday for the food you ate, then today you’d have food but no house, no kids, no _____________ (fill in the blank).
God is growing us to love what He loves, and sometimes I even tidy my bathroom counter where I did my hair before leaving for church, which I would never have cared about, or probably even noticed, before I got married. Thankfully, every command is also a beautiful promise from our fully faithful Father and Friend. Why not thank Him with me for the desire for, and the gift of, orderliness today?