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Keepers at home: Disciplining ourselves

I have to confess that as a child, and even (maybe especially!) in my high school years, I was messy. My bedroom was rarely clean. (Though when I picture in my mind's eye now, it always seems to be clean! Maybe it wasn't really so bad??) Hanging up my clothes apparently seemed like a waste of time. And though I can't imagine that I went off to school without making my bed (it's always made in my imagination), I'm sure I did; for I was forever running to catch the school bus, and I'm sure it wasn't because I had taken time to make sure my bed was nice and neat.

Then I got married and had children. My husband was far from a neat-freak, and our seven children? Well, they were typical children. They sure knew how to make messes, but straightening up after themselves wasn't exactly their natural bent. I struggled to keep our house in order. Housecleaning was just not my thing.

I'll never forget the day the Lord caught me up short on this. How could I tell my children to clean up their rooms if I wasn't keeping my own room clean? Modeling. It all comes back to that, doesn't it? If I couldn't model the behavior I wanted them to grow into, then making them do what I wasn't doing was plain old hypocrisy.

So began a new era for me. I wanted a clean house, and it had to start with me. I knew that when the house was clean and straight, everyone and everything was more peaceable. I could relax then and get on to other things. But when the house was in chaos, it was hard to keep the stress from rising. And rising stress generally isn't an aid to healthy relationships either. The world just doesn't seem very rosy in the midst of chaos.

If I wanted to parent my children and teach them good habits, I first had to bring myself in line. You know what I discovered? Hanging your clothes up at the end of the day takes less than 2 minutes. However, wading through a pile that has grown over several days—or longer—took way too much time. Two minutes a day to keep a straight room. Making the bed takes about 1 minute. How simple is that?

I began to time other things that had often piled up or hindered me from doing other things. Doing the dishes was more difficult if the clean dishes in the dishwasher hadn't been unloaded. It was easier then to let the dishes pile up—until the counters were full. Why did unloading the dishwasher seem like such a big deal? I timed it. Was it really that it took so much time? No. It only took about 4 minutes to empty a fully loaded dishwasher. For want of 4 minutes, I was letting my kitchen get cluttered and chaotic. Really! So I took myself by the proverbial collar and said, "No longer!"

I read a book several years ago about time management called Getting Things Done. One of the take-aways from that book was this simple advice: If a task takes less than 2 minutes to do, do it now. Don't put it off; just do it. So much can be done in 2 minutes. All of life is lived in minutes. Another book I read recently called Mini Habits advised to set small goals, goals so small that they could never seem overwhelming causing you to put them off till another time—like one or two minute goals. Even the most daunting job, broken down into 1-2 minute increments, becomes easy.

Once you build good habits into yourself, it's far easier to train those same habits into your children's lives—and you can do it with integrity. Not only that, but you can also do it with compassion and patience, knowing how much time and effort was required for you to develop those habits. Personal guilt and hypocrisy are washed away, and they are replaced with the desire and determination to inculcate (to teach/instill/impress with persistent instruction and frequent repetitions) in your children habits that lead to peace and lives that are ordered aright.

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