Thursday, December 11, 2008

There is only one practical remedy for this deadly sin of needless worry—and that is to take short views. Faith is content to live "from hand to mouth," enjoying each blessing from God as it comes. This perverse spirit of worry runs off and gathers some anticipated troubles and throws them into the cup of mercies—and turns them to vinegar! by Theodore Cuyler

Clutter, Clutter Everywhere...
(The above quote has nothing to do with today's topic. I just like it.:))

I'm re-reading Cheryl Mendelson's book, "Home Comforts". I was struck by this thought: In this country a century ago, people both rich and poor lacked the plethora of movable objects that presently clog our homes: toys, games, magazines, papers, and gadgets of all sorts. The design of ordinary homes and furnishings has only recently begun to provide anything like proper storage for all these goods, enabling people to attempt to abide by the venerable household maxim, "A place for everything and everything in its place."

Again, she says, "But beyond creating a place for everything and learning not to purchase or retain useless things, achieving basic orderliness depends on learning a new set of habits, habits geared toward living with material plenty, for the likelihood is that your present ideas about how to say neat were invented in a world that knew only material scarcity. True success involves changing your mind as well as your closets."

She speaks of the "broken window" syndrome. Police psychologists have discovered that if a neighborhood contains a building in which a building is broken and never repaired, those who incline towards criminal activities like vandalism and theft take that as a sign that its OK to indulge in their crimes. It's an unconscious signal to them that no one cares about this area, so why not trash it. Thus, a broken window leads to more damage, which sends an even stronger signal that its OK to trash this neighborhood even further.

How does this apply to the home? Well, it gives us one very good reason to keep our homes and our property in order; doesn't it? Aside from that, however, Cheryl Mendleson notes a corollary on the inside of our houses. If one person is sitting in a chair, with a glass of iced tea and a book, and they leave these things behind to attend to an interruption, the next person who comes into the room is more inclined to also leave something out -- car keys, a winter hat, another book, etc. If everyone in the family feels free to leave something behind, a room can become very cluttered, indeed.

Now, in the old days, a pleasantly lived in room was likely to stay pleasantly lived in until someone neatened it up. That's because the average person in the home had fewer movable objects to leave lying around. Each person might leave behind only one thing or two, and the family could be quickly marshalled to put those few items back into their proper places.

Now, a pleasantly lived in room can rapidly deteriorate into a total mess. The inhabitants might not leave only one object about, but several. We could leave about our daily water bottle, our car keys, our cell phone, our laptop, our junk and other mail, our magazines, the current book we're reading, that winter scarf we wore today, the stuff we carried with us to the exercise class, the shoes we long to slip off, that tax form we picked up at the post office, and the leavings of a snack. And, that's just the adults! What about children with school books, the hottest gadgets, and umpteen toys!

To top it off, all of us, adult or children, come with so many more papers that must be signed, filed, returned to some department of this, that, or the other than in former days. I, along with some of my peers, am caring for an aging parent. We are finding out that this not only involves caring for the beloved parent, but spending hours simply filling out forms and mailing forms and handling paperwork. Likewise, when my childeren were in the home, I needed to do the same for them. I'm sure that peopel who were born over a century ago did not come with so much paperwork attached! I asked DH just yesterday: If everything's so computerized now, why do I have more papers to take care of than ever?

I know that my dear engineer hubby does some of his work from home and some of his work from an office. This requires the transport of numerous circuit boards, wires, and various devices of which I do not even know the purpose. Fortunately, his office is not very far from the front door, so there's not much room for him to scatter these things about on his way in.

I can speak of dear hubby's stuff only because I outdo him in leaving things lying around. I am the queen of books, papers, and half-filled glasses. I am messier when one of my chronic health challenges is kicking up.

I do notice that when I stay on top of the clutter and the house is neat, I am much more inclined to follow the basic housekeeping rule of "If you get it out, put it away."

Mrs. Mendleson notes that the topic of clutter has become a big business in our country. Books and magazine articles are written about it; whole companies are devoted to building closets which house clutter more efficiently; people make a living going into other people's homes and re-arranging their stuff; TV shows are devoted to organization of things.

She offers some suggestions for our modern dilemma of clutter chaos:

1) She suggests that our inner standards must be adjusted to permit a certain number of things to be out of place without triggering the feeling that a rule has been broken or that the perfection of the room is thereby flawed. At the same time, the inhabitants of a home should keep that standard as the maximum amount of stuff left out so that they do not feel entitled to escalate the clutter.
2) She suggests defining what things may be left out and what things may not: For example, a craft or school activity or a game may be left out until it is completed. Similarly, tax papers or a newspaper or mail might be left somewhere until you are finished dealing with them. However, each person should not, in her opinion, leave out more than one activity at a time and it must be cleaned away when finished.
3) It should be a firm rule that no one leaves food or dirty dishes or glasses or remnants of snacks or meals out, as this is unsanitary. Similarly, wet towels should be hung up, beds should be made, and dirty clothes should be tossed in a hamper.
4) She suggests setting up temporary holding stations for miscellaneous designated goods. These are places where it is permissible to leave things before they are put away. She cites a small chest that they have in their hall, where children may dump papers pertaining to school, adults may leave mail, etc. She says that neat, well-organized homes tend to have variety of these temporary holding stations. For example, you might establish a cubbyhole for each of your children to store various papers relating to their homeschooling or outside schooling. You might have a shelf where you store newspapers for recycling.
5) She cautions that every temporary holding station must be assigned a day of reckoning, a time when you actually do go through the items and do what you need to do with them. The trouble with many systems -- throwing papers into baskets and such -- is that people do not go back through them. Thus, many things do not get done, and the clutter multiplies.

Cheryl Mendleson's final suggestion is that you develop a habit of neatening. She ways whenever you go upstairs, carry with you something that belongs up there. I do notice that the best housekeepers do continually neaten. Similarly, Cheryl Mendleson advises that you keep to your household routines, which also aids in keeping clutter under control. She suggests that you teach your children to pick up after themselves and to also work towards an orderly home for all. She suggests that if you live with someone who is messy, place any items you find belonging to him or her in a space where they can put it away at some point. For example, she and her husband both have home offices (as do my hubby and I), so whenever one of them is neatening their office and they find something belonging to the other, they simply put it in that person's office -- leaving it up to that person to put things away.

Cheryl Mendlson says that if you put these things into practice, your home will be orderly and neat even though your home is filled with too many things and your schedules are unpredictable. She also says that when these habits are adopted, the house looks pleasantly lived in -- as though real human beings spend their time there doing serious, pleasant, and interesting things.

"They do not live for the home but in it. It is not there for display but for comfort, rest, and the various activities of private life."

Well, now we know why today's home managers -- at least in first world countries -- have more trouble than our grandmothers did with keeping clutter under control: We simply have more stuff. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I think in some ways, our lives are enriched because we do have more books in our homes, as well as access to information via the Internet. We also have more tools with which to perform the tasks of our lives. Certainly, it's also pleasant to have so many diversions and toys at our fingertips.

However, in other ways, I think we are burdened by all this excess of stuff. I don't want the major portion of my life to be spent battling clutter, rather than loving people.

Certainly, we do have more stuff than Grandma did. But, Grandma had to work harder to do the tasks that she did do. A century or two ago, laundry and ironing was a daunting task. Many households made their own soap and candles. More people lived on farms, and farm life involves a lot of work. With so many labor-saving devices that we have now, our lives should be freer. Do we want to spend that freedom in the service of stuff? Hmm...

At any rate, I think even a century ago, clutter varied according to what the individuals in a home valued. When I was little, there was an elderly gentleman who lived in the area where my mother's family came from. He was quite an amateur historian, and I remember how interesting it was to listen to him talk about the area -- especially since most of the stories of that area involved people to whom I was related in some way. He was quite old, and he had been born in the 1800's. He kept a wonderful cache of historical documents and notes. When he died, his children failed to recognize the value of his collection and threw it all away. When personnel at the local library heard of this, they expressed sorrow that these papers had not been donated to them so that future generations would have access to his collection.

And, let us also not forget that the Victorians loved their knick-knacks and also little sentimental keepsakes. The point is well taken, however, that modern life does involve more gadgetry and paperwork than our great-grandparents could have imagined.

What do you think about clutter and today's world? Do you think Cheryl Mendleson's insights are spot on or not and also how you keep your home organized and free of clutter. Do you ever have times when the clutter gets away from you? What makes for a pleasantly lived in home versus one that is too cluttered?

I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, I'm off to clear away some clutter...



Julieann said...

Elizabeth--this was an awesome post---it should be put on your other blog as well--if it is already their, forgive me.

I totally agree with you--now a days we all have soooo much stuff--not like the olden days like the little house when you could fit all your pocessions on a covered wagon.

I particualarly liked this quote you made--->

*I do notice that when I stay on top of the clutter and the house is neat, I am much more inclined to follow the basic housekeeping rule of "If you get it out, put it away." *

This is sooo me, when my house is in order, it is easier to keep it that way.


The Editrix said...

Hi Elizabeth - I've given you this blogger award, if you're interested. ;-)

Hadias said...

Hi ELizabeth

I wanted to stop by and thank your for becoming a follower of my blog. I am so glad that we have resumed communication through our blogs. I have been reading through your posts and they have been very inspiring.

The broken window syndrome referred to in your post is one that I absolutely agree with.

A great post as always.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Julieann,
Thanks for the encouragement!

Hi Edirix,
Thank you so much for the blogger award. I will be sure to pass it along. I appreciate your being interested in my little ramblings.

Hi Hadias:

I always checked in with your blog from time to time, just was getting too much email so preferred to just visit. I enjoy the practical information you give on your blog.